Leaders discuss rapid growth

McHugh David | The Livingston Parish News

SPRINGFIELD — Each year, the Livingston Parish Chamber of Commerce sponsors a “State of the Parish” address, which includes speeches from parish mayors and the Parish President himself. This year, the event was hosted by Carter Plantation, an example of the phenomenon at the head of the list of topics: growth.

Growth can be painful for some, and isn’t without its own brand of drama, they pointed out.

While he usually gives his speech near the front of the line, Mayor Derral Jones was allowed to go last — just before Parish President Layton Ricks — to give a good news, bad news type of address.

The good news? Livingston will be home to the new headquarters of EPIC Piping, an employer who is putting a $45 million investment in the parish, does $3 billion in overall business, and will employee 560+ people.

The bad news? Mayor Jones, and the Board of Aldermen in Livingston, made the decision to annex an area just west of their town at their last town meeting. The annexation came as a result of residents in that area requesting annexation, after the proposed “Town of Satsuma” map was released, and those residents found out they would be part of a town over 10 miles away.

“The problem is, when they (Satsuma) drew their incorporation map, it was too radical,” Jones said. “They wanted 10 square miles — bigger than Denham Springs, and bigger than Walker and Livingston combined.”

Jones said that he did not blame the citizens of Satsuma, as he believed they just wanted a determination in their own future. The Parish Master Plan listed the areas along I-12 as a future commercial development corridor, and according to Jones the people of Satsuma had opposed the continued commercialization and development in their community.

Jones said that should concern the Chamber because if progress is stopped, everyone pays a price, especially businesses.

“It affects the school system, law enforcement, our water boards, drainage boards, and our school board,” Jones said.

Jones finished by stating that the Town of Livingston has spent several million dollars in preparation to improve the water and sewer lines in the Satsuma area. Contrary to critics who said Satsuma was none of his business, Jones said his town has a vital stake in the economy there.

The meeting started off somewhat drama-free, as recently elected Mayor of Denham Springs Gerard Landry spoke about growth inside his city.

“Our sales taxes are up, despite what Mr. Ricks has done to our city,” said Gerard Landry referring to the retail competition from Juban Crossing which opened last fall just east of the city.

New sub-sandwich eateries in Jimmy Johns and Firehouse Subs are coming to Denham Springs, while Mr. David’s Specialty Meats has opened in the Riverside Landing development. The owner of Mr. David’s was once involved with Chris’ Specialty Meats, a local favorite across the river on Millerville Road.

In an interesting twist, a gunsmith has opened inside Denham Springs as well, and will craft guns, ammo, and other firearm materials, Landry said.

Development will continue by Bass Pro and the area around I-12 going into 2015. According to Landry, a 45,000-square-foot center will be in place next to Cavender’s, as well as a 30,000 square foot development behind Hooters. There is a 300 unit apartment complex coming to the Bass Pro area, as well as a 270 unit complex coming on Rushing Road.

The most pressing issue for Denham Springs is traffic, and Landry said officials are working on it. Future plans include a re-surfacing of Florida Boulevard from Eden Church Road west to the Amite River Bridge, as soon as the Eden Church Road roundabout is complete and the studies are done.

Landry also mentioned that he will be attending a Road Assessment meeting with DOTD on April 19 to discuss plans for Range Avenue from Highway 190 (Florida Boulevard) to Interstate 12, and the stretch of Range south of there to Vincent Road. That meeting will be a jump-off point to determine the future of that corridor and what the best plan is for traffic alleviation, Landry said.

Landry noted he has been on the job 69 days and continues to learn something every day. Landry and the Denham Springs Council intend to dispose of 5 vehicles at an upcoming meeting to decrease insurance costs, as well as install GPS in government vehicles for tracking.

Walker Mayor Rick Ramsey came next, beginning his speech with a jab at Landry.

“We added GPS to our cars last year,” Ramsey said, “and added five new police cars.”

Ramsey went on to discuss Walker’s recent growth, including a new, 6,800-square-foot Chinese restaurant on Walker South Road called Foo Chow.

The long-anticipated Greek restaurant, Albasha, will be joining Foo Chow in the development.

Across the street, where residents thought Albasha was going, a brand new dialysis center will be opening soon.

Walker recently received good news in the industrial sector, as Oxlean Manufacturers came to the area to add new jobs and tax revenues.

Ramsey hinted that the growth would not stop there, referring to a pending announcement of a warehouse distribution center coming to the Walker Industrial Park.

The new business is taking advantage of the recent expansion of the park due to a wetlands settlement.

Ramsey also discussed Walker’s potential population growth from a coming 160-unit apartment complex on U.S. 190, but more importantly the local educational effort will grow with it.

Not only has the Livingston Parish Literacy and Technology Center, located just outside Walker’s western border, been approved for Community College status and an expansion to meet that moniker, but a new high school main building is going up for an ever-increasing student body.

Mayor of Springfield Charlie Martin and Mayor of Killian Craig McGehee echoed each other’s sentiments — they enjoy their small town life, and in small town life progress happens — but its slow.

Springfield, Killian, and Albany — whose Mayor could not attend — are upgrading their sewer and water systems. With low tax budgets, these cities rely mostly on federal grants to upgrade their infrastructure, McGehee said.

Both Martin and McGehee did mention several family and tourism gatherings in their area, including the Redneck Regatta in Killian (May) and the large Easter Egg Hunt in Springfield (April).

French Settlement, whose Mayor also could not attend, will be celebrating its 150th anniversary on May 31st.

Ricks finished the meeting by stating his excitement with the growth Livingston Parish is seeing.

Starting with EPIC’s announcement, and moving on to a list of eateries — and possibly a Movie Tavern — that will open in Juban Crossing in months to come, Ricks believes that the growth comes mostly from all entities working together. Ricks cited seven bridge repairs completed in the past year as examples of progress and sounded an alarm about continued funding for the Parish Health Unit.

Because of the failure of a 5 mill renewal last fall, voters in May will consider extending half of that tax, 2.5 mills.

Ricks has been campaigning at various municipal meetings and public addresses for support of the millage.

“Don’t let the $6-$7 million (Parish Health Unit) reserve throw you off,” Ricks said. “We have to have that, we don’t know what will happen — what kind of outbreak can occur.”

Ricks finished his speech by declaring that he will run for re-election.