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Sun continues to shine on St. John Past year marked by efforts at tranparency, trust building BY ROBIN SHANNON L’OBSERVATEUR

LAPLACE – With nearly 14 months as St. John the Baptist Parish President under her belt, Natalie Robottom says organization, transparency and trust have been the keys to positive steps for the future of the parish When Robottom took the helm in May 2010, the parish was still reeling from the scandal involving former Parish President Bill Hubbard. An investigation that ultimately led to Hubbard’s resignation and imprisonment also uncovered shady dealings between Hubbard’s contracting company and officials in Jefferson Parish. In the wake of that negative atmosphere surrounding the parish, Robottom said reestablishing trust with residents, employees and existing administrative leaders was critical. “Trust is something you earn, and we had a great deal of work to do in order to earn that trust back,” Robottom said. “Some things have been difficult to change, but now I think people see what we have in place is there for the right reasons.” The parish administration worked to alter procedures that govern the way engineers, architects and other

Work on the bridge on Country Club Drive was one of the recent projects in St. John the Baptist Parish that used the new text-message notification system. The system alerts residents to projects that may affect the flow of traffic in a certain neighborhood. Above, Parish President Natalie Robottom waves to a motorist as he drives across the newly opened bridge.

contractors are chosen. There is now more emphasis on requesting proposals or qualifications as opposed to simply selecting a favored firm. “Requests for proposals and qualifications has helped us achieve more competition among those looking to work in the parish,” Robottom said. “It makes us sit down and identify what we want. It’s not just about price. There are many other factors that go into the selection.” Although the process is more meticulous, Robottom said the council

still always has the final say on recommendations. The difference is that they are often provided with more information beforehand to allow them to make a more informed decision that will benefit the region and its residents. “We don’t spring things on the council,” Robottom said. “We don’t blindside them with new agenda items. They know what is coming because they have seen it already. In fact, there are often council members who sit on the committees in charge of reviewing

proposals.” The parish has also made an effort to add as much information as possible regarding contracts, RFPs, RFQs, bids, and project statuses to the parish website. Robottom said it is important that the average resident can visit the parish website to get as much information as they can about a particular project or contract. She said it also allows competing contractors the chance to see why they were not selected. “We have had an influx of records requests in the past year,” Ro-

bottom said. “People want to be more knowledgeable when it comes to government.” Robottom has also made sure that her staff is not left in the dark. There is regular communication among directors as well as quarterly all-staff meetings, which she said had never happened in the past. “The meetings follow a strict agenda that is mostly business,” Robottom said. “They are well attended, and there is often good interaction among staff members.” There are also project meetings every other week that include department heads, project managers and employees. She said it has allowed more coordination between department heads when necessary. Another important aspect of this past year for Robottom has been management of the parish’s $29.5 million public improvement bond project approved by voters in 2008. Robottom said it has been pivotal to have complete organization and regular status regarding the multitude of drainage, recreation and road construction projects presently in motion. “All of the projects developed within the bond program had been assigned, but there was

still some work as far as getting them designed and out for bid,” Robottom said. “All of the original projects plus some additional projects we were able to add to the mix are now managed step by step.” Robottom said with many of the bids for projects coming in under budget, the parish has been able to bring forward additions like the Homewood Place drainage project and a more expansive recreation plan for the west bank park complex. “We are working on an annual report that matches all of the money to each project,” Robottom said. “It all has an impact on how we operate.” There has also been more of a push to notify residents when projects come up in a specific neighborhood. Robottom said the parish uses text notifications to inform residents when a project or construction will affect them. She used the recent bridge replacement projects on Country Club Drive and Greenwood Drive as examples. “Residents were informed before work got started so that they could make arrangements,” Robottom said. “We are going into neighborhoods more to get their feedback regarding what they want to see done.”




Info to know St. John the Baptist Parish Parish President


Wayne Jones

Natalie Robottom 985-652-9569 parishpres@

985-652-9513 sheriff@stjohn

St. John Parish Council

Division A, At-Large Lucien Gauff

Division B, At-Large Steve Lee

District 1 Haston Lewis Sr.




District 2 Danny Millet

District 3 Charles Julien

District 4 Jaclyn Hotard




District 5 Darnel C. Usry

District 6 Ronnie Smith

District 7 Cheryl Millet







Info to know St. John the Baptist Parish Public School System Superintendent

Courtney Millet 985-536-1106 cmillet@stjohn.

School Board President District 4

Patrick Sanders 985-536-4247 psanders@

District 1

District 2

District 3

Russell Jack

Albert Burl III

Gerald Keller

985-497-8395 rjack@stjohn.k12.

985-535-2969 aburl@stjohn.k12.

985-536-6570 gkeller@

District 5

District 6

District 7

Sherry DeFrancesch

Keith Jones

Phillip Johnson

504-628-2934 sdefrancesch@st

District 8

District 9

Russ Wise

Lowell Bacas

985-652-7211 rwise@stjohn.

