Despite COVID and Storms, Jefferson Parish Didn’t ‘Waste Year’
KENNER – At the Nov. 19 “State of Jefferson” luncheon hosted by the Jefferson Chamber, Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng spoke about how much the 43 departments under her leadership had to pivot to handle a year full of challenges.
The greater New Orleans region has been in a storm’s “cone of uncertainty” eight different times. Hurricane Zeta, most notably, passed right over the metro area. That left huge sections of the parish without power just days before voters had to go to the polls to vote in a national election with record turnout. And since March, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken center stage, completely upending many leaders’ plans and stressing the budgets of families, businesses and municipalities alike. Lee Sheng said she has issued 20 emergency proclamations this year – a historic number by far.
“COVID has certainly taken up a tremendous amount of resources in Jefferson Parish this year,” she said. “We had the first case in the state but we pivoted our resources. Our emergency operations team has been involved in testing, our librarians are involved in the call center, property maintenance and zoning were involved in mask enforcement, our council members have been on the front line distributing masks and food and going through with the chamber what all the phases of reopening look like at every phase.”
Despite all that, Lee Sheng said the parish didn’t “waste the year.”
Among the accomplishments she touted: adding new routes and cleaning protocols to the parish’s public transit system, laying the groundwork for a major overhaul of water and sewer systems and making improvements to the area’s aging housing stock.
“A troubling statistic for us in Jefferson Parish is that 74 percent of our housing is more than 40 years old,” said Lee Sheng. “We had to do something about that, so we assembled a great blue ribbon committee with our home builders association to really tackle the problem. The government is not in the home building business but we are building a beautiful house on Farmington and Terrytown to show this is an area where you can start flipping homes. It’s an area for new families to get renovated or remodeled homes.”
Also noteworthy, she said, are street improvements, green infrastructure projects and enhancements to the parish’s public parks along with plans to switch to fully automated drainage systems so workers won’t have to stay behind during dangerous weather events.
“We have 71 pumping stations where we have personnel assigned to them to make sure they work. We all know that after Katrina, the personnel had to leave. What a future drainage system looks like is a fully automated pumping system without the need for personnel to be there. It is critical for redundancy and we are on our way. Five of our pumping stations are now fully automated.”
Lee Sheng also praised her team’s work on encouraging Jefferson Parish residents to respond to U.S. Census questionnaires.
“The good news is the parish’s response rate was 67.4 percent,” she said. “That is greater than the state rate, greater than the national rate and greater than our response rate in 2010. I assigned a team to specifically work on this effort because so many resources come to the parish, we needed an accurate count.”