Ascension council members reveal moratorium positions as negotiations continue
ASCENSION PARISH - Negotiations between council members are ramping up, two weeks after parish president Clint Cointment proposed a year-long moratorium on any new, future development. Cointment's plan was released hours after heavy rainfall led to widespread flooding last month. It's a measure he has considered since taking office.
"As we've had several discussions with several councilmembers, I think, at this point in time, we have a lot of buy-in," Cointment told WBRZ last month. "I think this is a perfect opportunity due to the rainfall, the weather events, going into hurricane season, to have these discussions."
Those discussions continue as Cointment has encouraged council members to bring ideas to the negotiations, according to council chair Teri Casso.
WBRZ reached out to all 11 council members Friday to gauge the viability of a moratorium.
Voicemails were left for four councilmen - Alvin Thomas, Jr., Dempsey Lambert, Dal Waguespack, and John Cagnolatti - who did not answer calls.
Four others - Joel Robert, Travis Turner, Chase Melancon, and Michael Mason - say they support Cointment's moratorium pitch. Melancon and Mason co-sponsored the original proposal last month.
Corey Orgergon said he does not know how he will vote, citing a lack of information on the proposal from Cointment.
The remaining two councilmembers - Casso and Aaron Lawler - say they do not support the original pitch but are leaving the door open with negotiations ongoing.
Lawler, who has supported and even proposed moratoriums in the past, says he's working to tighten up the current plan, adding the original proposal looked like it was 'written at midnight, during the recent flooding, for political purposes.' He argues some of what Cointment suggests, like finding and studying areas for water retention, is already underway. He and other council members expressed interest in addressing family partitions and revising requirements for drainage impact studies in any moratorium.
During the phone call, Lawler questioned why Cointment hadn't installed any of what he's proposing earlier in his term.
Casso also says she won't support Cointment's original plan but is looking forward to collaborating with her colleagues. She hasn't supported similar efforts in the past and says to get her approval this time, any proposal would need to be quite specific, with 'clear, achievable goals.' Casso expressed concern about potential impacts on the economy, calling this effort a 'knee jerk reaction' to a crisis that won't ultimately result in the outcomes many expect or hope for.
In seven separate phone calls, multiple council members expressed concern about the suggested time frame. Cointment originally proposed a 12-month moratorium, but Casso, Lawler, and others signaled support for a tighter timeline.
Travis Turner, among others, is in favor of starting with a six-month timeline. When that runs out, he proposes an evaluation of the progress made before determining if the measure needs to be extended.
Turner, who also previously proposed a moratorium, says his biggest focus is residential density, while also calling for family partitions and drainage impact studies to be evaluated during any pause.
Melancon, citing efficiency, calls a 12-month span the 'worst-case scenario.'
This moratorium vote, he says, will be 'hands down, one of the toughest decisions the council will have to make.' He thinks the parish needs to take a step back and address the existing code of ordinances. That starts, he adds, with revising how drainage impact studies are conducted.
Mason and Lawler both expect the council to take up a six-month pause later this month before voting.
Joel Robert says he's comfortable with a year-long proposal unless the parish can accomplish its goals sooner.
Robert told WBRZ the parish needs time to breathe and take a step back to revisit ordinances and focus on infrastructure before any additional growth.
With any moratorium only impacting future, previously unapproved development, Robert believes some aspects of the industry will be allowed to continue. He doesn't expect developers to feel a huge impact.
From Friday's phone calls, it appears many are willing to work towards approving a moratorium, but as a draft document circulates, time will tell if a final agreement can be reached.
Cointment was unavailable for an interview Friday after his office signaled he would be open to discussing the moratorium. A representative said they were still working on responses to written media questions while also preparing for possible severe weather over the weekend.