985-652-6882 lbacas@stjohn.

District 10

School Board Vice President District 11

Rodney Nicholas 504-818-8499 rnicholas@stjohn .

Clarence Triche 985-652-6193 ctriche@stjohn.

985-652-5170 kjones@stjohn.

985-651-4290 pjohnson@




St. John schools defy the odds Despite financial crunch, local education continues to improve BY DAVID VITRANO L’OBSERVATEUR

RESERVE – Despite facing budget woes at the beginning of the 2010-11 school year, the St. John the Baptist Parish school system managed to continue the pattern of growth it has exhibited over the past few years. Standardized test scores continued to improve, and the district now ranks 12th among the state’s 73 districts in terms of growth over the past four years. Additionally, the improvement in test scores has led to all of the district’s schools being labeled “Academically Acceptable” by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. “I think it’s a testament to our focus on classroom instruction,” said Superintendent Dr. Courtney Millet. Classroom time has benefitted from a relatively new, extremely

focused reading series to promote literacy, the addition of Response to Intervention teachers and Master Teachers at nearly every school in the district and the continued expansion of technology initiatives, such as the One-to-One Laptop Initiative, which gives every sixth- through ninthgrade English language arts student in the district access to laptops, and the presence of interactive whiteboards in most classrooms. “I believe the technology has made a big difference,” said Millet. She added this year was one of refining those measures that have worked rather than adding new, untested methods. Another major area of success for the district is in dual enrollment, which allows students to gain college credit while still in high school. Participation has grown from

Renovations and additions to education facilities continued during the 2010-11 school year. The construction of a new building at LaPlace Elementary School (above) is one of the largest projects in the district. The new building should be complete and ready for students by the latter half of the 2011-12 school year. (Staff photo by Baileigh Rebowe)

single digits just a few years ago to more than 300 students during the 2010-11 school year. Additionally, ongoing upgrades and renovations at all of the district’s education facilities have enhanced St. John’s learning environment. A new wing at

West St. John Elementary School will be unveiled in July and ready for use by students in the fall. Also, a new building is under construction at LaPlace Elementary School; it should be complete in time for the second half of the upcoming school year. Additionally, every school in the district has received upgrades of some sort thanks to a $46 million bond issue passed by voters in 2008. St. John’s voters continued to show support for the system by renewing 14 mills devoted to the school district’s health benefits and salaries. The renewals passed with 65 percent

of the vote. Despite the support of the voters, the district still struggles with a bit of an image problem in the eyes of many residents. While Millet recognizes there is no magic cure for such a problems, she noted, “We have worked to restore integrity, transparency, responsiveness and communication to the public in order to inspire greater trust in what we do in the St. John school system. For instance, our educational and facilities plan was developed with input from the public, and it is posted online for public view along with monthly

updates on our progress.” The district has tried to improve communication between educators and the community in other ways, as well. Monthly newsletters and calendars keep parents up to date, as does the “Supe’s On” cable show. The district also uses BlackBoard’s EdConnect system to keep in phone contact with parents and has added a truancy hotline for concerned community members. Additionally, members of the community can have their voices heard by partici-


SATURDAY, JUNE 25, 2011 pating in Community Advisory Board meetings. It has often been said a student can only be as good as his or her teacher, so to that end St. John has continued its professional development programs, such as Dr. Michael Fullan’s Motion Leadership workshops and dis-

trictwide grade-level meetings. Such measures, according to Millet, have increased coherence throughout the parish. “(Our employees) have been super,” said Millet. “Everybody is on the same page.” Although shaping the budget for the upcoming school year is sure

to be another challenge, perhaps even more so than last year, Millet said the district’s mission remains clear. “Our job is to teach our students, and that’s our focus,” she said. “Our goal is to give our students and teachers the best opportunities possible with the resources we have.”

Motion Leadership workshops are one of the ways St. John has tried to build coherence throughout the district. (Staff photo by David Vitrano)





Building recreation opportunities not all fun and games BY RYAN ARENA L’OBSERVATEUR

Recreation opportunities in St. John the Baptist Parish continue to evolve, as a number of projects have been completed recently or are well underway. A number of improvements to the West Bank Park Complex in Edgard are now complete, including a driving entrance, the addition of more lighting and a walking path for residents. “It already seems to be popular,” said St. John Parish spokesperson Paige Braud. “As we go through Edgard, we’re seeing a lot of residents using that path.” One thing still in

limbo – relatively – is the airnasium, an outdoor covered basketball court, scheduled to be constructed at the complex. In April, the St. John Parish Council awarded M. Slayton Construction of Metairie the contract for the project. But its start has been delayed because of restrictions placed upon construction near the levee. With high water levels in the Mississippi River, a ban has been placed on any digging, trenching, excavating and pile driving within 1,500 feet of the levee. “It’s going to happen, but it’s just being delayed right now. It’s out of our hands,” said Braud.

