St. Helena Parish Roads Superintendent Al Franklin, left, and Police Jury President Frank Johnson, right, look at damage to Nesom Road near Pine Grove.

On the surface, a controversy over the condition of a gravel road might seem to be a minor dust-up between a contractor and local officials. It is small potatoes compared to much larger municipalities and parishes used to much bigger projects. But to the people who live in rural St. Helena Parish it could be a big deal.

Imagine an RV-sized hole in a road or a street where you live. Imagine a company and local officials fussing about how the hole got there — and who is responsible. Imagine wanting nothing more than someone to fix the darn thing so you won’t have to pay for new tires or an alignment.

There’s such a huge hole on Nesom’s Road in the parish, not far from the Livingston Parish line. St. Helena doesn’t have a lot of people or a lot of development. Neighboring Livingston and Tangipahoa parishes are like major metro areas compared to St. Helena. But no matter where we live, we all desire a good quality of life.

The St. Helena Police Jury spent $258,000 to fix the problem. But it wasn’t good enough. The parish repaving work didn’t stand up to the weight of the gravel trucks traveling the road.

Parish police jury president Frank E. Johnson said gravel mining company Louisiana Aggregate Materials is responsible, in part because the company did not get the appropriate permits from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. However, records show the company did file for permits. The company said it's not its fault, implying that the parish didn’t know what they were doing when they attempted to build a good roadway.

St. Helena needs business and commerce, and the gravel operation is a part of filling that need. But without strong building, land and zoning guidelines and laws in place, things like this happen. No matter who did what when, why and how, this particular problem falls to the parish to fix.

We support a free-market economy with limited restrictions, but this is the kind of thing that happens when there aren’t the preexisting conditions like public roads.