Jefferson Parish grass-cutting deal with state delayed

Despite Regional Planning Commission approval of funding, a plan for Jefferson Parish to take over grass cutting and landscaping on and around the West Bank Expressway is on hold as parish officials iron out details with the state.

The Jefferson Parish Council was expected to approve a contract for the parish to take over those duties from the state at a cost of $640,000 last week. That amount includes grass cutting and landscaping until the end of the current state fiscal year and then the same service for the following fiscal year.

Jefferson Parish would serve as a pass-through agency for the money, which would be used to pay a private contractor.

The parish has been ironing out the details on the deal for months, first when Crescent City Connection toll revenue was dedicated to work and later when the toll reserves were to be used. Parish President John Young said his administration was prepared to move forward, but then the Department of Transportation and Development changed the terms at the last minute.

Under the proposed deal, the parish would be reimbursed for grass cutting in excess of the baseline service offered by the state and for landscaping costs.

Public Works Director Kazem Alikhani said it looked like most of the big details had been agreed to until this week.

“It’s just some minor issues that we need to make sure we agree to,” Alikhani said.

One of those minor details regards whether the state can unilaterally reduce how often it provides baseline grass cutting service. Young said that deal wasn’t one the parish could support.

Parish Council Chairman Chris Roberts said he agrees with Young’s position but he’s seen a disturbing amount of debris on the Crescent City Connection and West Bank Expressway in recent weeks. He mentioned trash, tires and even a barbecue pit. Roberts expressed some of those same concerns during a recent Regional Planning Commission meeting.

“If you ride the elevated portion of the West Bank Expressway right now, it’s a mess,” Roberts said.

Roberts also questioned why the state would attempt to change the terms of the deal at the last minute, when it knew the council was set to approve the deal.

With summer approaching it’s imperative that a deal be in place to keep the grass trimmed or the roadway will quickly look unkempt, he said.

“It’s crazy that on the day that we go to adopt it after this damn thing for three months, they change the terms,” Roberts said.

Councilman Elton Lagasse said he’s concerned that if problems arise with the roadway the parish is going to get the complaints, regardless of whether the state is to blame. He noted that lots of attention has been devoted to the issue of whether decorative lighting would remain on the bridge, but grass cutting is an even bigger issue.

Lagasse said that since the parish has taken responsibility for the roads, residents are going to be watching.

“We’re going to be the one’s who get the phone calls,” he said.

The frequency of grass cutting was a major issue in the initial election to renew tolls last November. Proponents of the renewal argued that with toll revenue, grass cutting would be more frequent and there would be additional services. Opponents said that maintaining the expressway is a state responsibility regardless of whether tolls exist. The results of the Nov. 6 election were nullified early this month, and a new election is scheduled for May 4.