Hesitance on drainage grant must be overcome|OUR OPINION

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 21, 2008

Regardless of who does or doesn’t get the credit, the people of Warren County will be ill-served if a $3.9 million federal allocation to improve the course of creeks through the city is allowed to go down the drain.

As we understand the sequence, it was the idea of District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon, whose constituents in his all-city district are most bothered by open bayous, to accept a planning consultant’s offer to seek the Katrina-related grant. Upon further examination, it was discovered by Selmon’s fellow supervisors that the money would come with major strings attached. Accepting the money would give rise to accepting responsibility for continuing maintenance in work areas and potential liability if there were problems with erosion and such.

As a result, it appeared, the county, as the applicant, would accept the grant, which was approved, and turn it over to the city administration — as well as continuing responsibilities.

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Not so fast, said Selmon, once a candidate for mayor and naturally desirous of winning adulation for the project. Not so fast, said Mayor Laurence Leyens, who always has insisted that since 60 percent of Warren County revenue is derived from municipal residents, the county government should have more projects inside the corporate limits.

Another factor cited as supervisors mulled whether to reject the grant is that the project is complex. Easements will be required because the bayous wend through residential areas. Lots of surveys, paperwork, maybe even formation of a drainage district.

The positive aspects must be decisive. Cleaning and enclosing storm water in culverts has already been completed along much of the bayous’ routes. That work has been followed by improvement in property values and less exposure to insects, vermin, odor and the risk of disease. The city has put years of effort into improving substandard property. This one grant can change the outlook for dozens of homes that no one wants to fix up because they’ll never be worth anything as long as they abut open sewers.

It’s good to have officials who consider long-term costs, but it’s bad to have officials who put politics first or are willing to for go major improvements because extensive mining of land records will be required.

Citizens should demand the city and county move ahead in accepting this allocation and getting the work done.