Hinkley Gives Overview of Major Parish Issues at PABI’s Annual State of the Parish Event

On Thursday, March 21, the Plaquemines Association of Business & Industry (PABI) held its annual “State of the Parish” address, allowing parish president Keith Hinkley the opportunity to provide business leaders and parish officials in attendance an overview of Plaquemines’s economy, infrastructure, various community programs, and how the future may develop.

Hinkley’s address at the State of the Parish followed the typical rhythms of previous speeches that have been given at this event in recent years. There was a heavy focus on the positive aspects of Plaquemines Parish Government’s (PPG) accomplishments under Hinkley’s and the council’s guidance. Most of what was discussed by Hinkey was recaps of items mentioned at previous public meetings.

However, Hinkley did announce that PPG has been able to hire two directors for the recently established Arts, Parks, and Recreation Department and the Economic Development Department.

For Arts, Parks and Recreation, the parish has hired Ashley Morris—a native of Plaquemines who had previously worked in the New Orleans recreation department. For Economic Development, the parish hired Kelly DiMarco—who Hinkley stated has a “wealth of experience” in this field.

Typically, the parish president is usually the only speaker at any given PABI State of the Parish address—with those in attendance typically able to ask questions afterward. However, this year, PABI added a section to the State of the Parish event that covered various bills in the state legislature that could impact Plaquemines. Before Hinkley spoke at the event, co-owner of Printall, The Plaquemines Gazette, and current chair of PABI’s governmental affairs committee Dale Benoit offered an update of bills moving through the Louisiana Legislature.

There were several bills that Benoit covered in his talk to PABI, but the bills that will impact parish residents the most are two from representative Jacob Braud directly addressing bridge tolls and a bill from Senator Pat Connick attempting to establish a special taxing district in the parish.

One of Braud’s bills, Benoit explained, has already been approved by the Louisiana House of Representatives. This bill makes it so any surplus funds the state receives from the toll collection will go towards paying down the bridge contract with Plenary Group—to, hopefully, mean tolls on the new Belle Chasse Bridge will be ended sooner rather than later.

The other bill from Braud that addresses the question of bridge tolls is House Bill 286. If approved, this bill would exempt all Plaquemines residents from bridge tolls. Benoit stated that this bill was approved by the house transportation committee, even though it was opposed by the current secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation & Development (LADOTD). However, before it can be taken to the house floor for a vote, the bill must be considered by the appropriations committee as it will impact state revenues/ budget.

Benoit stated if House Bill 286 is approved, the state believes it could have an overall impact of $64 million on the state budget over a thirty year period the tolls are in effect.

On the Louisiana Senate side of things, Benoit explained that Senate Bill 88 from Connick seeks to establish a special taxing district (referred to as a TIF) in Plaquemines. Connick’s intent with this bill, Benoit said, is to “bring some of the sales tax the state receives in the parish back to Plaquemines.” While this may sound good in theory, Benoit noted that the bill is “wide open and could be anything.” As of the press deadline, Connick has agreed to delay the bill by one week to allow parish government and the business community time to look at ways to improve the bill for the parish’s benefit.

Once Benoit had finished this overview, Hinkley gave his address. As previously mentioned, it was a fairly standard address that was a summation of information Hinkley had given at previous public meetings.

During this address, one of the topics that Hinkley focused on was the water system and the saltwater intrusion’s impact on the parish. As a result of the saltwater intrusion, Hinkley noted that there are numerous projects going on throughout the parish that will permanently improve the water system. These include tie-ins with surrounding parishes, a booster station near the Alliance Refinery, re-opening the Port Sulphur Water Plant that had been down since Ida hit in 2021, implementing a permanent Reverse Osmosis Machine in the Boothville plant, amongst others.

When the saltwater intrusion was really affecting us, then governor John Bel Edwards told us he wanted to go for long term solutions. Things that we won’t have to come back to and keep getting money for. And that’s what we’ve been doing,” Hinkley stated, explaining that the state will be helping fund a significant amount of these projects.

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