Letters from readers on what matters in Lafayette.

LETTER: Put the brakes on ‘Homewood Park’

dust at Homewood Detention Pond project
Residents of the River Woods Subdivision say they have endured uncertainty and broken promises, and a never-ending dust bowl, related to the Homewood Detention Pond project. Now they want a say in the Guillory administration's plan to add park features to the nearly 400-acre property. Photo by Travis Gauthier

Editor’s Note: The Lafayette Parish Council is scheduled to vote today (Sept. 5) to reallocate $1.2 million in federal ARPA funds from planned upgrades to the War Memorial Building on Pinhook Road for park amenities at the beleaguered Homewood Drive Detention Pond in south Lafayette. Neighbors near the ponds have questioned the potential for putting a park on the property and complained that they haven’t been involved in decisions on what amenities it will include. A version of this letter was emailed to all Parish Council members last week.

Dear Parish Council members,

We are residents of south Lafayette’s River Woods Subdivision, which sits directly adjacent to the $60 million Homewood Detention Pond project. At the last regular Parish Council meeting, you introduced an ordinance to transfer nearly $1.2 million to the “Homewood Enhancements/Parish Recreation and Parks Improvements” account; tonight you are scheduled to vote on that ordinance. While the creation of a park at the conclusion of the detention pond excavation has been discussed since the project’s inception, we, like many of our neighbors, have numerous concerns about the practical implications of putting a park on the site.

Though we have had three community meetings with both Mayor-President Josh Guillory and Parish Councilman Josh Carlson, many of us in the neighborhood have noted that our valid and reasonable questions and concerns about the necessity (not to mention the implementation) of this project have been disregarded and/or unanswered throughout the process over the past 2.5 years. The three community meetings thus far have consisted of: one after the resolution authorizing Guillory to acquire the land (at which hard sell tactics were used in an attempt to persuade local residents that this project was necessary and/or desirable), a second after work began (to try to assuage residents’ frustrations with high decibel 24/7 work utilizing stadium-style lighting) and a third after the lawsuit settlement following LCG’s quick take expropriation loss in court (which was essentially a thinly veiled and short on facts campaign stop for the current administration). Residents of our neighborhood have repeatedly posed the same questions and concerns at each of these three meetings; however, we have been habitually dismissed as stakeholders in the process. Overwhelmingly, our experience has been that questions go unanswered and concerns go unaddressed. Most troubling, there has been little to no transparency involved in the process, which has fostered a deep sense of distrust between taxpaying citizens and our local elected officials. We have been repeatedly promised basic information (e.g., public disclosure of the engineering plans for the detention ponds themselves) that has ultimately not been made available.

Now that funding is being considered for the creation of a park at the site, residents have a new set of questions and concerns beyond those related to the creation of the detention ponds themselves. For example, how will you ensure security for a 372-acre park (one that is almost three times larger than any park in the parish) that the public will now be allowed access to? It is nearly 4,000 feet (3/4 of a mile) from Homewood Drive to the edge of the property at the Vermilion River, and about 1 mile across in total. The sheer size of the site means that much of the property has limited visual access from the two roads that run through it. We are keenly aware of numerous violent crimes that have recently occurred in other local (and much smaller) parks, which are likely due to lack of police presence subsequent to the Guillory administration’s disbanding of the park police. Therefore, we are rightfully concerned about what the lack of dedicated law enforcement to police a park of this size means for our neighborhood — and for the greater community, as there are other neighborhoods located close to the site. Will the very occasional sheriff’s department patrol of the area be sufficient to properly police this massive park — or will this be the wild west, where anything goes?

Additionally, which agency will be responsible for the day-to-day maintenance of this 372-acre park? Another parish park, Picard Park, is located directly adjacent to the Homewood Detention Ponds site. Picard Park is only 24 acres yet has existed in an on-and-off-again state of disrepair and neglect over the years. At our last community meeting, held in June of this year, residents were told by the current administration that Picard Park and Judice Park, both the parish’s responsibility, do not have an LCG employee or official responsible for their maintenance. We were assured that the Lafayette City Parks director can “informally address” concerns related to Picard Park, but that it does not technically fall under his job description and/or responsibilities. To our knowledge, there has been no decision regarding which agency or employee would take responsibility for maintenance and operation of this proposed 372-acre park at the detention ponds site – which would be almost three times larger than any other park in the parish. Are you proposing that the Public Works Department be tasked with maintenance of such an enormous new park? If so, it should be noted that they appear to be ill-suited for that purpose. Regarding the budget, there has been no indication of what the expected annual maintenance funding needs are. Indeed, maintenance needs themselves are yet unclear, as both the engineering and beautification plans for the site have not been made available to the public. 

Aside from the questions of security and maintenance, the timeline regarding transition from the end of the pond excavation phase to the beginning of the park construction phase remains unclear. When asked about the colossal amount of excavated dirt that covers the property, an LCG representative recently informed us that the contractor, Rigid Constructors, “owns the dirt” and that “the plan is to move it over the next five years, reassess at that time and either continue to remove it or release it contoured to the lowest elevation possible.” The temporary dirt staging areas appear to range from 6  to 12 feet high and cover most of the property not taken up by the ponds; therefore, how can you begin construction of a park if it consists of nothing but temporary dirt mounds surrounding detention ponds? Will the contractor be charged a storage fee for any remaining dirt that he chooses to store after the completed excavation of the detention ponds? If so, will this storage fee go toward funding the implementation and maintenance of the park? This ownership of the dirt and five-year post construction timeline were never discussed at the initial public meeting for this project. Depending on how fast (or even if) the dirt is moved, the surrounding neighborhoods will potentially be subjected to the negative effects of this project for an additional five years. 

What is the $1.2 million intended for, and is it adequate to complete what is needed to make this a safe and functioning park on a 372-acre piece of property? No details have yet been shared with residents, beyond a nebulous vision of walking trails and kayaks presented at the first community meeting before the inception of this project. We have seen no conceptual site plans for this park (nor have we seen a final version of the engineering plans for the detention ponds themselves), so presumably either none exist, or the administration has chosen not to share them with us. Again, the lack of transparency is staggering.

As with the initial resolution authorizing the land to be taken (which the courts found to have been unlawful), if this resolution is passed at the upcoming meeting, it will be prior to any meaningful discussion with the residents most affected by the creation of the park. Detention ponds (if designed in accordance with the rigors of legitimate science) and parks are typically good community investments if implemented appropriately by a representative and responsive government. While the ponds are already mostly built, and thus their existence is a foregone conclusion, we would hope that the planning and implementation of the park is done in a manner that makes it a positive addition to the community. Many residents were never sold on the need for this project after seeing the minuscule amount of flood-mitigating potential represented in the modeling. Over the past 18 months we have had our quality of life negatively impacted on a day-to-day basis for this highly questionable use of $60 million-plus in taxpayer dollars. Indeed, the whole venture has thus far run contrary to the normal mission of government, which is to protect and enhance the quality of life of its citizens through responsible stewardship of their taxes. 

We urge you to defer the vote on this ordinance until the community has had an opportunity to share their input and be made a part of the planning process in a meaningful way.