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Council hears idea for port

By LAUREN LANGLOIS staffwriter@hammondstar.com

Developers behind the proposed The Village at Port Manchac pitched their idea to the Tangipahoa Parish Council Monday.

Terry Jones, one of the principals of The Village at Port Manchac LLC, showed a video presentation and explained the idea to turn the port into a commercial and residential destination on 140 acres that includes the 40-acre port property on North Pass and 100 acres of privately owned adjacent wetlands that the port commission is authorized to market. They have made similar presentations to other groups for the $90 million proposed development.

The developers are asking for a memorandum of understanding from the South Tangipahoa Parish Port Commission to give them 18 months to research if the project is feasible.

The port commission will consider the memorandum today at its meeting, which is expected to attract a crowd, as there is vocal opposition to the project. The meeting is set for noon at Ponchatoula City Hall.

There is also a question of whether the port commission has the authority to approve a project like this. The law that lays out the commission's rights and powers does not mention residential as a purpose for leasing property.

The conceptual design includes a village center, a boardwalk, restaurants, parks and waterways, a hotel, cabin and RV rentals, condominiums, a clubhouse, marina and other amenities. There would also be an estimated 100 waterfront single-family homes.

The developers present The Village as an eco-tourism destination and say they want to partner with local environmental groups to help replenish the marsh and have opportunities to educate the public on the wetlands.

Save Our Manchac Coalition, a citizens group that opposes the development, attended the council meeting with 21 representatives in the audience. Ed Bodker, one of the opponents, said the project creates complicated issues that need to be addressed before an MOU is considered.

He said the MOU would bind the port commission prematurely. In particular, the coalition finds it inappropriate that the MOU would have the parish aiding the private developers on permitting and zoning for the project.

"The complexity of this is not appreciated," he said.

Council members asked Jones how many jobs and how much tax revenue could be generated by the development, as well as how the single-family homes would be handled and what the impact would be on the rural fire department in Manchac.

Jones said estimates are The Village would bring in $4 million annually in sales and property tax revenue and would create an estimated 120 jobs. He said the tax revenue generated by the development could help fund more public services needed in the area. He said the homes could be done through long-term leases.

Council Member David Vial said he believes the developers should have the opportunity to do their research and see if the project could work for the parish. He said the port has never really met its potential.

Parish President Robby Miller said he too supports allowing the developers to see if the project is doable by doing the feasibility study and other research. If the developers return to the port commission and the parish with positive answers to the questions officials have, he said the development would be a wonderful opportunity for the parish.

"I do believe it will be an extremely valuable addition," he said, adding that destination locations are what the parish needs to attract visitors.