AMITE — The Tangipahoa Parish Council agreed Tuesday to give voters the opportunity to decide in the Oct. 24 election whether to limit the parish president and council members to three consecutive four-year terms.
The council on Tuesday also created a committee to explore what measures the parish can take to force the state Department of Transportation and Development and the Canadian National Railroad to improve a number of railroad crossings and better maintain grass and vegetation along the tracks.
The term-limit issue has been lingering for at least two years when a Charter Review Committee asked the council to allow voters to decide if term limits should be applied to the parish president and council members. At the time, the council rejected that recommendation.
The matter was revived two months ago. After more debate, and three separate introductions of proposed term-limit ordinances, the council finally agreed, on a 7-2 vote Tuesday, to place the matter before the voters.
Voting in favor were Councilmen David Vial, Carlo Bruno, Trent Forrest, Greg Varnado, Ronnie Bankston, Harry Lavine and Nicky Muscarello. Voting no were Councilmen Louis Joseph and Lionel Wells. Council member Bobby Cortez abstained.
When casting his vote, Muscarello, who first proposed the ordinance two months ago, said, “I vote a big old hearty ‘yes!’ This has gone on long enough.”
Bankston opened the discussion about the railroad crossings when he noted that residents of his district have been complaining for years about the deplorable condition of the crossing that leads to Shadow Creek subdivision. He said some of his constituents have even had tires flattened while navigating the crossing.
His complaint brought a chorus of similar gripes about other crossings in the parish.
Bruno reminded the council that last year DOTD closed three crossings in Tangipahoa Parish despite pleas from many residents and council members to keep the crossings open. “If you remember, they came here in the middle of the night and dug up those crossings. The promise was that DOTD, working with the railroad, would make big improvements to the other crossings. Guess what? They have done zero for us since then.”
He said if the crossings are not cleared of overgrown vegetation, then motorists will not be able to see if a train is coming.
Several weeks ago a truck driver was killed when struck by an Amtrak train, and in the past year another motorist was seriously injured in a collision with a train. It’s not known, however, whether those accidents were due to the poor crossing conditions.
The Canadian Northern railroad system crosses the entire parish from north to south and east to west with the busy corridor connecting the Midwest to New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
The council had asked DOTD earlier to widen and improve the crossing at Bonfiglio Lane near Tickfaw where a new manufacturing plant and a trucking center are scheduled to open in the next few months. That crossing has not yet been improved.
Vial, the council president, appointed Bruno, Bankston and Joseph to serve on a special committee to explore what can be done to improve the crossings. Vial asked all council members to review crossings in their districts and to submit photos and other documentation. The committee will report back to the council at the next meeting on June 8.
In another matter, the council agreed to study how herbicides are being applied to parish ditches. Ponchatoula resident Richard Waltman said he is concerned that excessive spraying kills grass, with the result that soil runoff after rains fills the ditches with soil and thus impedes drainage.