GONZALES — The Ascension Parish Council on Thursday night approved buying the 14-acre South Louisiana State Fairgrounds in Donaldsonville with federal hurricane recovery dollars.
Parish officials said they would spend about $1.1 million in Community Development Block Grant dollars for the longtime recreation site — $988,000 for the property and the remainder on review and work related to the purchase.
A private nonprofit corporation, South Louisiana State Fair Inc., whose officers are Charles Lemann Jr., Robert Lemann and Joseph Mistretta, owns the property, parish and state corporation records say.
Martha Collins, parish grants officer, said the purchase is the third project the parish has completed of 13 funded with $19.37 million awarded the parish in 2009 after hurricanes Gustav and Ike struck Louisiana.
The other projects completed are the purchase of Lamar-Dixon Expo Center and a recently finished drainage study of the parish’s west bank, Collins said.
Parish President Tommy Martinez told the council Thursday that there are plans for a Donaldsonville fire station and a new parish public works building at the fairgrounds, as well as continuing recreation on ball fields.
Officials said they also plan to build a pavilion and replace lights for baseball fields at the fairgrounds.
Councilman Kent Schexnaydre thanked the Lemann family for keeping the site a recreational area for many years, though it is prime property near downtown Donaldsonville.
The corporation has been leasing the land to Donaldsonville or the parish for four decades.
“I think the parish has a great debt to them for what they have done,” he said.
The 9-0 council vote came about a month and a half after the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality determined the parish would not have to do remediation on a small patch soil near a parish public works facility on the site.
Two 500-gallon underground diesel and gasoline storage tanks were once in the public works area at 420 Church St., Donaldsonville, but were shut down and removed in 1990, a parish consultant’s studies say.
Aboveground tanks replaced the old tanks and the earth is covered with gravel, the studies say.
Beth James, Martinez’s chief executive assistant, said the use of Community Development Block Grant money required study of the site after the underground tanks came to light.
Soil borings did find chemicals from diesel fuel in a very small part of the tested area of about 350 square feet. But they were not in concentrations that required removal under the site’s current industrial use, the reports from PSI say.
Vicki Hadwin, DEQ environmental scientist supervisor, reviewed the two PSI studies. She said in an interview this week the studies found the area is safe for industrial use and does not pose a risk to the baseball fields on the other side of the fairgrounds.
The studies also eliminated risks to drinking water and considered the possibility that the chemicals could move underground.
Hadwin said the studies found that if the substances did migrate, they would head west 50 feet to a ditch away from the ball fields and be in safe concentrations.
DEQ said in its Sept. 1 letter to the parish that no soils may be removed from the affected area without DEQ approval. Construction of enclosed structures over that area would require DEQ approval.
The parish plans to cover the small area where the chemicals were found with part of a concrete parking lot and move the aboveground tanks, James said.