What was supposed to be a brief explanation of future plans for the Marsh Island Refuge turned into a minor kerfuffle at Wednesday night’s Iberia Parish Council meeting.
Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Jack Montoucet told the council that rather than spend millions repairing facilities LDWF officers use on Marsh Island, the department would be consolidating three separate teams at the Cypremort Point office, which would allow for more of the office’s finances to be focused on habitat management.
The Marsh Island Wildlife Refuge is located between Vermilion Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The Sage family donated the property to the state in 1920 and established a trust to support the maintenance of the refuge.
District 5 Councilman Warren Gachassin reminded Montoucet that he appeared before the council a year ago after questions arose about the closure of the LDWF office on Darnall Road.
“It looks like Iberia Parish is losing more state resources,” Gachassin said.
“No, you are wrong Mr. Gachassin,” Motoucet said. “You are still going to have people working on Marsh Island. They just won’t have a building on Marsh Island. You will probably have more people working there.”
According to Thomas Tuma, an agent with LDWF, repairs to the existing bunkhouse and other facilities the agents currently use on the island would run in the millions of dollars.
“This sounds like more political propaganda from the government,” Gachassin said. “It feels like the people of Iberia Parish are being pulled from. The people here pay taxes. I have not been a fan of what has been done to us as a coastal parish. Not when the money is going to people sitting in a corporate office.”
Montoucet, obviously stung by the comment, again tried to placate Gachassin.
“These people are not sitting in the corporate office,” Montoucet said. “Look, I am faced with a deficit of $30 million. I have to run the department like a business. I can’t spend money we don’t have. The people who work in Iberia Parish will still work in Iberia Parish. The people in the field are in Iberia Parish. We are combining three working groups, all working in iberia Parish. We are working to make Marsh Island a better place for people who want to go fishing.”
District 13 Councilman Marty Trahan spoke in Montoucet’s defense.
“No money from the Russell Sage Foundation is going out of the parish,” Trahan said. “It’s in a trust fund where they can only use the interest.”
Tuma said the wish of the Sage family was to spend more money on the habitat, not the structures.
“We don’t need the facilities,” Tuma said. “We can take the money that would have been spent on facilities and dedicate them to habitat management.”
Another member of the public, Vida Shaw Road resident Michelle Landry, asked the council what could be done to stop flooding in her neighborhood.
“I submitted a work order in June,” Landry said. “I called, and nobody can tell me anything.”
Landry said the issue on her property is a five-foot diameter culvert that was installed, restricting the flow of water through what used to be an open channel.
“We used to have a 15- to 20-foot coulee,” she said. “Now there is a five-foot culvert. I walked around the other side when the water was high and the water was coming through that culvert looked like a firehose.”
Landry acknowledged that the parish was sending an engineer to look at the issue next week, but that she also was tired of waiting.
“Some people have been dealing with this for 20 years,” Landry said. “I can’t afford to wait 20 years. I just want to know — What’s the plan?”
Parish President Larry Richard said the administration is aware of and working to resolve the issue.
“You say for 20 years there have been problems,” he said. “There are areas in the parish we are cleaning that haven’t been cleaned in 40 years. I totally understand your situation and we are going to get into it.”
Richard said that if the culvert is the only issue, then the work to remedy the situation should be straightforward. But after looking at photos Landry presented, he said there may be deeper issues.
“From what you show, it is going to be much more than that,” Richard said.
In other business, the council:
• Passed a resolution of condolences to the family of Garon Lewis, son of Iberia Parish School Board member Raymond “Shoe-do” Lewis.
• Passed resolutions authorizing the filing of applications with the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development for capital and operating grants.
• Passed a resolution proclaiming the month of September 2019 as “Suicide Awareness Month” in Iberia Parish.
• Passed a resolution authorizing a Cooperative Endeavor Agreement by and between Iberia Parish Government and Sewerage District No. 1 of Iberia Parish regarding the Estis Road/Paul Segura Parkway Project.
• Passed a resolution authorizing the Louisiana State Mineral and Energy Board to nominate Iberia Parish Government properties at the Acadiana Regional Airport for a mineral lease.
• Passed an ordinance rezoning property in 3800 block of E. Old Spanish Trail from R-4 (Manufactured (Mobile) Home Park) to C-2 (General Business).
• Passed a resolution approving the issuance of $1,000,000 in revenue anticipation notes for Fire Protection District No. 1 as well as a resolution to provide $200,000 for operational costs until those notes are funded.
• Passed a resolution amending the Economic Development District No. 1 budget in the total amount of $794,732 for the ARA Waste Water Treatment Project in the amount of $301,206 and the CIAP ARA Streets Project in the amount of $493,526.
• Passed a resolution amending the Public Building Maintenance budget in the amount of $50,000 to cover estimated costs to repair chill water piping at the Parish Courthouse annex.