Last summer, the Plaquemines Parish Council spent $675,000 to buy a large piece of property on the parish's sparsely populated east bank. The purchase was criticized for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the seller was former Parish President Clyde Giordano.
Properties on either side of Giordano's parcel were up for sale at a fraction of the cost, but east bank Councilman Percy 'P.V.' Griffin pushed for the more expensive property as the best location for a levee access road, as well as a proposal to use the existing houses for a library and health clinic.
A year later, the buildings remain vacant, the grounds are blocked by a chain link fence and the proposed levee access road is non-existent.
But the council recently approved a new plan for the property that is raising eyebrows all over again.
Last month, the council passed an ordinance to hire a $10,000-a-year clerk to sit at the site and collect water bill payments.
'It's really sad to think you have to find justification for a $700,000 purchase to put a part-time hire clerk over there to collect water bills,' former Parish President Benny Rousselle said. 'It's just amazing to me what justification there is to do that.'
Community watchdog Kathleen Burmaster, with the group The Plaquemines Pulse, slammed the proposal as 'absolutely absurd and ridiculous.'
'It's just a way for P.V. Griffin and (Parish President) Billy Nungesser, especially, to say, 'I did something with the property for a $700,000 price tag,' ' she said.
The east bank of Plaquemines stretches for 39 miles. The population is about 2,000 people, which translates to about 700 water meters, according to Griffin.
The Giordano property sits roughly in the middle, far from the population centers at the northern and southern ends, Burmaster points out. She questions who is going to drive for miles to pay a water bill.
'You're talking about at least a 20-mile ride, one way. Gas prices don't justify the cost of a postage stamp. It's ridiculous,' she said.
But Councilman Griffin defends the plan.
'To utilize that facility with a part-time employee, I think that will be beneficial,' Griffin said.
Griffin argues that the east bank has been historically neglected when it comes to parish services. And even though his plans for a library and health clinic fell through, he said will continue to push for improvements, however modest, for his constituents.
'I'm not going to try to beat a dead horse and try to justify why we did what we did,' Griffin said. 'That's the past. The thing I'm looking at, and I hope the council supports it, is to utilize that property the best that we can to enhance the quality of life for the people in my district.'
Nungesser, through a spokesperson, said the administration still hopes to eventually build the levee access road and, possibly, a freshwater diversion project.
Griffin said there is no timetable on when the water bill collection clerk will begin work.