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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

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Council rejects Port Commission proposal

Council rejects Port Commission proposal

The Lafourche Parish Council on Tuesday voted down the purchase of a $1.2 million Galliano property for the proposed South Lafourche “Airport Connector Corridor.”

“We’re for the project, but not the funding source,” said a majority of council members who voted 6-3 against buying property between LA 1 and LA 3235 in Galliano directly across the bayou from the entrance to the Airport Access Road.

Parish administration proposed to fund the purchase of the 100-ft. tract, owned by Andrew Martin, by using $600,000 from the BP Spill Fund, and by appropriating $325,000 from the Road Sales Tax District 2 Fund, and $275,000 from the Beachfront Development District’s budget.

The “nay” votes were cast by Jerry Jones, Luci Sposito, Cory Perrillioux, Bo Melvin, Armand Autin and Jerry Lafont.

The only favorable votes came from Michael Gros, James Bourgeois and Daniel Lorraine.

The proposed purchase is part of Phase 3 of Greater Lafourche Port Commission’s “Airport Connector Corridor”, a road providing direct access from LA 1 to LA 3235, and eventually to Port Fourchon.

Port Executive Director Chett Chiasson said buying the property and building the road would alleviate traffic problems in numerous connecting streets in the Galliano area, increase connectivity with Port Fourchon, and enhance development of an industrial park at the airport.

Phase 4 of the project proposes a $32 million bridge across Bayou Lafourche which would facilitate traffic directly to and from the airport and Hwy. 3235, and finally to Port Fourchon.

The Port Commission also pledged to match parish funding with $1.2 million of their own money toward construction of the road.

“Purchasing the property separately enhances our chances and demonstrates project readiness when we request Capital Outlay money from the state. If we already have two-thirds of the money, our request will be more competitive,” said Chiasson.

But several council members balked at the appraised value of the property which they said they received only a short time before the public meeting.

The appraisal, done by Lafourche Appraisal Services, shows that most of the property value is in the dwelling, carport, pool and cabana, leaving only about $400,000 for the land.

“It looks like we’re looking to purchase someone’s house for $1.2 million. That’s an astronomical number for this piece of land, in my opinion,” said Armand Autin.

When members questioned whether other property nearby might be considered, Chiasson noted that the Martin property aligns with the airport road and is the only one which has just one structure on it. Nearby streets would have more owners to contend with, he said.

Other members questioned taking money from the BP Fund when so many other government functions are hurting financially.

The Solid Waste Fund will have a shortfall of $1 million in 2017 and $2 million the following year, say Councilman Jerry Jones and others. The BP Fund has been identified as a source for eliminating the debt.

Councilman Michael Gros was disappointed that the appraiser was “handpicked” by the landowner and the Parish President.

“I haven’t bought a ton of property, but I’ve never got to pick the appraiser. I could have made a ton of money if I could have picked my appraiser. There’s a reason the banks let ‘em rotate,” said Gros.

Gros suggested, as did many of his counterparts, to delay the ordinance until another one or two appraisals could be given. (Oddly, Gros voted for the purchase.)

State Senator Norby Chabert and Representative Jerry “Truck” Gisclair hit on more realistic reasons for making the purchase—trucking logistics and safety.

“You may not believe it’s a big deal to make so many turns by a truck. But the easier we can make it to get the goods to the port and the airport, the better. It’s $1.2 million versus 3.58 miles to the nearest lift bridge,” said Chabert.

Gisclair mentioned the proposed $880 million LNG terminal which is in the planning stages for construction at Port Fourchon.

“The future LNG terminal will bring additional traffic and will cause a huge safety issue. Service coming in and out of the airport will be expedited with the future bridge. Development of the corridor is a win-win for the airport,” he said.

Council Chairman Cory Perrillioux attempted a compromise, suggesting the Port and parish share in the cost of purchasing the property now, each spending only $600,000, and delaying the larger match.

“I’m trying to save this (ordinance) tonight. It looks like it’s going to fail. It would be more palatable to this council (to share property purchase), because we are in a bad state of finances,” he said.

Chiasson countered that it would only lessen the effectiveness of the Capital Outlay request.

On Wednesday, September 13, at the Port Commission’s public meeting, Andrew Martin expressed his concerns going forward.

“The council’s vote was political more than anything else,” said Martin. “I hope the parish will finally realize how much revenue this (corridor) means for the parish, and make arrangements and come to a conclusion.”

Martin said if the deal can’t be done soon, he would use his “hold card”, and move on to other interested parties.

Port member Perry Gisclair asked the parish council to “come meet with us and put together a package” that is agreeable to all parties.

Parish Councilwoman Luci Sposito attended the Port’s meeting and summed up the concerns of the six members who voted against the ordinance.

“We voted against the funding, not the Port. We voted against taking more money from the BP Fund. We want to support the Port, but do it wisely and be good stewards. We want 3 estimates and take the funding out of the proper place,” said Sposito.

NOTE: The BP Spill Fund was originally $6 million. The parish is already chipping away at it, voting to use $200,000 to remove derelict vessels from Bayou Lafourche and $450,000 to remove the “Chevron” bridge on Fourchon Road, in addition to the proposed use of $1 million to bail out the Solid Waste Fund for 2017.