Brand new docks are just one of the upgrades made recently to the Reserve boat launch. (Staff photos by Ryan Arena)

The restrictions are expected to be lifted once the water level drops to an acceptable point. Braud said that could likely happen in

gym owned by the parish. Those who enjoy boating are in luck because of the recent upgrades to the Reserve boat launch. The parish redid the parking lot and the docks and put lights in place. “It’s just about complete. We wanted to beautify it a bit more,” said Braud. “There are a few things left to do, still improving the lighting, things like that. But mostly, it’s a done deal.” The pools were not the only things to open on June 6, as the parishrun summer camps began that day and will run through July 14 at area schools, Monday through Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. each day. Braud said that the camps revolve around activities for children that include sports, arts and crafts, music, a talent show and movie viewings. The camps utilize the parish’s summer feeding program for daily lunches as well. “It’s about keeping them busy and active,” said Braud.

July. modate the area’s “The sooner, the bet- Biddy teams. ter,” she said. “We’re hoping for it to For the cost of a dol- be done by August,” lar, those on the West said Braud. Bank and East Bank The gym is expected alike of St. John Parish to seat over 250 people. can cool down with a It’s major benefit will dip in the pool, as the be to allow the parish’s public pools at Harold recreation teams to Scott Roussell Park in have a home gym, in Edgard and Regala contrast to having to Park in Reserve have compromise with area been open as of June 6. schools for the use of In previous years, the their gyms for practices pools were closed be- and games. It will also cause of a staffing house a concession shortage, but that issue area for both indoor has been rectified. The and outdoor events at pools are open Tuesday the park. It will be the through Friday each first indoor recreation week from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., and on Saturday and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. The main area of progress at Regala is the ongoing construction of a new two-story gymnasium that will house a two-in-one basketball court as well as the recreation department’s headquarters. The court will be fullsized, with baskets on Construction of a two-story gymnasium at Regala each sideline to accom- Park is expected to be complete by August.




St. James setting stage for growth Parish mapping out residential and industrial zones with help from public BY ROBIN SHANNON L’OBSERVATEUR

CONVENT – Industry, infrastructure and planning for future growth are the major elements of progress in St. James Parish over the past year. The parish is very near wrapping up nearly two years of work on its comprehensive land use plan. The plan compiles input that will help the parish govern the region and its residents for the next 20 years. The 19-person steering committee for the land use plan unveiled a first draft earlier this year. The steering committee’s final public meeting was held Monday and the plan now awaits approval of the parish planning com-

mission next month. The steering committee members analyzed strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats related to the seven focus areas of public infrastructure: facilities, transportation, housing, human services, community assets, land use and economic development. Some of the highlights include a broader emphasis on education for future residents of the region that will strengthen the economic development of the rural and industrial community within the parish, a need to eliminate some of the land use conflicts that crop up in the area with a desire to preserve the rural character of the community and the possibility of developing some type of zoning

ordinance to create specific-use districts. The need or possibility of industrial use districts comes on the heels of an impending industrial boom in the parish that started with construction of a new sugar refinery, hyped as one of the largest in the nation. The parish also finally received word that Nucor Corp. will construct a more than $3 billion steel and iron facility in Convent. There is also definite expansion and planned construction at a pair of petroleum storage tank facilities on the west bank of the parish. “These projects are allowing for sustained growth in manufacturing jobs and also adding several high-paying industrial jobs to the

From left, state Secretary of Economic Development Stephen Moret, Gov. Bobby Jindal and Rep. Nickie Monica were among the officials on hand for the announcement that Nucor would be building a steel and iron manufacturing facility in St. James Parish.

The St. James Parish courthouse in Convent was recently “hazard proofed,” a measure which will protect the structure in the event of a major storm. (Staff photos by Robin Shannon)

parish,” Parish President Dale Hymel said. “We are weathering the economic downturn plaguing many parts of the country right now.” Construction is also moving forward on several St. James Parish buildings on both sides of the Mississippi River as part of an initiative to upgrade hurricane protection and expand office space. The parish recently completed work on “hazard proofing” the parish courthouse in Convent, the courthouse annex in Vacherie, water plants in Gramercy and Convent, and the gymnasium at Lutcher High School, which is used as a storm shelter. Hymel said funding for the upgrades came from the parish’s Hazard Mitigation Plan for recovery from hurricanes Katrina and Gustav. “We were granted $5.5

million from FEMA and the state,” Hymel said. “We’ve spent more than $4.7 million of it already.” In addition to the storm proofing, Hymel said the parish also recently completed construction of an expansion at the Convent courthouse to free up office and storage space for the court system and other parish administration. “The parish borrowed about $3 million to construct a new wing on the western side of the courthouse,” Hymel said. “The present courthouse was built in 1971 and has not undergone any major changes since then.” The parish also received more than $10 million in disaster recovery money for drainage projects, a new water line and a possible multi-purpose shelter. Hymel said the parish was approved to

