BRAITHWAITE, La. -- Who ordered the Giordano house burned to the ground by Plaquemines Parish firefighters?
For two years, Eyewitness Investigates has followed the controversy over property that the parish bought two years ago for $675,000. The three houses on the Braithwaite parcel were supposed to be renovated into a library and health clinic.
Those projects were never built, and now it appears that the plans are permanently up in smoke.
At last week’s council meeting, President Billy Nungesser said he didn't order the demolition-by-fire: "I didn't authorize it to be burned. I didn't OK it."
In an interview Thursday, East Bank Councilman Percy “P.V.” Griffin said he didn't authorize it either: "I was surprised. I was shocked. I didn't get a call from anybody that morning saying, look, we're going to burn that house down."
In fact, after a lengthy discussion at the council meeting and beyond, nobody in the parish has been able to determine who gave the final green light to incinerate the parish property in Braithwaite.
"We've got concerns about the veracity of the statements we've been given, who was in charge, who allowed this to happen," Council Chairman Byron Marinovich said.
At the time of the purchase, Griffin unveiled grand plans to transform the houses into a library and health clinic for the sparsely populated east bank. For a year, the houses remained untouched. Then last August, they were flooded by Hurricane Isaac.
That led to the controlled burn by the Parish Fire Department three weeks ago.
Marinovich tried to get answers at last week’s council meeting, but when nobody could pinpoint who gave the order, he put the matter back on the agenda for the next meeting.
The council did learn, however, that the incineration took place before FEMA could inspect the property for possible storm-damage reimbursement.
The timing did not sit well with Nungesser.
"As a matter of fact, FEMA went out there two days after it was burned and said this is a fire, this is not storm damage,” Nungesser said. “So they finally got out there, but it was too late.”
Councilman Kirk Lepine was one of the council members who originally raised questions about the purchase, especially the fact that the seller was former Parish President Clyde Giordano.
The original proposal called for the purchase of Braithwaite land to construct a levee access road. There were at least two properties at a fraction of the asking price of the Giordano land, but Griffin pushed for the ex-president’s parcel, saying its three existing structures could be re-purposed for the library and clinic.
“We came back to the table because he added those buildings as a selling point,” Lepine said. “We raised the value of the property up and we paid more for it."
Nungesser and Griffin said the structures were damaged beyond repair by Isaac, but Lepine wonders why they weren't at least salvaged for material, like many other flooded properties in Braithwaite.
"Why didn't we try to use some of that wood? From what I understand, maybe those houses were about 100 years old and they were built with old cypress," Lepine said.
Many Braithwaite residents had a complaint of their own, saying they’ve been begging for demolition help with their flood-ruined properties since Isaac, but the parish government has not responded to their requests.
Now the parish has nothing to show for its investment, not even the levee access road that was supposed to be built through the property.
"Now we have no access road, no buildings. We have hardly anything left. Sad."