DENHAM SPRINGS – The two-year anniversary of the August 2016 flood has sparked memories of the hardships Livingston Parish faced after the worst in natural history, but resilience tapered much of that fear, Parish President Layton Ricks said.
Instead, the parish has grown fast, he told the Livingston Parish Chamber of Commerce at its annual State of the Parish luncheon Aug. 8 at Forest Grove Plantation.
“The parish was at somewhat of a standstill, but with extraordinary resilience and tenacity from Livingston Parish residents and business owners, we have made tremendous progress on the road to recovery – and taxes have been strong and parish growing very fast,” he said.
The numbers tell the story, Ricks said.
The parish budget increased from $45 million in 2017 to $52.6 million for 2018. The increased revenue, coupled with a clean audit, allowed the parish to hire 10 additional permanent employees. A total of 165 employees now comprise the parish government workforce, he said.
Sales tax numbers have also remained solid. The parish is on track to match or surpass the $19.4 million total in sales tax for 2017.
The increased revenue has enabled the parish to ante up more money for matching funds on grants to carry out public works projects, Ricks said.
Livingston Parish received roughly $700,000 over the next 20 years through the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Acts (GOMESA) for drainage projects.
The parish has already implemented drainage improvement through National Resources Conversation Services for waterway cleanup.
Work from Natalbany from La. 22 to Interstate 12 is 100 percent complete, while cleanup is at the halfway point for the Tickfaw River. The process has also begun at West Colyell and East Colyell, Ricks said.
The parish will soon receive $50 million funding to handle roughly 750 miles of ditches for cleanup, which will be permitted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he said. Areas on the cleanup will include Middle Colyell, East Colyell, Lizard Creek and Albany.
Gov. John Bel Edwards also pegged Livingston Parish for $62.6 million in hazardous grant mitigation program funds for drainage. The projects have been submitted for approval, Ricks said.
Reconstruction of the weir on the Amite River will rank as a key priority with the HGMP money, he said. The weir has been underwater several years. It has not undergone maintenance since its construction in the mid 1950s.
“This will go a long way toward helping water move the direction it’s supposed to go,” Ricks said. “The goal is to make the water run through the parish and not just the southern portion.”
The $1.2 billion in Community Development Block Grant money could also play a role in drainage improvements. The funding – secured by Congressman Garret Graves earlier this year – was appropriated through the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, which became law in February.
Ricks also touted the upcoming businesses for Juban Crossing, including Racetrac, Texas Roadhouse and Starbuck’s.
On the residential side, the parish has approved 11 new subdivisions with under 100 lots and 12 with more than 100 lots. He also hailed the construction of several multifamily residential projects, including the Springs at Juban Crossing.
The parishwide road maintenance program, meanwhile, will include $4.6 million in overlay projects over the parish.
Work has already been completed on improvements along La. 22 at La. 16 in the south end of the parish and Lockhart Road at Linder Road. Projects will soon begin along Juban Road from I-12 to U.S. 190, while relocation of utilities is underway as work nears on Dunn Road at Lockhart.
Work on the North River Road bridge should be complete in five weeks, while repairs on the South Satusma Bridge should reach the finish line by the end of September, Ricks said.
“As you can see, we’ve been very busy,” he said.
The parish has also seen an increase in building permits in the post-flood era, Ricks said. The permit department has issued 29,389 permits in the two years since the flood, compared to 20,091 prior to August 2016.
“We’re growing by leaps and bounds, and it’s happening fast,” he said.
The parish aims to continue its growth but maintain the spirit of a rural area, Ricks said. He attributed the school system and a cooperative community spirit for the continued growth.
“It’s because of you all, the people in the parish, and the willingness to help,” Ricks said. “We’re very blessed for that.”