Despite the domestic instincts of two woodpecker families and some misgivings on the part of the city’s mayor, Mandeville’s agreement to contribute $2.5 million to a proposed east Mandeville bypass road crept a little closer to reality Thursday.
By a 3-0 vote with two members absent, the council passed a resolution that will allow Mayor Donald Villere to hammer out an agreement on exactly who will be responsible for what in the construction of the 2.5-mile road that would stretch between La. 1088 and U.S. 190 and create a badly needed second entry to Pelican Park.
Though a collegial atmosphere prevailed at Thursday night’s meeting, at which Villere, Councilman Rick Danielson and St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister took turns thanking one another for helping to advance the project, some reservations appear to linger, at least on Villere’s part.
When the $2.5 million was first inserted into the city’s 2014 budget at the behest of Danielson, Villere vigorously opposed it, saying it didn’t make sense for the city to spend money on a project outside the city limits. The council sided with Danielson and approved the money anyway, though it has not been spent.
Some of that animus seemed to have receded this year, when Villere included the money for the project in his proposed 2015 budget, which he presented to the council in June and which must be approved by Sept. 1.
At a July news conference, Villere, along with Danielson and Brister, as well as other officials, praised the project as a “need that is going to help a lot of people.”
“This is more money than the city has committed to a project in the city of Mandeville, and this isn’t in the city,” he said. “That upper limit would be a huge commitment on Mandeville’s part.”
Villere said he plans to sit down with parish officials to get a better idea of what the overall costs would be and what Mandeville’s contribution should be. The overall cost of the project — estimated to be between $9 million and $11 million — is important because Mandeville’s portion would come from a special sales tax it splits with the parish. The parish receives 80 percent and the city 20 percent of what is known as Sales Tax District 3 revenue. Some city officials have suggested the city shouldn’t contribute more than 20 percent of the project’s overall cost unless the parish is willing to share a bigger chunk of the tax revenue.
Brister, who spoke glowingly of the project in a speech before the council, said after the meeting she expects the city to contribute $2.5 million.
“That’s the figure in the resolution,” she said. “That’s the number we have been working with.” The rest will come from parish and state funds, she said.
The road has been discussed for years, but it became possible only when the parish reached an agreement in June to purchase the 296-acre campus of the former Southeast Louisiana Hospital from the state. Although that purchase was nearly derailed by the presence of two families of red-cockaded woodpeckers, an endangered species, a binding purchase agreement was signed in July, with the parish putting $9 million of the $15 million purchase price in an account with the state.
The land is being surveyed before the final purchase can be executed, something Brister said she expects to be done by the end of the year.
The parish is moving forward with several plans for the site, including keeping a psychiatric hospital in the buildings, selling some land to Pelican Park for a planned expansion and building the bypass road.
If all goes as planned, ground could be broken on the road by the fourth quarter of 2015, Brister said.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.