GONZALES — The East Ascension drainage board on Monday recommended a six-month moratorium on new neighborhood construction four days after the parish president's veto of restrictive floodplain management rules survived an attempted override.

The Ascension Parish Council failed 7-3, with one abstention, in a contentious meeting Thursday to kill the veto from Parish President Kenny Matassa. 

The 11-member council needed eight votes, or a two-thirds supermajority, to kill Matassa's veto of proposed limits on the use of dirt to raise homes and businesses and to require new structures to be built 1 foot higher than currently, among other changes.

Some residents and parish political leaders supported the fill limits as a way to lessen the flooding impact of new, elevated construction on older, lower homes by, in some cases, requiring that new homes and businesses be built on piers, not dirt.

But builders and Matassa found the rules had practical shortcomings that hadn't been thought through. Builders also argued the rules would raise the cost to building homes that were less attractive to buyers by requiring construction on piers or chain walls.

In the wake of the fill ordinance's failure, 10 of the same 11 council members, sitting as the drainage board Monday, agreed to recommend the moratorium proposed by Travis Turner, a councilman and drainage board member. 

Although the drainage board is made up entirely of council members, only those members sitting as the full council can adopt the drainage board's recommendation.

The fill question has prompted attempts at building moratoria before, most recently in 2017, only to be withdrawn later. 

Turner told his fellow members Monday that he was proposing the moratorium to put a fire under the council and parish administration to adopt changes they can support within the floodplain rules after last week's failure.

He noted that among the reasons council members opposed the veto override was what they said was the lack of precision in the proposed rules. 

Promised by Turner amid last week's debate over the fill ordinance, the proposed moratorium was approved unanimously Monday after a narrow majority of the drainage board also rejected a plan to hire an engineering firm to study the east bank's drainage basins.

Drainage Board Chairman Dempsey Lambert, a parish councilman who opposed the fill rules last week, proposed the study as a necessary information gathering step before the parish can refine and adopt a new fill ordinance.

But supporters of the failed ordinance argued the studies, especially the proposed intensive modeling of drainage basins on the parish's east bank, could take years and would amount to kicking the fill question down the road, waiting on a project that a prior engineering firm estimated would cost $2 million.

Board member Bill Dawson, a parish councilman who was one of the primary supporters and drafters of the failed fill ordinance, said that while he supports that kind of modeling, he objects to tying the decision on fill to the outcome of that study. 

He said the parish at a cost of $282,000 had hired the engineering firm HNTB, which recommended a fill limit of 3 feet deep. He said the decision on fill is a political one that the council has to make.

But other members, including Councilman Benny Johnson, said they felt the study could deliver useful information that could help shape future rules.

In a 4-6 vote, the drainage board rejected a bid to start the selection process necessary to hire a firm to do the modeling work.   

Only John Cagnolatti, Randy Clouatre, Benny Johnson and Dempsey Lambert supported beginning the study selection process. All but Johnson had opposed the fill ordinance Thursday. 

All the other drainage board members, Dawson, Todd Lambert, Aaron Lawler, Daniel "Doc" Satterlee, Teri Casso and Turner, opposed starting the study. They had supported the fill ordinance last week.   


Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.