EPPJ hears from chamber about the need for more industry in the parish
By: TONY MARKS
Ville Platte Chamber of Commerce and Evangeline Parish Tourism’s Executive Director Camille Fontenot took the podium Monday night at the monthly meeting of the Evangeline Parish Police Jury as other members of the Chamber lined the pews of the meeting room.
“Evangeline Parish is dying for lack of industry and lack of jobs,” Fontenot stated as she began to address the jury. “New jobs are vital for us not only for growth but to retain a workforce that supports our young people with families who we desperately need to keep in Evangeline Parish.”
Fontenot centered her comments around issues with the Ward 1 Industrial Park. She used a myth from Jean Lafitte and his pirates to illustrate what the park could be for the parish.
“The myth goes that Jean Lafitte and his pirates buried a golden thimble in Barataria, and whoever found that golden thimble would find prosperity and live out their life in prosperity,” Fontenot said. “Even though it’s only a myth, I think the second phase of our Industrial Park could be a golden thimble ready to be found by hiring an architectural firm to draw a great master plan and have it put into effect and by building a wastewater treatment center for industries that do want to come. I think then we will be reaping the best parts of Evangeline Parish by getting the best industries to come, and thus that would be our golden thimble.”
Members of the police jury responded to Fontenot’s comments. “We are constantly working to bring businesses and industry here,” said juror Eric Soileau. “It’s not a deal that started yesterday. It never stops, and we fight a lot of issues that hamper this small little community from making it happen, but it’s not from a lack of trying.”
“As far as wastewater, it’s never been a need for people in our park,” said juror Bryan Vidrine. “I have no problem with trying to get the money or whatever to suit a person’s need, but the problem with doing it before a client gets there is we don’t have the money to build a wastewater treatment plant.”
Vidrine addressed other issues hindering economic development in the parish. “We are having to deal with things that were done by our predecessors,” he said. “I don’t think any of these guys on the police jury were here when I-49 got shoved out of the parish because we used to have I-49, and it was called Highway 167. Now there’s no reason to come here, and also we’re the only parish in this whole state that 167 goes through that does not have a four-lane.”
“We can’t look back,” responded Fontenot. “We’re not going backwards. It’s finished, and the wheel has to go forward.”
Brent Coreil, who was in the audience, also expressed his concerns on the Industrial Park. “We do have a situation, and let’s rejuvenate it,” he said. “Let’s bring the topic up to where we hear about it. I don’t think it’s lackluster on anybody’s part. I think we are all searching for it.”
Juror Sidney Fontenot moved for the jury to send a letter to Senator Eric LaFleur and Representatives Bernard LeBas and Philip Devillier to “look into the fund that CLECO has set up and see what the particulars are, and if we are eligible to receive any of it.”
“I’ve already called and spoken with the CLECO representatives on the issue with the funding,” commented Representative LeBas who was in the audience. “It’s $7 million that was given for economic development when CLECO was sold. The money has to be used within the district that CLECO serves.”
“The money was turned over to the state economic development,” Lebas added. “Right now the issue about the use of the money is economic development said they were planning on using it as a deal closer to get somebody to come in. They have not given any money away, so the money is still available.”
Juror Sidney Fontenot amended his motion to “address the letter to economic development at the state level.”
The jury voted 9-0 in support of the letter.
Another hot topic of the meeting was a discussion on the police jury billing municipalities for work done in the city limits after the matter was tabled during the executive committee hearing.
“I researched whether or not it was legal to do work in the municipalities, and it is,” stated Secretary-Treasurer Donald Bergeron. “The problem is where do those funds come from to pay for the work.”
Ville Platte Mayor Jennifer Vidrine, who was also at the meeting, expressed her problems with the issue. “This has come up lately with the last two drainage and flooding problems that we’ve had,” she said.
Assistant District Attorney Marcus Fontenot, who serves as the jury’s legal advisor, stated “the parish can perform work in the cities at the written request of the municipalities; however, it is my appreciation that we have to charge our costs for that work.”
Juror Bryan Vidrine told the mayor, “If you have a plan to do something that requires us using our equipment and our man power and you agree to reimburse whatever the cost is, then I’ve got no problem with it.”
“I do have a plan, but I am not agreeing to reimburse the jury to help us do the things that we need to do,” concluded Mayor Vidrine.
Bergeron also updated the jury on its proposed leasing of Crooked Creek. “We’re still researching it,” he said. “It would have to be something that we would bring back to the jury at a future meeting. We’re still looking at whether or not we can discuss leasing it. We’re looking as to whether or not there are any restrictions on the land that we purchased.”