Farnum pushing to keep new I-10 bridge toll free

Published 11:00 am Sunday, June 26, 2022

The I-10 bridge will be built. The only question that remains is, will there be a toll? That’s only one of the nuggets of information shared by Dist. 33 La. House of Rep. Les Farnum said at the recent “Donuts for Dignitaries” event at the Sulphur Senior Center Wednesday, June 22.

Farnum, Dist. 15 Police Juror Tony Tramonte, Sulphur Mayor Mike Danahay, Sulphur Judge Charles Schrumph, Family & Juvenile Court Judge Mitch Redd, Ward 4 Marshal Brandon Dever, Ward 3 City Marshal Nathan Keller and U.S. Sen. John Kennedy’s regional representative Woody Daigle were the elected officials at the event attended by almost 40 seniors at the Calcasieu Council on Aging Sulphur Senior Center event.

“We were having these yearly or bi-yearly events before COVID,” said center volunteer Tommy Little. “They have always been well attended and informative. Where else can you find this many officials in one room to answer your questions?”

Farnum said when he was campaigning for his office three years ago, the most popular request was for him to do what he could to ensure the new I-10 bridge would not have a toll.

“So, it’s been a fight in Baton Rouge and it’s going to continue to be all the way to the finish line,” Farnum said. “We were told by the administration in this past session, we don’t care if Santa Claus comes and dumped a truckload of money on you, you’re going to get a toll. And that’s what we’re fighting. At the end of the day, they were named freeways for a reason. You can drive from California to Florida and not pay a toll.”

Farnum said that $285 million in the capital outlay program is dedicated to the bridge and a megaproject leverage fund passed that gives the Calcasieu River Bridge about $40 million a year to bond out over time, about $600 million in total.

“That’s nearly a billion dollars for the bridge, but at the end of the day, I don’t know if it’s going to be enough to stop the toll,” Farnum said.

Farnum was successful in getting a bill passed that mandates how mortgage companies will disburse funds after insurance pays.

“Some would sign a check, a two-party check and send it back to you. Some told you that you would have to fix your house and then they would send the money. But what if you needed the money to fix the house,” he said. “It was just the wild, wild west.”

Now, the homeowner will have to sign the check and send it to the mortgage company.

The mortgage company will put the money in an account that separates monies reimbursed for living expenses while the house is damaged and being repaired from monies paid to make repairs. Farnum said it is at the mortgage company’s discretion, but the living expense portion would be sent to the homeowner sooner than the other reimbursement check. Moreover, these mortgage companies will only be able to hold the mortgage amount owed and 6 months of interest.

“Let’s say, you have a mortgage that you owe $50,000 on, and you get a check for $200,000, the mortgage company will be required to send you, immediately, the amount above your loan value,” he said.

Farnum’s other bill would have provided for a supplemental annual canvass of registered voters. The canvass would help ensure that voter registration is accurate. For example, someone who had moved to Texas, and is still on the roll, could still vote in Louisiana. Someone who had died might still be on the roll. The canvass would help ensure greater accuracy with the goal of removing such names from the records.

Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed the bill along with 22 others passed during the 2022 regular legislative session, which adjourned on June 6. Last year, lawmakers held their first-ever veto session since the current Louisiana Constitution was adopted in 1974, according to an Associated Press article in the American Press earlier this week.

In the redistricting of Louisiana’s congressional districts, Farnum lost one precinct in the Starks area, and took on one, Gedd. Currently the redistricting plan is tied up in the court system.

New well, roadwork begins

Danahay reported that a new water well has been completed. However, it is not up and running because of a supply chain issue. As soon as the needed equipment is received, the well will go online.

The contract for Maplewood Drive roadwork was subcontracted, according to the mayor. Overlays are currently being done between Shasta and East Diane streets.

An email from the City of Sulphur stated that “as per contract, the start date was February 14, 2022. The estimated completion date is March 31, 2023. The substantial completion (city acceptance) date is March 31, 2023. Please note these dates could be altered by unforeseen circumstances such as severe weather, supply chain interruptions, utility relocations, etc.”

“How they do the work is really up to the contractor,” Danahay said at the Senior Center event. “They have 411 days to complete the work and it’s up to them to decide how to get it done.”

Tackling drainage and a new park for North Sulphur

Police Juror Tony Tramonte announced that 1 million cubic yards of debris has been cleared from parish drainage laterals and 13 million yards of debris has been cleared from roadside ditches in the parish.

In conjunction with cleaning out laterals and ditches that could cause flooding, Tramonte said that the police jury has secured funding for a development that was on the parish radar about three years ago, a detention pond near David’s Bayou to help with drainage and an aesthetically pleasing recessed “park” area.

“It’s in engineering now,” Tramonte said. “It could go from engineering to breaking ground at the beginning of 2023, maybe a little sooner.

“It’s something that North Sulphur needs. 99 percent of the time it would be a park where the community could enjoy barbecues and picnics and when it catches those heavy rains, the park would be able to drain naturally, giving us the opportunity to catch a large volume of water and keep it from flooding people’s homes.”

Littering and dumping will be fined and more

Dever and Keller are responsible for enforcing litter and dumping laws, keeping these newly cleaned bayous, ditches and other areas clean.

There are some discrepancies on what litter and illegal dumping is, according to Dever.

“The biggest thing is contractors that are cleaning project sites, and they are going to abandoned roads and even into your neighborhoods and dumping,” Dever said. “We’re also catching people who have a complete disregard for our community.

“Whether it’s a cigarette butt, which a lot of people don’t understand is not biodegradable but does collect in the waterways and cause an issue, a beer can or a McDonalds bag, the police jury is taking this initiative.”

In addition to the possibility of being fined, the person who does the dumping or the litterer could be required to do community service. However, the first thing they will be required to do is clean up what they threw out or dumped.

“A lot of people think it’s just litter. No, it’s a crime,” Dever said.

Devers agreed with suggestions that an additional dump site might help with some of the illegal dumping. The parish and municipalities are looking into that. He said he does understand the reason that the dump site nearest Sulphur is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

“They have to have some time for maintenance,” he said. “If you have ever visited one of these sites, you know these guys work their tails off. They can’t do maintenance if the weather is bad or if it’s dark.”

There have been discussions of building another one (dump) in South Lake Charles near the Big Lake Road area, Tramonte said.

“Like anything, if it happens in Lake Charles, I’m going to be the squeaky wheel to get another one in West Calcasieu.”