Local initiatives improve quality of life in the River Parishes
As the premier sea gateway for U.S. import and export traffic—and with a goal of attracting foreign and domestic investment within the River Parishes region—the Port of South Louisiana isn’t just invested in the day-to-day operations of the maritime industry.
Part of creating a thriving and vibrant Port is ensuring an excellent quality of life in the River Region as a whole, and luckily, local leaders in St. Charles, St. James and St. John the Baptist parishes are constantly looking for ways to enhance their respective communities through partnerships and innovation. Here, we take a look at initiatives within each of the River Parishes that are improving overall quality of life for residents—and, by effect, for business, commerce and the Port of South Louisiana.
St. Charles Parish
Nestled along the Mississippi River and only 25 miles from New Orleans, St. Charles Parish is home to more than 52,000 residents, nearly 50 parks, baseball fields, 17 miles of walking paths along each side of the Mississippi River and a state-of-the-art community center. The parish is also close to the airport, has a great public school system and is home to the Catfish Capital of the World, Des Allemands.
Soon, St. Charles Parish also will be home to a new boat launch thanks to a land donation from Chevron Corp. that has been years in the making.
“We hope the 110-acre tract on Bayou Des Allemands will become a premier coastal park, boat launch and ecotourism attraction in Southeast Louisiana,” says Matthew Jewell, St. Charles Parish President. “The first stage will be to use a $1.88 million grant to construct a road, parking lot and boat launch. In the future, we hope to expand the area for additional recreational uses.”
Other recreational initiatives in St. Charles Parish are also underway to meet the needs of all residents. This summer, the parish will cut the ribbon on Ed Reed Park, which will be home to the first turfed field in the parish. Meanwhile, groundbreaking has begun on a Veteran’s Memorial Plaza next to the Edward A. Dufresne Community Center to honor all of those who have served in the military. Additionally, the parish soon will cut the ribbon on the Westbank levee trailhead, which will provide a safe place for residents to use the Westbank Bridge Park without having to cross a busy road. The trailhead also will include additional parking, a gazebo and ADA-compliant bathrooms.
“IMTT also donated $90,000 toward a playground in St. Rose and a walking path in Killona; we have also expanded our recreational offerings to include the parish’s first ever fishing rodeo, beanbag baseball and corn hole,” Jewell says. “Lastly, we are working to finish the walking and bike path in Killona that will connect the levee in St. Charles Parish and St. John the Baptist Parish.”
The parish is currently completing a master drainage study, which hasn’t been done in 25 years, as well as the first ever parish-wide master sewerage plan.
“We believe this study will produce projects that will improve quality of life in our parish by helping residents protect their largest investments—their homes,” Jewell says. “We are also working on a litter abatement program. Litter is not only unsightly and unsanitary, but, when it enters into our drainage system, it can cause flooding issues.”
River sunset in St. John the Baptist Parish
St. John the Baptist Parish
Known as the “Heart of the River Parishes,” St. John the Baptist Parish was established in 1807. As one of the original 19 parishes of the Territory of Orleans, which later became the state of Louisiana, the parish includes the third permanent settlement in Louisiana, after Natchitoches (1714) and New Orleans (1718). Today, St. John the Baptist Parish is home to approximately 46,000 residents.
“St. John the Baptist Parish is a wonderful and unique place to live,” says Stanley Bienemy, economic development director for the parish. “St. John is small and close-knit, exemplifying the word community. The parish is also conveniently located between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, allowing residents to utilize the advantages of two distinctly different metropolitan areas.”
Currently, St. John the Baptist Parish is working on the Airline and Main Complete Streets Project to address flood risk and economic development.
“Once completed, the project will transform Airline Highway and Main Street with sidewalks, bike lanes and native planting/bio-swales for improved drainage,” Bienemy says. “The project also includes demolition of the former Parish Service Center into a stormwater lot with a public plaza for community events. The improvements will serve as a model for future infrastructure projects, which can address flood risk, transportation improvement and economic development under one project. Further, the investment will serve as a catalyst to jumpstart new business growth along two major commercial corridors, including Main Street, which serves as the future site of a rail station on the proposed New Orleans-to-Baton Rouge rail line.”
St. John the Baptist Parish is also working with Louisiana Development Ready Community (LDRC), which is a state program facilitated by Louisiana Economic Development (LED).
“LDRC helps Louisiana communities develop economic development goals and strategies that foster growth based on community engagement,” Bienemy says. “The strategies developed in this program will assist us in moving the parish forward and spur future sustainable growth.”
St. James Parish
Home to Oak Alley Plantation and the annual Bonfires on the Levee Christmas tradition, St. James Parish is currently home to more than 21,000 residents, 312 businesses, a park in each district and more than 50,000 acres of farmland that produces sugarcane, soybeans and perique tobacco (a crop unique to St. James Parish).
“This tight-knit community cares for one another and has a special bond to its heritage and each other,” says Meredith Conger, public information officer at St. James Parish. “Families in St. James are able to raise their children in a wonderful school system that prepares them for college, and future fruitful careers and livelihoods. It is often said that St. James Parish is the best-kept secret between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and the residents can attest to that. It is a quiet and peaceful community with ample opportunity for recreation, enjoying the beauty South Louisiana offers, and career opportunities.”
Early last year, the parish launched a custom work-order system that allows for streamlined processing of residents’ service requests.
“Residents can place a work order for tree-limb pickup, new water or gas services, reporting a water or gas leak, drainage maintenance, culvert cleaning and more,” Conger says. “Residents can then track that work order through its life cycle to completion, while being provided with updates along the way.” Conger adds that a new mobile app launched last April will soon be updated with additional features like utility bill payment and more.
Since early 2020, St. James Parish has completed a number of major drainage projects, clearing out more than 250 linear miles of drainage channels and improving drainage in poorly drained areas on both the East and West banks. The parish has also worked to replace aging utilities infrastructure with improved industry-standard gas lines, resulting in increased gas pressure to residents.
“Parish President Pete Dufresne also signed a CEA in 2020 with the ARC to help improve funding and resources so desperately needed to care for and support the most vulnerable and deserving residents in our community,” Conger says. “By renewing the millage in December of last year, the resources needed to care for ARC clients has been secured through 2032.”
Over the last year, St. James Parish has also improved many of its recreational facilities, some of which now include splash parks, covered basketball courts and improved baseball fields.
The Big Picture
While leaders in each parish work independently to address the specific needs of their respective communities, their efforts contribute to the same overall mission. The success and prosperity of one parish inspires positive change in its neighbors, and with so many proactive improvements and innovations, the River Region is more impressive than ever. St. James, St. John the Baptist and St. Charles parishes work in tandem to create a community-at-large where people can live, work and play for generations to come, knowing that behind the scenes, their regional leaders are working hard to ensure that even better times are never far away.