Mayor-President Kip Holden followed through with a promise Monday he made recently to Mayor Pro Tem Mike Walker to free up funds for parish bridges in exchange for the Metro Council’s support of a downtown project approved last week.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council will consider Wednesday using $900,000 from a stalled riverfront project for bridge repairs.
The mayor’s office placed the money on the council’s agenda Monday morning, despite comments Holden’s aide, Scott Dyer, made to The Advocate last week indicating that the “deal fell apart” because of a lack of council support.
Walker reassured the full council Monday that Holden would uphold his side of the deal.
“This morning, Mayor Holden called me to let me know that Scott Dyer’s (comment) in this morning’s paper is inaccurate and that the agreement previously presented by the mayor regarding funding for bridge repair is still on the table,” Walker wrote in an email to the council.
Holden and Walker announced Sept. 28 that they had reached a compromise made behind the scenes of the Metro Council meeting in which the mayor agreed to provide money for bridge repairs if the council approved funding a disputed stage canopy in downtown Galvez Plaza.
The sculptured and functional stage canopy had a low bid of $900,000 and was almost rejected by the council at a previous meeting because of concerns about the cost and safety of the structure.
But the council voted Oct. 4 to approve the stage canopy.
However, some council members made it clear they were voting on the canopy project and were not in favor or supporting the deal made between Holden and Walker.
Interim Public Works Director William Daniel said there’s an urgent need for bridge repairs in the parish.
“Any amount of money is helpful,” he said. “We just wish we had more.”
He said the $900,000 will likely be used toward replacing a bridge, rather than general bridge repairs.
In recent months, Public Works employees identified 78 bridges in the parish in need of replacement.
The projects would have been funded by the mayor’s proposed $748 million capital improvement tax and bond package, but the Metro Council rejected sending the tax plan to voters.
“We know we have some bridges that need replacing and fixing, but that’s just not really an option,” Daniel said. “We’ll be looking where the most urgent need is.”
The $900,000 had been budgeted for another canopy project in the downtown riverfront area and would have provided shade and weather protection for people.
The funding had been approved in recent years, but the project had not been started, Holden has said.
“It could serve as a rendezvous area for cruise ship passengers and bus tours, a shelter for events, which could include crawfish boils, small concerts, and also just a place to rest and watch the sunsets,” said John Carpenter, chief administrative officer for Holden, in an email. “In the future, it could be refunded from the state rebate on the sales tax on hotels, which is dedicated for that type of project.”
The $900,000 of dedicated riverfront money will be transferred into the North Boulevard Town Square construction project, which then frees up undesignated parish general fund money that can be used for bridges.