Southwest Louisiana finds itself in almost the same situation as it did after Hurricane Rita wrought destruction in 2005.
Rita, which caused an estimated $18 billion in damage along the Gulf Coast and the Caribbean, had a negative impact to the tune of $8 million in Louisiana.
Recovery was a word everyone used as we tried to figure out how to get back to “normal” and jump-start the economy.
Federal and state officials were able to help locals with planning. Eventually, those thoughts led to the creation of $200 million Calcasieu 2025 Proposition, which voters decided against in July 2006. Had it passed, the money would have been used in this way: $60 million for local roads, $12 million for state highways, $10 million for drainage and a master drainage plan, $50 million for sewerage infrastructure, $25 million for downtown Lake Charles infrastructure, $10 million for other cities infrastructure projects, $20 million for business development and tourism, $6 million for public safety and emergency response, and $8 million for education.
Former Calcasieu Parish Administrator Mark McMurry told the American Press, the night the proposition failed, “I think we (Police Jury and parish/municipal elected officials) made a very good run at it against some pretty uphill odds. People are paying more for gas, they’re paying more for insurance.”
In Ward 3, which encompasses large swaths of Lake Charles, the losing proposition had enough support that city officials decided to put a $90 million bond proposition in front of voters later that fall.
Many Lake Charles officials supported the new bond proposal. For example, former Lake Charles City Councilman David Perry told the newspaper in 2006, “The city’s residents recognized that they have some needs and that they are willing to step up and pay for themselves.”
Such a sentiment was reminiscent of the feelings residents in the region had ahead of taxing themselves to finance the Port of Lake Charles in the early 1900s. In 2006, Lake Charles residents voted in favor of the bond issue and a litany of projects were done over the years.
That project list included: street improvement projects for Lake Street, Power Centre Parkway, East McNeese Street extension, Enterprise Boulevard (from overpass to Moeling Street), Holly Hill Road, etc.
Those are the historical details. Nobody -- especially from the business advocacy sector -- is encouraging a new tax. In fact, we are all awaiting a decision from Washington D.C. for federal funds to be released in the way of Community Block Grant funding specifically for long-term recovery.
Yet, there are some interesting lessons that became apparent during the effort to rebuild the residential, governmental and economic development complex in the five parish area.
Simply, we needed to plan and stand together as a region.
Elected officials and residents compiled lots of ideas and notes in order to figure out what the parish should look like once recovery was over. Not everything asked for or thought of came to fruition, but a lot of success that benefited residents and the business community occurred.
Regionalization became the rallying call. A strong network was developed and nurtured that included the White House, federal agencies, Louisiana’s Congressional delegation, state and local elected officials, and Chamber SWLA and SWLA Partnership (which predated the current Alliance/Chamber SWLA to represent the five parish area.
Every entity at that time had one goal in mind. Get funding mechanisms and policies into the public domain in order to make life more manageable for storm ravaged communities.
Right now, a call for public input (which is needed to plan) has been ongoing. Meetings are scheduled and leaders are listening. Everyone needs to participate.
Talk to your local elected official and visit local governmental websites and Facebook pages to keep up to date with the planning process
Also, remember, regionalization is not a catch phrase. It is a way understanding complex problems and finding solutions using all assets within a region.
We also want to remind our leaders and public, to revisit and recall the strategies used during the Rita rebuild. History teaches. Our region is known for going head on in difficult circumstances. Our forefathers built a Port, developed an industrial complex and rebuilt a number of times after weather events.
What will we do?