Nungesser delivers State of the Parish address to PABIMar 29th, 2011 | By William Dilella | Category: news
Parish President William Nungesser delivered the State of the Parish address before the Plaquemines Association of Business and Industry (PABI) this past Wednesday, detailing many of the issues facing the Parish over the next year and beyond.
FEMA and the Flood insurance
Concerning FEMA and the Costal Plan, President Nungesser reiterated the recently reported success for the parish. FEMA will now consider flood control structures, such as gates and berms, in producing flood map elevations. Previously, only levees were considered flood control structures.
Nungesser hailed this as part of the “spirit of cooperation” that the parish must foster even more in the future, be it with the Federal Government, its agencies, or concerned non-governmental groups.
Nungesser and the turtle
Chiefly mentioned among these groups were environmentalists.
Permitting is required at the beginning of coastal construction projects. The process for obtaining permits has often been prolonged by environmental groups who voice concerns about preserving wildlife and their surrounding ecosystem.
Nungesser said he wants to work with these groups and incorporate their concerns. He noted that if wildlife, such as turtles, is a concern, then the parish can preserve their numbers.
“We’ll start breeding them today,” said the parish president.
“We need time frames,” he continued. “We need cooperation. And that will bring business here more than anything.”
If the permits go through in a timelier manner, the world would not end said Nungesser, citing an example of a permit filed in only 19-days, for berm construction.
“We didn’t kill the snails. We didn’t kill the blue-fin tuna. Oil didn’t go to Florida,” Nungesser said.
The Parish President did praise the work these men and women do protecting the environment, but also spoke about the need to “quit making stupid mistakes and spending money” on needless projects.
He said he believes these combined efforts will make it possible to “see costal Louisiana protected in our lifetime.”
He also said that another way to help preserve and rebuild the coast is for representation in the form of a coastal district.
We need a “costal congressman who understands doing the right thing,” Nungesser said.
Embarrassing Government into Efficiency
President Nungesser updated the business group on Plaquemines’ budget and departmental spending in a document that covers “all the things the public has asked to know,” Nungesser said. “But it’s not all going be pretty.”
“[There are] some scary figures and tough decisions,” he said, but it is now all laid out, “in black and white.”
In addition to the budget/departmental-spending document, Nungesser said he plans to put all budgets and figures on the web.
“We may be the first Parish to have every dollar online,” said the president.
Nungesser said he wants this kind of visibility “as a way to embarrass government into efficiency.” The idea being if the public can view where all their money is going and how it is spent, officials will be more conscious of how they spend the Parish’s money.
It’s a Personnel Matter
President Nungesser provided figures showing that Plaquemines has nearly 30 government workers for every 1,000 citizens. That is triple the rate for the City of New Orleans. He said we need more efficiency in the parish government and its agencies.
However, Nungesser said there has been progress in reducing this ratio. Over his tenure, when a position has become vacant due to retirement or simply moving out of parish employment, that position does not get refilled, and in many cases is defunded. Over one hundred positions have been eliminated in this fashion, without anyone being terminated or laid-off.
Nungesser said that he reorganized several departments so they could operate efficiently with the smaller staff.
He also said he would like to create new high-level supervisory posts, to be filled by candidates who can better organize resources, potentially saving the parish an estimated $1 million-dollars in personnel costs in the coming years.
From the Wrong Side of the Levee
A representative from the Myrtle Grove Homeowners Association raised his concerns about the 300 homes behind the levee currently being built by Army Corps of Engineers with the help of federal funds, a levee that extends from Oakville to St. Jude, but puts those 300 homes outside of its protection.
Though the Parish President said he sympathized with those homeowners, the fact is that, “Any delay, any hiccup, will cost us the money.”
The Oakville to St. Jude reach has obligated federal funds that the parish could lose with any delay, as other projects are waiting on that money. “It’s a fight everyday to not see that billion leave Plaquemines,” Nungesser said.
Nungesser said that attempting to stop the project would be selfish of those homeowners, when weighed against the fact that Plaquemines is left vulnerable everyday that the levee is not completed.
A newer and more efficient ferry system was one of the potential projects that President Nungesser offered up.
Nungesser quoted the figure from the budget showing that $6.7 million-dollars was spent on the ferries last year. Ideas to curb this cost are to purchase two newer and faster ferries, or to condense down to a single ferry landing, one in a more central location in the parish.
While Nungesser admits that purchasing the two new ferries would come at a cost, it could potentially save millions a year over time.
Building a Future
Nungesser updated PABI on current and upcoming projects:
• The Belle Chasse Tunnel renovations are still under way. Leaks will be minimized.
•The Empire drawbridge is scheduled for completion in May.
•The drawbridge in Belle Chasse will see upgrades that may eliminate some congestion. Nungesser wants to see an electronic eye installed in the canal near the drawbridge. This could prevent unnecessary lifts. Nungesser estimates that the bridge is raised needlessly approximately 80-percent of the time.
A Potential Surplus
Nungesser then took the time to thank all the work of the council and its members who have stepped up, “really owning the projects and getting more done.”
In the long-term, the Parish President saw potential for a $7 million-dollar surplus off of last year’s budget that will help the Parish over time. However, President Nungesser warned about avoiding “a money grab,” recalling last year’s surplus, which the council divided up evenly amongst their districts, $1 million-dollars each.
Nungesser used the opportunity to draw attention to key dates for the community in the near future. The first was the American Wetlands Panel, which will be held on May 16 and 17. The panel will organize information to offer up to a federal committee. This committee, created by President Obama’s administration, will be tasked with forming the official policy on how to save the coast.
He also briefly mentioned the 2011 Relay for Life on April 16 in Mel Ott Park, in Gretna. Nungesser asked all who can to go out and lend support to this worthwhile cause, as we all know someone affected by cancer.
In President Nungesser’s words, the overall message of the State of the Parish was to have “our own plan” when it comes to the coast, and that “we have to look out for Plaquemines’ interests.”
The next PABI meeting will be held on April 12th, at Bayou Barriere Golf Club on Belle Chasse Hwy. The guest speaker will be Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation Sherri LeBas, who will discuss the proposed toll extensions. For information on upcoming PABI events or to become a member, visit www.pabigroup.com.