receive the money through the Community Development Block Grant program. Hymel said the parish set aside $1 million each for the towns of Gramercy and Lutcher. He said the money is being used for drainage and sewerage issues and a remodel of the Lutcher town hall. He said the remaining $8.3 million would go toward installation of a water line under the Mississippi River to connect water purification plants on both sides of the river and construction of a multipurpose safe room/ emergency shelter in Convent to house the parish’s industrial plant personnel. “It has been a prosperous year for the parish, and we are hoping to continue that momentum through the remainder of 2011 and into 2012,” Hymel said.




Info to know St. James Parish Parish President

St. James Parish Council

Dale Hymel Jr. 225-562-2260


Willy Martin Jr. 225-562-2377

District 1 Elwyn Bocz

District 2 Jason Amato

District 3 Wilson Malbrough Jr.

District 4 Ralph Patin

225-206-1621 elwyn.bocz@

225-268-6902 jason.amato@

225-206-2255 wilson.malbrough@


District 5 Charles Ketchens

District 6 Kendrick Brass

District 5 James Brazan

225-206-1625 charles.ketchens@

225-229-2492 kendrick.brass@

225-206-1627 james.brazan@




Info to know St. James Parish Public School System District 1

District 2

District 3

Diana Cantillo

Kenneth Foret Sr.

Carol Lambert

225-869-7933 dcantillo@

225-869-5267 kforet@stjames.

225-869-5134 clambert@

District 4

District 5

District 6

District 7

George Nassar Jr.

Patricia Schexnayder

Charles Nailor Sr.

Richard Reulet Jr.

225-562-7528 gnassar@

225-265-8357 pschexnayder@

225-265-3873 cnailor@stjames.

225-265-2380 rreulet@stjames.


Alonzo Luce 225-258-4500 lluce@stjames.













St. James schools building on past growth BY DAVID VITRANO L’OBSERVATEUR

LUTCHER – For the St. James Parish school system, the 2010-11 school year was marked by growth tempered with an eye toward streamlining. Many aspects of Lutcher High School will be radically different when students return to school in the fall. A new media center and library has been completed, and construction of a new stadium to replace the one damaged by fire in November 2010 is scheduled to be finished by the start of football season. “There will be a lot more parking, and it will look a whole lot nicer,” said Superintendent Dr. Alonzo Luce. At Paulina Elementary, additional land was purchased to alleviate the traffic around the school at drop-off and pick-up times. Vacherie Elementary and Vacherie Primary are undergoing consolidation. When school

opens in the fall, Vacherie Elementary will house grades pre-K through sixth. Luce is hopeful the changes will be made in time for the start of the school year, but if they are not, he said pre-K students may start a little later than anticipated. Luce said the school board will consider ways to further streamline operations at the annual retreat in July. “There could be future consolidation,” said Luce. He said the board will have to look at the parish’s master plan to determine the best locations for learning institutions. It has been a summer of change for St. James High School, which now has new leaders for both academics and athletics. The west bank high school will also be getting a new stadium in time for the 2012 football season. Demolition of the school’s current stadium is expected to begin immediately following the 2011 football season.

The foundation for the new stadium at Lutcher High School was recently poured. The stadium is expected to be complete by the time football season starts. (Staff photos by David Vitrano)

Upgrades to facilities were not the only improvements made to the school system during the past year. The district continued to expand its 1-1 Laptop Program. During the 2010-11 school

Crews are currently putting the finishing touches on the new library and media center at Lutcher High School.

year, the program was expanded to ninthgraders, and the district will add 10thgraders this year. The program provides laptops that students are able to use in all their classes as well as at home. Dual enrollment continued to expand in the parish, with students taking classes at both Nicholls State University and River Parishes Community College. LEAP results offered another bright spot for the district. “We continued to grow academically,” said Luce. “I think we grew at just about every school.” The district experience academic growth

beyond the walls of its traditional K-12 institutions. According to Luce, the district saw seven students graduate from its GED program during the 2010-11 school year. “It’s a radical improvement for us,” said Luce. St. James also enjoyed success on the basketball court, with the girls basketball team at St. James High School taking home the state title. Like most school districts, the parish ism learning to make do with less state funding. “We’re proposing another deficit for this year,” said Luce. Luce said he hopes

tax revenues will again be healthier than predicted, as they were this year when a projected deficit turned to surplus for the parish. Luce said next year will see a continued focus on programs — especially literacy programs — begun in previous years. “That’s the key to where we are,” said Luce. The looming budget deficit could not dampen Luce’s optimism about the upcoming year. “I think we’re primed for more academic growth,” said Luce. “We’re really excited about getting everyone on our bus moving forward next year.”




