Council issues moratorium on development in East Iberville

Staff Report

A unanimous vote by the Iberville Parish Council and the signature of Parish President Mitchell Ourso kicked off a one-year moratorium on new residential construction in unincorporated areas on the east side of the parish.

A near-capacity crowd packed the Iberville Parish Council chamber last week for a meeting on the moratorium for development in the unincorporated areas on the Eastbank.

The vote during last week’s meeting came two days before Ascension followed suit with a nine-month moratorium for the eastern portion of that parish. The meeting also occurred days before a tropical storm reached south Louisiana, but spared flood-weary Iberville, Ascension and East Baton Rouge parishes.

The moratorium for East Iberville marked the first in the Baton Rouge Metropolitan area and came on the heels of severe flooding in the St. Gabriel area during a May 17 storm. It will put a one-year hold on acceptance and processing of subdivision plats and site development for land the unincorporated area. 

The vote followed impassioned pleas from Ourso, along with residents, who urged the council to approve the moratorium.

Longtime Iberville Parish Councilman Leonard Jackson discusses the drainage issues the St. Gabriel has faced since residential development spiked in the early 2000s.

AquaDams, the opening of the locks near Spanish Lake and cuts into the road leading to Bayou Manchac have been among the efforts Ourso has spearheaded to improve water flow in that area.

The flood issues have been a tough situation emotionally for both him and the residents.

“It’s tough situation, and I understand it … I really do,” he said after the meeting. “You work your tail to own something, and you’re sold a bill of goods, it doesn’t work and doesn’t cooperate. I understand how they feel,” he said. “We were glad to see people invest in this subdivision years ago, and I’m sorry this happened … it’s horrible.”

Ourso signed the moratorium the morning after the council’s vote, which followed a lengthy public hearing in front of a capacity crowd in the Iberville Parish Council meeting chamber at the Iberville Courthouse. The discussion brought forth St. Gabriel residents who opposed the continued development of subdivisions amid ongoing drainage issues that have made their neighborhood a magnet for severe flooding.

The moratorium predicated a long history of flood events, dating back to Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, and continuing with flood events from August 2016 and May 2021. The May storm brought nearly 18 inches of rain May 17, along with an additional deluge June 6.

Some residents said they would consider relocating from the area if the council did not approve the moratorium.

Meadow Oaks resident Jeremy Corona said the hardships he has faced in the year since he bought his home have made him consider moving elsewhere.

Meadow Oaks resident Jeremy Corona expresses his frustration over the flood issues in his neighborhood.

He said he had not been able to leave his neighborhood to buy groceries because of floodwater over the past four weeks.

“We need your help, and we have asked for your help,” he said. “We’ve had four weeks of going up and down, and I’ve probably messed up the car I bought last year … we don’t have the million dollars that (developers) have to fix this.

“They say they have retention ponds, but they go somewhere – they go to my subdivision,” Corona said. “I’m tired of stressing every time it rains.”

Councilman Bart Morgan, who represents a portion of East Iberville, told Corona the parish has done as much it could to stop the flooding.

A heated exchange ensued between Corona and Morgan (who represents a portion of East Iberville) when Corona accused the parish of not doing enough to alleviate the flood issues.

"We can’t snap our fingers with pumps and move all the water to the Mississippi River – if we could, we would,” Morgan said. “We’re doing damned-near everything we can … we have cuts, pumps, locks open and that water’s still not going down.

“You can’t sit there and say I didn’t do a damned thing, and that’s what irritates the hell out of me,” he said. “We want to get this water out, but we’re not God. I’ll be damned if someone tells me we’re not doing a damn thing.”

Meadow Oaks resident Ray Gaubert told the council he spent his life savings on his home after spending most of his life in Lockport.

He said he is accustomed to flooding, but never saw water remain in the street for three weeks.

“My wife is about to have a nervous breakdown … she cries every time it rains,” Gaubert said. “I wanted to retire here because I love the subdivision and I love the people, but I’m ready to sell and move – and before we moved there, we went to neighborhoods in Baton Rouge, Gonzales and Prairieville.”

He said when he bought his $250,000 home, he was told it had never flooded. For that reason, he never bought flood insurance.

“I had been lied to … it flooded in 2016 before they developed it,” Gaubert said. “If I had known about the flooding, I never would’ve bought the house.”

Representatives from American Homeland Developers urged the Council not to approve the moratorium and instead base each project on its own merit.

That proposal was unacceptable, Parish Council Chairman Matt Jewell said.

“I want to reiterate that there’s a problem and you have to have seen that there’s a problem in that area,” he said. “It’s not one-in-20, on one-in-10 or one-in- five – it’s every year we have to fight this.

“My heart is with the people of this parish, the one who are suffering with this water under the water,” Jewell said. “It makes me sick that a man spends $300,000 for a house and can’t use it. I know you all want to make money, but at the end of the day, it’s about the consumer who buys the house who needs to be protected and know that when they spend that kind of money, it will be dry, and they can live in it.”

Councilman Leonard Jackson, who has represented the St. Gabriel area on the Council since 1988, said the current flood situation is the worst it has ever been.

He said the parish consistently cleans the ditches in his district, from Spanish Lake to Alligator Bayou, but the volume of rain has been unprecedented.

“I know a lot of people complain and say a lot of things, but this parish has spent millions of dollars trying to deal with drainage,” he said. “When you get that volume of rain in a short period of time, it’s hard to control amount of water. In my district, everything people have worked for in their whole life, they lose in two days.”