Outrage after buyout for sewer plant neighbors fails in Metro Council

Louisiana Politics

POSTED: Thursday, December 13, 2012 - 12:08am

UPDATED: Thursday, December 13, 2012 - 5:08pm

A group of Scotlandville residents are determined to keep fighting East Baton Rouge Parish about the problems caused by a local sewer plant.

That is because the Metro Council failed to approve a $6 million settlement Wednesday that would have paid for them to move to new homes.

"No one should be living in human waste," said Greg Mitchell, a resident of the University Place subdivision.

Residents of University Place have sought reimbursement from the city-parish for nearly two decades because of health problems and decreased property values they say come from living so close to a waste water treatment facility.

The council fell one vote short of approving the settlement Wednesday. It also fell one vote short of deferring the issue to a future council meeting. Deferment would have allowed the newly-elected council members a chance to solve the problem. Instead, Wednesday's vote greatly reduces the chance a settlement will ever be reached, because the money for the settlement came from an extension of a sewer project.

Several council members tried to encourage both sides to adopt the buyout plan by explaining how the relocation process would help the community.

Given a chance to speak before the council, some residents said they felt concerned about getting a fair value for their houses.

"We just have a fear of, how much money are we gonna get?" explained Johnni Stewart.

The group's lawyer explained how a settlement like this, which forces the city-parish to label it a public project, provides certain legal protections, including making up any difference in costs to help the residents get into new, comparable houses in different neighborhoods.

"So, if there's some surety that the relocation costs will take care of that gap, then I guess, at the end of the day, that minimizes that risk," said Councilwoman Tara Wicker.

But Ulysses Addison, in his last meeting as Scotlandville's representative, did not think his colleagues should have offered their opinions.

"I don't think it's in their best interests," he said. "Not Mr. Addison. I think there are going to be some people who are going to be very much disgruntled over the idea that their personal properties got expropriated by this parish government system.

"They value our opinion. And I'm going to let my yea by yea and nay be nay while I sit on this body! But I'm not here to influence them!"

The lawyer for the community, Adam Abbott, said his clients were ready to take the deal, even if it was not a perfect solution.

"What we don't want is the perfect to be the enemy of the good," he stated.

When one University Place resident asked Mayor Pro Tem Mike Walker for his opinion, he was blunt about why this might be their last, best chance to get money from the government.

"I don't think we've got another dime to give you out of the general fund money," he said. I don't think you'll ever see it."

While some were reduced to tears after the vote failed, University Place residents said they would maintain their resolve.

"They know that it's a problem," said Chauntelle Mitchell. "We fought for it for a while, we've been in and out of court. Louisiana politics has worked, and so far, you know, we're just gonna keep fighting and we're gonna keep returning."

Councilman Addison disagreed about not being able to find money from the budget for the settlement, citing the council's vote earlier in the session to consider a $10 million contract to purchase a new joint law enforcement headquarters.

"If we have a will to do something, I think we can find a way to do it," he said.

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