Industry fuels growth in St. James BY ROBIN SHANNON L’OBSERVATEUR

LAPLACE – St. James Parish is in the midst of an economic and industrial boon highlighted by the news late last year that a more than $3 billion steel and iron manufacturing facility would be built in the coming years. In September, officials from Nucor Corp. descended on St. James Parish to announce the company’s plans for a multi-phase manufacturing complex on a 4,000-acre tract of land in Convent. The project is expected to begin construction in the coming weeks on a $750 million direct reduced iron facility. The state had been waiting more than two years for Nucor to make its decision on bringing its new investment to the area. The North Carolina-based company had narrowed its choice down to the site in Convent and a similar location in Brazil. Nucor officials said the project provides an opportunity for the

company to harness more control over its raw materials and make them more competitive in the long run. Gov. Bobby Jindal said the direct reduced iron facility would add 150 permanent jobs, in addition to 500 construction jobs. By the end of the five-phase plan, which includes an additional reduced iron facility, a pellet plant, a blast furnace and coke oven and an eventual steel mill, the facility will add 1,250 direct jobs and another 4,800 indirect jobs to the local economy. “These are good jobs that will go to local people,” said Nucor Chief Operating Officer John Ferriola. “I am proud and excited that they are going to American workers.” Jindal said economists from LSU estimate the facility could generate more than $560 million in new tax revenue, which includes more than $122 million for St. James Parish alone. He said the average salary for new plant employees

would be as much as $75,000 plus benefits. The state used a substantial incentive package to further influence Nucor’s investment in the St. James site and encourage them to follow through with all five phases. For the first phase of the project, Jindal said the company will receive $30 million from bonds that taxpayers guarantee through the state construction budget. St. James is also putting forward a $30 million loan that could turn into a grant if the next phase of the project proceeds. The state is also offering $600 million in Gulf Opportunity Zone bonds. Jindal said Nucor is responsible for paying back those bonds. Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret said the company must initiate all five phases by 2015 to get the full incentive package. “It is a dream come true,” said St. James Parish President Dale Hymel. “It is a great win for the state and an even greater win for St.

James Parish.” In addition to Nucor, a series of smaller scale projects are waiting in the wings, or are already in the works. Work is nearly complete on a $150 million joint venture sugar refinery in Gramercy that will utilize existing components of the Imperial Sugar refinery. The project brings together representatives from Imperial, Cargill and the Louisiana Sugar Growers and Refiners, or SUGAR. John Sheptor, CEO for Imperial, said when the refinery begins operations in early 2012, it will be equipped to refine a million tons of raw sugar per year with nearly all of it coming from the 700 sugarcane growers represented under the SUGAR umbrella. Lonnie Champagne, the group’s general manager, said those growers produced more than 975,000 tons of sugar in 2009. Sheptor said the new refinery will incorporate elements of the existing refinery, which was built in 1895. He said the new plant is expected to create about 150 permanent jobs within the operations and more than 500 temporary jobs at peak construction. The project is slated to be finished early next year. In October, parish and state leaders gathered in the west bank community of St. James to celebrate the opening a state-of-theart rail terminal for the

transport of crude oil. The terminal, owned by U.S. Development Group LLC of Houston, is the first in a planned nationwide network of rail terminals to handle crude oil. “It’s sort of a rolling pipeline that connects the refineries in this area to sources of crude in other parts of the country,” said Terminal Manager Joe Williams. “It’s an opportunity for us to safely and efficiently supply refineries with crude from wells throughout the U.S. and Canada instead of going overseas.” The rail terminal consists of several miles of rail track from the Union Pacific Railroad and a fully automated 26-slot rail rack for offloading of materials from train cars. Williams said the facility features an initial capacity of 650,000 barrels of oil a day, which is then sent to the Plains All American Facility for refining. He said each railcar is manually inspected for quantity and quality before being hooked into the pipeline. Former Lt. Gov. Scott Angelle, who was present at the opening, said although the facility only brings a limited number of jobs to the region, terminals like this bring the possibility for future economic growth. The parish is also expected to gain jobs with expansion and new construction of

petroleum storage tank facilities on the west bank. The St. James Council has granted NuStar Logistics access to more than $100 million in GO Zone bonds for construction of a twophase expansion at its St. James facility. The first phase of the expansion will double the size of the storage facility from 4.8 million barrel capacity to more than 9 million barrel capacity. The project will add 24 storage tanks to the facility’s footprint that range in size from 90,000 barrels to 363,000 barrels. The first phase, expected to be online by August, is slated to bring about 400 new jobs to the region. Also on tap is the pending construction of a new 63-tank crude oil, petroleum and biodiesel storage facility in Vacherie owned by Petroplex International. The group recently purchased more than 1,700 acres of land along River Road to be used for the facility. Larry Sciacchetano, a managing partner for Petroplex, said the facility is permitted for 10 million barrels of storage but said the project would begin as a 4 million barrel facility and expand to 10 after the first phase is complete. Total cost of the project, which could take as much as seven years to complete, is roughly $700 million.




