JP Mayors Luncheon: Infrastructure, Water Projects Top To-Do Lists

METAIRIE — Five Jefferson Parish mayors spoke about their cities’ priorities, accomplishments and challenges at the annual Jefferson Chamber Mayoral Luncheon on July 21 at Metairie Country Club. 

Several hundred area business leaders listened to remarks from Grand Isle Mayor David Camardelle, Gretna Mayor Belinda Constant, Harahan Mayor Tim Baudier, Kenner Chief of Police Keith Conley (speaking for recently elected Mayor Michael J. Glaser) and Westwego Mayor Robert Billiot.

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Camardelle said the biggest priorities in Grand Isle, the parish’s southernmost city, are no surprise: storm protection and coastal restoration. He’s been lobbying for federal and state money to create more rock jetties to protect the barrier island’s recently rebuilt beach, which, in turn, protects the rest of the island from extreme weather events. 

Since he took office in the 1990s, weather and erosion have been persistent and existential threats to the recreation and vacation destination, which is home to less than a thousand permanent residents.

“It’s always drama; it’s always something,” said Camardelle. “Our dream is to get more rock protection in place before Mother Nature hits us again.”

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For Constant in Gretna, a West Bank town of about 17,000 that’s actually southeast of New Orleans, a water-related project is also among the top priorities.

“The number one thing that will transform our city is going to be the redevelopment of our river batture, [the land on the river side of the levees],” Constant told the crowd. “In 2022 and beyond, how we live with water is going to be the reality of how we survive in this entire area. And for us, that redevelopment will create water transit opportunities and allow river cruises to call the foot of the Huey P. Long Bridge home on certain days of the week. It would be transformative for the entire West Bank of Jefferson Parish.”

Baudier, mayor of Harahan (home to about 9,000 residents), said his focus is on taking care of the “underground work” necessary to handle the city’s current growth and development.

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“It’s hard because our city is older, and we have so much failing infrastructure,” he said. “It’s been quite a task and a challenge. And then as we grow, they’re building new houses and the infrastructure just can’t support it. But we need to do everything as an administration to make sure we can.”

In Kenner — at 66,000 residents the largest city in Jefferson Parish and the largest incorporated suburban city of New Orleans — the current priority is a smooth transition to a new administration after former Mayor Ben Zahn’s time in office was marred by several controversies.

Glaser, who was inaugurated on July 1, is focusing on reorganizing city government to make it less top heavy and more responsive to the public, according to Conley. Infrastructure is also an area of focus.

And for Billiot in Westwego (pop. 8,500), all of his top priorities relate to water in one way or another. First on the list are updates to the city’s water delivery and sewer systems. Then, the city is planning the Wetlands Harbor Activities Recreational Facility, which will accommodate everyone regardless of physical abilities. And, lastly, Billiot has long dreamed of re-launching a “water taxi” for pedestrians that would connect the Lazy River Boat Landing in Westwego with Audubon Park, directly across the Mississippi River.

Most of the mayors said they are battling challenges caused by rising interest rates, inflation, supply chain delays and manpower shortages, but they pointed to strong tax revenue and low crime rates in their communities as reasons for optimism.

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