St. Charles Parish President Matt Jewell, St. John the Baptist Parish President Jaclyn Hotard, and St. James Parish President Pete Dufresne were each in attendance at Oak Alley Plantation to a special forum on hurricane recovery and preparedness, business and updates on each parish.
The event was organized by the Chamber of Commerce of the Rivière Region. Each president began with an overview of his ward before answering questions on various topics.
Jewell said times have been difficult over the past few years due to the effects of Hurricane Ida and COVID-19 on the landscape.
“Hurricane Ida was the highlight of all of our lists,” Jewell said of the three parish leaders. “We’re still recovering, and it’s been difficult given the labor market we have, the inflation we have… things not only true for the government, but also for our residents at home who can’t find contractors or fight with insurance companies.”
The first question of the day asked what each parish administration was doing to attract business to their area.
Jewell said it all starts with open lines of communication between parish officials and future business owners.
“It’s important because you need to find out what these businesses are looking for and what potential business owners are looking for,” Jewell said. “We found that they find the construction permit process to be complicated and confusing.”
To that end, he noted a practice put in place early in his administration called “one-stop shopping” in which representatives of businesses wishing to move into St. Charles Parish can contact officials, who will then arrange a meeting. between the company and the parish personalities who can answer as many of their questions as possible in one afternoon.
“I will go with my team, they will come in and bring everyone into the room that they could possibly have … the director of sewage, public works, aqueduct, the director of planning, zoning and economic development… infrastructure, permits. We cover all the bases. We like to grab people up front and give them as much information as they need, and make that permission process a little easier,” Jewell said.
Jewell went on to note that efforts are underway regarding the beautification of the parish.
“Getting rid of degraded properties is top of the list,” Jewell said. “We were doing a lot better on that until Ida erased a lot more. We are working with business owners as part of our takeover who have destroyed properties along our main corridor – we ask how it is going with insurance, with improvements.
He said an overlay district is being discussed – an additional layer of standards for all areas within a defined boundary – to create an increased standard along the parish’s main commercial corridor.
“The goal is for people passing through our parish to stop and patronize local businesses, and encourage our residents to continue shopping locally,” Jewell said.
The second question asked how plans for new subdivision plans were managed within the parish.
Jewell noted that St. Charles Parish recently changed its subdivision regulations due to flooding and drainage issues associated with subdivisions built at higher elevations.
“We used to not encourage detention and detentions, and let’s face it, we live in a flood plain,” Jewell said. “The way we manage water is therefore important and we have made changes, increasing the use of retention and detention where possible. We have new housing estates being built at higher elevations – when you have this next to older neighborhoods being built at lower elevations you can usually have drainage issues. We have seen this over time.
The process has been strengthened, he said, because the parish now requires much more information from those wishing to develop a housing estate, particularly with regard to drainage and sanitation.
“You apply, go through the planning commission, and get what’s called preliminary dish approval,” Jewell said. “We want the planning commission to have as much information as possible to make a decision that’s best for the parish…they need to have more than one dish finalized that meets our code.”
The third question was simple, but undoubtedly heavy on everyone’s minds locally: Is your parish ready for hurricane season?
“I haven’t stopped since the last hurricane season,” Jewell said. “We have a saying at the COU: stay ready so you don’t have to prepare. We have a 24 hour EOC and we stay ready. In the face of a hurricane, certain procedures are put in place, and this was true even before Hurricane Ida. We exercise every year what these storms are like, the patterns of different storms and how they hit and how we respond, so I would say yes (the parish is prepared). »