St. Charles creating roadmap to prosperity BY ROBIN SHANNON L’OBSERVATEUR

HAHNVILLE – Officials in St. Charles Parish took great steps over the past year to prepare parish residents for the future of the region. The preparation was highlighted by a 20-year comprehensive master plan unveiled in May. The plan, known as St. Charles 2030, is the culmination of nearly two years of input and meetings with residents about the future of the parish. The final document will assist future leaders in governing the parish for the next two decades. Parish spokesperson Renee Simpson said the plan addresses several different elements including economic development, land use, housing, community character, transportation, infrastructure and open space conservation. She said the plan looks to coordinate these elements to ensure that public funds are spent efficiently and effectively. There are also number of construction projects in the works, on the horizon or near completion, including a new community center in Luling, a new emergency operations center in Hahnville near the courthouse and a demolition and renovation of the vacant third floor of the courthouse to add office and storage space. According to plans for the EOC, the facility

would be a 13,000square-foot building with an estimated cost of $3.9 million. Simpson said the current facility is cramped and outdated, and the location is prone to flooding. As for the third floor of the courthouse, Simpson said the parish is converting the 19,000-square-foot area into office and storage space for the Finance Department, Public Information Office, purchasing, council records and other government offices. Work began in 2009 and is slated to wrap up in 2012. In March, the parish cut the ribbon on the parish’s new home for the Public Works Department inside the renovated former site of the Destrehan public library. Simpson said the parish pumped more than $506,000 into renovations to convert the former East Regional Library into much needed office space for the Public Works Department. Public Works had been sharing space with the Waterworks Department, which is located in Luling, but Parish President V.J. St. Pierre said the move was necessary so the parish could make room for an additional storage tank for the parish’s West Bank Water Treatment Plant. The move also served as an opportunity to save a more than 30year-old parish building that would have certainly been demolished.

St. Charles Public Works Director Sam Scholle (right) speaks to Parish President V.J. St. Pierre Jr. in the new offices of the Public Works Department. The offices are housed in the former East Bank Regional Library. (Staff photo by Robin Shannon)

The 11,000-square-foot building was vacated in April 2010 when the East Regional Library moved to its new 40,000square-foot home just down the road from the old building. The parish is also primed to begin work on a new animal shelter on a 7,800-acre tract of land near the new St. Charles Parish sheriff ’s complex in Luling that will allow animal control to expand its services. “The existing building is close to 30 years old,” said Simpson. “It’s outdated and much too small to handle the expanded population the shelter is dealing with.” Cost of the project is about $1.5 million. Simpson said the parish budgeted $750,000 for the project in addition to a $250,000 appropriation from the state budget. She said the parish is making up the remainder through grants. Recently completed projects within the par-

ish include a $26 million water treatment facility in New Sarpy and a 7-mile paved biking and walking path atop the levee on the west bank of the parish.

Simpson said the New Sarpy site, which now has two new water clarifiers and eight new filters, is able to produce up to 13 million gallons of water per day. She said the oldest clarifier on the site was constructed in 1950 and refurbished in 1979 and is still in service. In the private sector, Valero Energy Corp. announced in November that it will have access to about $300 million in Gulf Opportunity Zone Bonds to help finance an expansion at its Norco facility. Valero spokesman Bill Day said the expansion project would not increase production at the facility, which al-

ready produces 250,000 barrels of oil per day, but would increase the proportion of ultra-low sulfur diesel produced in the company’s system. He said the project is expected to increase production of gasoline by 11,000 barrels per day and ultra-low sulfur diesel by 49,000 barrels per day. The expansion is expected to create about 30 permanent full-time jobs, and about 1,500 construction jobs. The company employs 500 people at the Norco refinery. Day said the company had hoped to break ground on the expansion in 2008, but the project was shelved when the price of oil fell.




Info to know St. Charles Parish Parish President

V. J. St. Pierre Jr.

St. Charles Parish Council



Greg Champagne 985-783-6237

Division A, At-Large Carolyn Schexnayder

Division B, At-Large Terry Authement

District 1 Billy Raymond Sr.

District 2 Shelley Tastet



504-915-4109 braymond@


District 3 Wendy Benedetto

District 4 Paul Hogan

504-382-7492 wbenedetto@

504-915-4116 phogan@

District 5 Larry Cochran

District 6 Marcus Lambert

District 7 Dennis Nuss

504-305-0179 lcochran@

985-287-0192 mlambert@

504-915-4062 dnuss@




Info to know St. Charles Parish Public School System District 1

District 2

Rodney Lafon

Ellis Alexander

Mary Bergeron

985-785-6289 rlafon@stcharles.


