PPC to consider rebuilding Eastbank courthouseNov 11th, 2010 | By Terri Sercovich | Category: top story
$3.4 million construction to be heard at Thursday council meeting
Another turn in Plaquemines Parish’s courthouse saga may take place at this Thursday’s parish council meeting.
The preamble of Council Chairman Don Beshel’s legislation reads, “An Ordinance authorizing and directing the Parish President, Billy Nungesser, to take any and all steps necessary to immediately begin rebuilding the Courthouse in Pointe-a-la-Hache, Louisiana.”
The ordinance goes on to say that $3.4 million is “available and appropriated” for the project, although it does not state the source of said funds.
Beshel, who recently lost his bid for reelection and will be replaced by P.V. Griffin in January, did not return calls for comment.
However, the language in the ordinance conveys Beshel’s known view over the last four years:
“Millions of dollars have been spent to accommodate other branches of Government in Plaquemines Parish, and this Council deems it proper and necessary at this time to accept its responsibility and conform with the law and immediately begin rebuilding the Courthouse in Pointe-a-la-Hache.”
It is unclear if Beshel has the 5 necessary votes to pass this lame duck legislation. Several council members contacted were varied on the issue.
“Because it has been voted on several times and failed, we’re obligated to rebuild it on the Eastbank,” said Council member Burghart Turner, District 6. “There’s no need for that legislation because there’s already a mandate to build it at the old site. By even putting it on the table it might do more harm than good. We just need to follow the mandate.”
Dr. Stuart J. Guey, Jr., District 4 councilman, was also surprised by the ordinance being offered at this time.
“He’s been there four years, it’s confusing to us as to why now he’s asking to do that,” Guey noted. Guey said when it comes to the Courthouse, its location should be based on what is best for taxpayers.
“Hurricane Katrina told us where the safest place in the parish from natural disasters would be, and the site of the old courthouse was devastated,” Guey continued. “To go back and rebuild in a place prone to natural disasters isn’t a logical idea. We should see if people would prefer to have it in a safer place in Plaquemines. We should invest tax dollars in the place least prone to natural disasters.”
Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser also said he disagreed with both Beshel’s proposal and his timing.
However, Beshel’s ordinance has support in Councilwoman Marla Cooper, District 9, and she doesn’t know why the Courthouse hasn’t been built already.
“The courthouse should be there,” Cooper said. “It is the parish seat. It has been voted on many times. The people have spoken. It’s good for their economic development.”
A fire gutted the Pointe-a-la-Hache courthouse in 2002. The motion to move the Courthouse to West Pointe-a-la-Hache before the fire, in April 2001, was rejected by a parish-wide vote.
Port Sulphur was also voted out as a potential location in October 2003; and voters also rejected a subsequent move to Cedar Grove.
It should be noted that while a majority of voters supported each of the three proposed moves, state law requires 2/3 approval in order for a parish seat to be relocated.
Charles C. Foti, Jr., former Louisiana attorney general, wrote a letter to Council in January 2004 in response to some of their questions and concerns regarding how many times the parish could vote on the courthouse location.
“We find nothing that would limit the number of times the proposition to change the Parish seat can be put to a vote, but in light of the mandate that each parish shall provide a suitable building for the court, it would have to be concluded that construction should be commenced without delay,” Foti wrote in response.
The next Plaquemines Parish Council meeting is on Thurs., Nov. 11, 1 p.m. at the temporary courthouse on F. Edward Hebert Blvd. in Belle Chasse.
Although there is no guarantee the ordinance will be taken up, time is running out for Beshel. November and December traditionally only have one regular meeting per month due to Thanksgiving and Christmas.
- Michele Provencher