Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Written by Walter Pierce

Ambassador Caffery opened new opportunities and old wounds.

Few are watching it closely and no doubt even fewer care, yet some of the best and, more important, consequential political drama to happen in Lafayette Parish in years is happening right now southeast of the Mall of Acadiana where the new extension of Ambassador Caffery Parkway opened up land, revenue opportunities and old wounds among mayors of the towns straddling it.

It doesn’t have the operatic quality of the Martin Luther King Memorial Parkway fight of four and five years back. Joey Durel is unlikely to scrawl “Ambassador South” in permanent marker on the council credenza. But it speaks to more critical aspects of our character — how we grow, where we grow and whether we do it with amity. The Independent Weekly opined in last week’s Pooyie that good will be the day when all of Lafayette Parish has been annexed and there is no more unincorporated land to fight over. That’s a utilitarian perspective. Selfishly, this is manna for the journalists who cover city-parish government. Like the busted oil well on the floor of the Gulf, it has been a spring of stories about pollution, albeit of a civic kind.

Broussard Mayor Charlie Langlinais is emerging as the pariah in the drama. He has been unapologetically aggressive in his acquisitions of commercial corridors during 20 years in office, pursuing what some characterize as a scorched earth policy that left neighboring Youngsville with virtually no footprint on any major thoroughfare. Setting Langlinais in even sharper relief is the fact that his rivals in this affair — Youngsville Mayor Wilson Viator and Durel — are brothers-in-law. They’ve shown themselves willing to pursue their annexation plans along Ambassador on amicable terms.

Youngsville’s annexation on the south side of Ambassador last week blocks the westward empire building of Langlinais, who has framed what’s happening in terms of the brothers-in-law against Charlie Langlinais. And Langlinais’ theory about why Lafayette has a newfound vigor for annexation would please the Free Republic folks: “This is all driven by LUS Fiber and LUS electrical,” Langlinais told me last week. “They now realize that they will never fulfill their goals ... they need to have more development, and obviously that’s the only way they can [get it]. ...They need a lot more customers.”

From a journalist’s perspective, Charlie Langlinais is a gift that keeps on giving. He says what’s on his mind, and he says it with few reservations. I like Charlie Langlinais, in large part because I know he will answer his phone, and he will make time to talk. And were I resident of Broussard, would I complain that I no longer need to drive to Lafayette to shop at Walmart and Home Depot, or that I have a multi-plex movie theater and new restaurants, not to mention an expressway to the Johnston/Ambassador corridor that bypasses the La Neuville Road gauntlet? And Langlinais must take some satisfaction in knowing that the commercial interests he has lured to Broussard in turn lure Youngsville residents, who shop in Broussard and whose sales taxes help buttress Broussard’s prosperity.

What’s happening now along the Ambassador extension feels like three hungry brothers at the dinner table waiting for mama to set down the mashed potatoes. Durel has cited a “gentlemen’s agreement” among the mayors in how annexations along Ambassador would be approached; each city would get a share. One can’t help but wonder, based on Broussard’s rapid expansion over the last two decades, if Durel and Viator were naive. Charlie Langlinais has his bowl of mashed potatoes. Ambassador is the gravy.

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