985-785-6680 mbergeron@stcharles.

District 3

District 4

District 5

Dennis Naquin

Clarence Savoie

John Smith


985-758-2494 csavoie@stcharles.k12.

504-469-0167 jsmith@

District 6

District 7

District 8

John Robichaux

Stephen Crovetto

Alex Suffrin

504-416-1571 jrobichaux@

985-785-1143 us

985-764-4288 asuffrin@stcharles.





Information key to St. Charles schools’ success BY BAILEIGH REBOWE


LULING – Improvement was on the menu this school year for St. Charles Parish Public Schools. According to Superintendent Dr. Rodney Lafon, the 20112012 school year showed the most growth he has seen from students individually and from almost each grade level in 17 years as superintendent. He credits some of this success to a new data management system called “Inform,” which allows principals and school employees to do in-depth, informal assessments of the students. By using the program, one can look at areas such as where a child was last year academically, how he/she is growing, what areas are progressing and what areas need to be worked on. He said principals have really started looking into the classrooms and at each individual’s development. Lafon stressed the need to keep growing as a school system but does not want to compare the growth of students in St. Charles schools with other schools and districts because all students have different abilities, strengths and weaknesses. “We compare ourselves to ourselves,” Lafon said. “We don’t have the same students in every parish. I am more concerned with true value added

The gymnasium at Harry Hurst Middle School is currently undergoing renovations and updates. A new wing of classrooms is being added to the school as well. (Staff photo by Baileigh Rebowe)

growth. How does the child look from year to year?” He said he wants students to be able to learn a variety of skills that can be used after high school. The Louisiana Career Diploma Program was implemented this year to give students at the end of ninth or 10th grade the opportunity to take career-related classes in a major subject area. If the students decide to do this, they will graduate with a standard diploma and will be able to enter a community or technical college and even be eligible for a TOPS tech scholarship. “It’s not enough to teach regular curriculum, I want everyone to be prepared,” Lafon said.

Newly implemented “learner goals” are expectations of how each student should function in a classroom and were developed to test student abilities beyond core subject learning in order to gain skills life skills. Some of them are: be a knowledgeable competent person, be a critical thinker, be an involved citizen and be an effective communicator. One learner goal will be displayed each month on the upcoming school year’s calendar. Lafon’s expectations of ongoing improvement and learning were reminded to employees last year at all times in the form of a credo card. The employees are required to carry the card, which states the school system’s

mission, vision and beliefs regarding the public and students. The back of the card states the focus of St. Charles Parish Schools: Continuous Improvement. “Customer excellence standards” are a recent addition to the credo card, according to Public Information Officer Rochelle CancienneTouchard. She said the standards act as guidelines for employees on the way they should conduct business and treat their customers — students and parents. Standards for employees will be seen on a larger scale next year through the Branding Styles Guide that will be administered to each employee at the start of the school year. The guide pinpoints how to

conduct communication with parents, how to utilize resources such as Facebook and Twitter for communication and how employees should be ambassadors of the school system, even when school is not in session. Four major construction projects began last year at Hurst Middle School in Destrehan and J.B. Martin Middle School in Luling. The superintendent said gyms at both schools are still undergoing renovations and updates. A new wing of classrooms will also be added to both schools. The construction is part of a plan to make all middle schools in the parish include sixth, seventh and eighth grade by the fall

of 2012. “Sixth graders are better placed at a middle school because of their maturity levels. Like (Albert) Cammon and R.K. Smith, Hurst and J.B. Martin will be a true middle school,” Lafon said. Lafon is still excited about the school year’s successes. Hurst Middle School teacher Leigh Baltazar was named the 2011 regional middle school teacher of the year. She will be competing at the state level next month. Also on the district’s list of accomplishments is the Hahnville Lady Tiger’s softball team, which won a state championship in April. “They were the first female sports team to bring home a state championship ever for the parish,” said Lafon. The superintendent is looking forward to next year’s agenda and building outward from a core of recurring themes: improvement, employee-to-public relations and learner goals. Improvement will continue next school year through the InDepth Study Achievement Gap that looks at the gap among children from different income levels to get all children closer to the same learning levels. Lafon said it is not a blame study but another way to grow and improve. “It is a step in the right direction for any school system,” said Lafon.




