Saturday, February 19, 2011

citizen's question lack of wetlands study


Chalmette citizens rallied at a news conference Friday to question the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE)  and local government officials on a Dallas developers lack of wetlands study and wetlands application. 

According to local residents, the developers scheduled crews to work nights to clear and fill four sites during a time when the local officials were in the nation's capital for the annual Louisiana Delegation Washington Mardi Gras Ball.

The two construction sites in these photos are located on the same tract of land donated to the local Hospital Service District (HSD) for the community's new rural hospital, also under construction (note the equipment for piling work).

The HSD was required to perform environmental assessment studies, including historical and archaeological due to the national historical significance of the Battle of New Orleans.  The HSD was also required to perform a wetlands study, which determined the required wetlands mitigation by the HSD. Residents have asked the HSD Chairman for information towards any agreements between the HSD, the land donor, or the regulating authorities which may have allowed use of these studies by the private developer.  SEE NOTE at bottom for an HSD Board member's response that no such agreements exist.

The developer's other two construction sites, cleared and filled at the same time, are located in the same area as a residential subdivision and big box store that were both required to perform a wetlands study and mitigation.  Remote access boxes for phone utilities have been raised to what looks like over 15 feet due to new FEMA elevation requirements.  Drainage is a real problem at all four development sites and the HSD site.

Residents on the western border of the HSD area noted local road work projects last year had been delayed over three weeks due to nesting bald eagles.  Other residents reported the developer's tract of land in the HSD area was posted as wetlands to keep people from disturbing the natural habitats, shown in photos. 

Lack of public information before decisions are made, roadblocks to public participation, and deviations from permit application protocol have been noted.  The four sites had been granted building permits, which expired after a year of inactivity.  The federal courts ordered the parish reissue the building permits or be held in contempt of court on fair housing violations. 

But that is not the issue.  The issue citizens questioned at the rally is the seemingly preferential treatment on such an important issue as wetlands mitigation requirements and the inability to easily receive accurate information from either the COE or local officials.

It's an election year and that's makes it open season for innuendos and personal accusations, which have begun to distract some from these issues of concern.  Politics does not interest the citizens any more than the false stereotype of Chalmations as all racist individuals.  Residents want answers and accountability and they want it now.

NOTE:   An HSD Board member posted the following clarification.  The initials MF stand for the privately held Meraux Foundation that donated the land to the HSD and sold three of the four tracts to the Dallas developer.
For clarification, NO part of any work done by the HSD is connected in any way to whatever the MF is doing. You are correct, thousands had to be spent on the listed studies which are required to access CDBG funding. This includes approximately $60,000 we had to pay to the Land Bank in order to mitigate the acre or so of wetlands identified in our assessment. This was a lengthy process and they wouldn’t even let us drive a pick-up truck on the site until the mitigation was complete. Our studies were only conducted on the HSD-owned portion of the tract.

To answer your other question, after trying and unfortunately failing (once due to a vote of the HRQL and once from another source) to secure TWO other sites for the hospital which we felt were better, we accepted the MF donation of land only AFTER we completed some rather heated negotiations with them that insured the Hospital project remained free of any outside future influence.

please feel free to contact us at any time and we are glad to provide you with accurate information. That's what the problem is half the time on the issues -- inaccurate "spin". Every citizen should be encouraged to research and ask for documents, etc., and we welcome the inquiries.

The Army Corps of Engineers should be embarrassed along with any other person or agency that allowed this Dallas developer to side step the rules ;  the local officials should take notice that residents want input into such large decisions BEFORE the decisions are made, not just dealt with as a public relations hurdle.


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