Council lays groundwork for newcomersDec 13th, 2011 | By William Dilella | Category: Top Story
In one of the final meetings for the 2011 Council, St. Bernard Parish elected officials spent a great deal of time reviewing the state of the parish now compared to the 2007 platforms that focused entirely on recovery—as they pass the baton to an almost entirely freshman council.
Councilman Mike Ginart, District D, took a point of privilege, at what was to be his final meeting, to say his own good-bye’s and point out the entire government’s record of accomplishments for the soon ending term.
“There has been a lot done these last four years,” Ginart said. “I want to talk about the positive [we’ve done].”
“ was touted as the most important election,” Ginart said. “Maybe the most important of our lives.”
Ginart set the scene of his own District D race that year. In the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Gustav, the parish was lined with trailers, the parks were a shell of their former selves, and the net assets and worth of buildings and businesses was nil. Those few years after the storm had left Ginart with one campaign goal, his slogan: Get it done, now.
“That was a scene from another country, not our country,” Ginart said. “What you saw was destruction, you didn’t see any promise.”
In the time between 2007 and now, the Parish has seen $1.5 billion in recovery funds, which Recovery Director Michael Dorris said was a significant improvement from the original FEMA projected figures. Those funds paid the way for the new infrastructure, including the Torres Park revamp, which Dorris called “The Jewel of Recovery.”
Ginart and the Council credited the overall state of the parish and all the improvements to land and infrastructure—like the nearly complete courthouse square, the firehouses, schools, gyms and the one hundred year protection system surrounding the parish—to the hard work of Parish workers and the partnerships the Government had developed with state and non governmental entities. These partnerships included work with FEMA, GOHSEP, the archdiocese, and the individual residents who braved the return and suffered along with government process, watching the parish move from recovery to restoration.
Ginart also said that the recent elections highlighted the progress of the Parish, by issues that were discuessed, and more importantly not discussed.
“When we ran [in 2007], the two big issues were recovery and levee protection,” Ginart said. “Those two weren’t even on the radar this time.”
“There is no doubt, we’re so much better off,” Ginart said. “And I don’t care what anyone says, we have a gem here.”
Further funding prescribed
The Louisiana Office of Community Development’s Disaster Recovery Unit recently authorized the release of further funds for public infrastructure in St. Bernard, which the Council accepted and divided up to serve specific programs in the parish.
Governor Bobby Jindal recently endorsed the payments made to coastal parishes, which then released St. Bernard’s latest round of hazard mitigation funding, to the tune of almost $52 million.
For their part, the St. Bernard Parish Council approved the priority list of projects, distributing the $51.8 million, including $10 million for Oyster Reef Block, $8 million for Oyster Cultch Seeding, $5 million for Canal Restoration, as well as additional funding for pump station work, enhancements to Village Square and the Sigur Civic Center, and Regio Bridge land acquisition—which has been part of a debate between residents, the Coast Guard, and Parish government for months now.
Meeting times to change in 2012
The upcoming year will see a change in the Council meeting times.
The 2012 Council will still hold their meetings in the Council Chambers on W. Judge Perez, and the first meeting of the month will take place at the usual 7 p.m., the first Tuesday of the month.
However, the 1 p.m. meeting, held on the third Tuesday of each month, will move to 3 p.m. at the behest of incoming Councilmen.
Also in preparation for the upcoming legislative session, the current Council members voted for the administration’s resolution of a preliminary release of $10 million in bonds from the State Bond commission for the Parish.
The Council and administration, specifically Councilman-at-Large East Wayne Landry, stated that the money from these bonds could be used to pay for penalties, should the 2012 Councilmen choose to use them. Those penalties were imposed for Katrina damage done to parish assets that had no flood insurance protection.
“The Parish had a lot of uninsured properties before the storm, and this is a penalty, if you will, for that,” Landry said. ”For us, though, voting for this process to begin, all we’re doing is giving the new council an option as they begin.”
This preliminary approval could provide the Bond Commission to issue up to $10 million to pay for these fines. The bonds do accrue interest—up to five percent annually—but, as Parish President Craig Taffaro said, are merely one option and still require approval before any further steps are taken.
“This in no way obligates the new council or administration,” Taffaro stated. “If they choose, the new government would have to pass a resolution to sell the bonds, [thus] leaving the action for that next administration.”