St. Charles flood protection at all-time high New projects shoring up protection for both east and west bank of parish BY BAILEIGH REBOWE


DESTREHAN – June marks a milestone for hurricane protection in St. Charles Parish. With the finishing touches being put on the east bank projects and the contract to further construction on the west bank, threats from lakes in the area are reduced and residents can sleep a little bit easier now during storm season. The Lake Pontchartrain and Vicinity east bank hurricane protection project provides levee floodwall and drainage structures to a previously unprotected area. The project is more than 95 percent complete, according to U.S. Army Corp of Engineers New Orleans Project Manager Carl Anderson. The project is designed to provide defense for residents who live in the area from the airport to the Bonnet Carre Spillway against tidal surges from Lake Pontchartrain. Brad Drouant, also a project manager with the corps, said the project defends against a 100-year storm surge, a storm surge event that has a one percent chance of occurring in any given year. “We have a permanent plan in place for hurricane protection, which is a big deal because it is not the case in some other

The Cross Bayou Drainage Structure on the east bank of St. Charles Parish closes in the event of a major storm or hurricane to prevent storm surge from Lake Pontchartrain from flooding residences and businesses on the protected side. (Staff photo by Baileigh Rebowe)

areas,” said Drouant. “We’re really proud of that.” According to the corps, work on the east bank of St. Charles Parish consists of nine miles of levees, construction of new concrete floodwalls, a new railroad gate and replacement/construction of four drainage structures: Cross Bayou, St. Rose, Almedia and Walker. Anderson said hurricane protection in the parish has advanced significantly compared

to a few years ago. “We’ve accomplished a lot in St. Charles since Katrina. The risk reduction has grown tremendously compared to then, and that’s what we want people to know,” Anderson said. Drouant agrees, saying one of the purposes of the project is to improve on what went wrong during past storms and better equip the parish to face to new one. “The lowest levee before Hurricane Katrina was 6 to 8 feet. The

lowest levee in the parish now is 16 feet,” said Drouant. The North Airline Highway Cross Bayou

Drainage structure channels water in case of a high rain event away from the canal and protected side of

Airline Highway to the floodside so water does not build up and spill into residences and businesses. In the event of a major storm, the drainage structure will be shut down so the new drainage pumps can start pumping water away from protected area. If no pumping is involved and the lake water levels are high, problems occur, according to Anderson. The pump station is a project of the Pontchartrain Levee District and part of the LPV project. Steve Wilson, president of the Pontchartrain Levee District, said the purpose of the pump station project is to “reduce localized flooding and assist in protecting Airline Highway, a major hurricane route for the City of New Orleans.” The St. Charles Parish North of Airline Highway levee is anoth-


PAGE 22 er feature of the LPV and Pontchartrain Levee District project. “We feel like this levee, along with the Cross Bayou pump station under construction, will give east St. Charles residents a comfort level while reminding folks that they should still heed warnings for evacuation when issued by local state emergency officials,” said Wilson. There is still some work to be done on the LPV project, but Drouant said it is mostly “clean up and close out” things like knocking down the old Cross Bayou drainage structure and getting grass to grow on the levees in such extreme heat. The pump station is ahead of schedule and will be completed by the “heart of hurricane season,” according to Wilson. The west bank of St. Charles Parish is currently unprotected from storm surges from hurricanes and high tide conditions. But this will change soon. Phase I of the West Bank Vicinity hurricane protection project, the earthen levee, is partially constructed and put in place in Boutte, according to Chief Engineer Mike

Chopin of Burk-Kleinpeter Inc. — the head contractor on the project. He said there are still structures in Phase I that need to be constructed, but they have to reapply for a permit. The corps recently granted the parish a permit to move forward on to Phase II (Willowridge) of the threephase levee project. This includes an earthen levee, drainage canals, tidal exchange structures, concrete T-

walls and a pumping station. Phase II will protect the Mimosa, Lakewood and Willowdale areas of Luling. “This permit is a very important piece of the larger puzzle that, when complete, will offer hurricane protection for the West Bank,” Parish President V.J. St. Pierre Jr. said. The project site has been declared a federal disaster area at least eight times since 1985 and has caused FEMA

to provide disaster assistance to St. Charles Parish since 2008. The WBV levee will run from Jefferson Parish to the Davis Diversion guide levee and then tie in to the


Mississippi River levee in Ama. When the levee project is complete, the more than 25,000 people who call the west bank of St. Charles Parish home will have a levee system in place to

defend the area against storm surge and high tides. The project has gained attention from prominent state officials. Sen. Mary Landrieu visited the site of the proposed West Bank hurricane protection levee system on May 24 and participated in an aerial tour of the site. U.S. Sen. David Vitter and Reps. Bill Cassidy and Rodney Alexander toured the construction area on May 20. According to Chopin, there is no expected completion date for the project. Burk-Kleinpeter is currently obtaining a permit for Phase III, which will join levees from phases I and II. Total construction cost for the LPV project is about $100 million and about $150 million for the WBV project. For updates on St. Charles Parish Hurricane Protection projects, visit

The new Cross Bayou Pump Station in Destrehan will protect the east bank of St. Charles Parish from localized flooding and pump water away from Airline Highway in case of a major storm. The pump station is part of the Lake Ponchartrain Vicinity Hurricane Protection project and is scheduled to be complete in the next few months. (Staff photo by Baileigh Rebowe)






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