'Feud' between Ourso, Holden set straight

Deidre Cruse, Governmental Reporter

Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr. last week accused East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden of withholding help with mosquito abatement from Iberville in retaliation for Ourso's pulling out of the Baton Rouge Loop project when it was clear the loop would not include a Mississippi River Bridge here.

An East Baton Rouge Mosquito Abatement employee did tell an Iberville Parish employee that Iberville could expect no help after Tropical Storm Lee in September because Ourso was opposing the Loop, Matthew Yates, director of the EBR agency confirmed in a publicly-release to Holden last week. Holden had denied involvement in the matter.

“I'm sticking to my story,” Ourso told the POST/SOUTH. “It did happen. I think I was vindicated that it did happen.”

He said he has yet to receive an apology from EBR Mosquito Abatement, but that Holden's office had called for him twice.

“It ain't really a feud,” Ourso said. “I want to set the record straight.”

Ourso resigned from a group of parish presidents acting as a board of directors for the Loop in 2010 over the bridge issue.

Several other parish presidents, concerned about the effect of the 85-mile toll road on their parishes, also resigned. The project is intended to divert traffic around Baton Rouge and away from the city's crowded interstate highways, but some residents of out-lying areas, including those in Iberville Parish, fear the effects on their neighborhoods.

In September, Ourso asked Emergency Preparedness Director Laurie Doiron to call East Baton Rouge about help with aerial spraying for mosquitoes after the tropical storm.

“They said 'no loop, no mosquitoes,'” the Iberville parish president said. “I laughed it off – just politics.”

The issue emerged last week as the Baton Rouge Loop Project held a public hearing on a draft of an environmental report on the Loop route. The poorly publicized hearing was held Tuesday night at St. John High School.

“What started all this was I had a flyer put on my desk that they were hosting these things,” Ourso said. “I had no knowledge of that. I was real disappointed they didn't have the courtesy to call me.”

A day after the hearing and Ourso's charge, Yates released on open letter to Holden confirming one of his employees made “an inappropriate and erroneous statement to an Iberville Parish employee which resulted in an embarrassing news story,” and apologizing to the mayor-president.

The employee, Yates said, “corroborates the Mayor's statement in that he has never met the Mayor, never had a conversation with the Mayor, and certainly was never directed by the Mayor to spray or not to spray any area.”

Holden issued statement in response to Yates' apology and said he appreciated Yates “clearing this matter up.”

“Erroneous comments like the one made do serious harm to our parish and to our relationships with other parishes in the state who we work closely with on regional issues,” Holden wrote. “I believe the East Baton Rouge Parish Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control office's employee also owes an apology to [Ourso], who is working to keep his parish safe.

“Mitchell and I work closely together on many issues, and I have always valued his friendship, While we may not always agree, it is important for us to work together and keep open the lines of communication. It is unfortunate that I am only now learning that Iberville Parish employees were told something erroneous earlier this year by an East Baton Rouge Parish employee.”

He also said he would assure Ourso and the people of Iberville of “my personal commitment and cooperation.”

For Ourso's part, he said he would continue to insist that Iberville Parish deserves a Mississippi River Bridge, since it is the only divided parish between Pointe Coupee and the Gulf of Mexico without one.

Ourso, the Iberville Chamber of Commerce and others have supported a bridge on undeveloped land between Plaquemine and White Castle and the Eastside. Plaquemine residents protested one proposal for a bridge at Homestead Drive.

At the time Ourso pulled out of the Loop project, developers were considering a third bridge in West Baton Rouge Parish.

“They already have two in West Baton Rouge,” the parish president said. “We deserve a bridge south of Plaquemine.”

Ourso contended that the Audubon Bridge, a span between New Roads and St. Francisville that opened this year, should have been built here:

“I'm changing the name of that bridge to 'Oughtabeen in Iberville Parish.'”