From the Other Side
"Oh YEAH! Progress!"

Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008

 At long last, the proposed industrial park facility on the west side of the Baldwin canal has been transferred to the stewardship of the Port of West St. Mary.

Make no mistake, this may well be the single greatest industrial and commercial move to occur in this part of the parish since the creation of the West St. Mary Port itself.

The park is undeveloped as of yet, and not without its problems. There are pipelines crossing it, and the expense of development is not insignificant. In fact, you could almost say the port commission and staff have inherited something of a problem child.

But with patience, hard work and perseverance, it is a diamond in the rough. Very rough. It is directly accessible to the Baldwin-Charenton Canal, which heads straight into the Intracoastal Waterway; just one access-road away from U.S. 90, and a hop, skip and a jump from the railway.

Other than some unnecessary delays, my hat is off to everyone who played a part in development of this thing. From the original purchase by Franklin, Baldwin, parish government, the port commission and tribal government, to the advisory board created to oversee it, to finally the current port commission and city fathers.

I understand the city’s reluctance to let such a valuable facility go, but it was time. The city understood the potential of the park, and eventually realized that the best way to develop it to benefit all of west St. Mary was to turn it over to the port commission, which has access to more resources. Not that it’ll be an easy task for the port people, but they are better suited for the job.

Do you know there’s only one 15-acre parcel of land left for rent at the Port of West St. Mary? Our port is small, by most standards, but it’s full up and extraordinarily successful. That last plot of land has been eyed, but the commission is being picky about who, and what, locates there. There’s another slip east of the current one they’d like to develop, at a high cost, but it’ll open up another 250 or so acres of leasable land with development.

The port commission is a quiet group of people, and we don’t think of them much in our day to day lives. But they have been running a successful facility for over 30 years.

Hats off to everyone, city and port, who had a hand, and the vision, in making this happen.

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You may be surprised that I am applauding potential industrial growth, even commercial on a large scale.

Certainly I have not been that much of a cheerleader for such development in the past, but I have never been an opponent. I just feel that for too long we’ve put all our eggs in the basket, and they all get broken when we get our feet knocked out from underneath us when that Boeing plant doesn’t locate here.

Industry and larger commerce are certainly valuable and worthwhile, and that area is already home to a heavy industrial corridor. Having a facility like the industrial park helps keep such projects from locating in less desirable and more intrusive locations, like across the street from your house.

The Baldwin-Charenton Canal is long. Our children’s children may see more development there.

But it brings me back full circle to what I’ve been preaching all along.

First of all, if you get a medium-sized entity at the industrial park that will employ 40 well-paid workers, it’s almost inevitable that, right here and right now, they’ll go live in Lafayette or New Iberia and commute.

There’s a lot of reasons for that, but the two major ones are housing and boredom.

Certainly, a certain caliber and situational person could be very happy here. For instance, a single man who loves to hunt and fish and stay home to grill some burgers with friends would be fine here, assuming he could find a suitable place to live.

But a family with children might look to Iberia or even Lafayette parish for amenities, education and other qualities of life.

It’s a difficult proposal, I know: Building housing for employees of a business that hasn’t even materialized yet. But sooner or later, it’ll happen, and if we’re not ready, they’re going to live somewhere else. And they’ll shop there, get gas there, pay taxes there, the whole nine yards.

We need both turn-key housing development and available lots on this end of the parish. The Raintree Village project did not live up to expectations, but there’s an awful lot of land left out there that is waiting for opportunity to be developed.

We also need environment enrichment. People need things to do. Most of what I have talked about recently has to do with tourism, getting folks to come here for a reason or three reasons, spend money, and go home, tell their friends about it, and then they all come back and repeat the process.

But if we supply comfortable housing to new business and industry employees, well, it’s silly to say they can find things to do in New Iberia or Morgan City. They’d just as soon live there rather than drive.

We can boast low crime here in west St. Mary, though our drug problem remains huge like everywhere else. We have Indian gaming, recreation complexes, softball for youngsters, and all the fishing, hunting and paddling you could ask for.

But we could do more.

Build it and they will come? Kevin Costner’s philosophy may have worked for long-dead baseball players’ ghosts, but it’s a gamble to go build a putt-putt golf course outside of Franklin and hope people come play there.

On the other hand, isn’t that what the parish did with Atchafalaya at Idlewild in Patterson.

Well, there you go.