REBUILDING SLOW IN LOWER NINTH WARD
The Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood could be the last area to be rebuilt, according to Mayor Ray Nagin. Prior to the storm more than 5600 houses stood in the neighborhood, with 59 percent of them occupied by homeowners. Almost 25 percent of the houses have been slated for demolition, the highest percentage of any neighborhood in the city. Many of the houses may not be rebuilt. Only 3 percent of the home owners in the Lower Ninth Ward have applied for electrical permits.
Burglary is also a problem in the neighborhood as thieves carry off tools and building materials from homes under renovation. Yet some neighbors, including Herbert Gettridge and Emelda Skidmore are committed to rebuilding. “There is no other home I know,” said Skidmore. “I think everybody should get a chance. Recognize us, please. We are old, we been there.” Gettridge already rebuilt his house once before in 1965 after Hurricane Betsy.
SOME CITY TRAFFIC LIGHTS STILL INOPERABLE
Traffic lights at 29 intersections on New Orleans are still inoperable because of hurricane related and other problems. City Public Works Director Robert Mendoza said all the lights should be repaired by the end of February.
Six lights along St. Charles Avenue were knocked down by vehicles. Repairs at those lights as well as at O’Keefe Avenue and Julia Street should be complete next month.
The City has invested $16 million to restore traffic lights since the hurricanes. The reconstruction project included 250 intersections.
PREMIER DESIGNED HOMES CEASE OPERATIONS
Premier Designed Homes which claimed to be investing $1 billion to develop thousands of modular homes in metro New Orleans annually has ceased operations. The company had exhibited one of their modular homes at the recent Gulf Coast Building & Remodeling Expo.
DISASTER RECOVERY CENTER WILL MOVE TO POYDRAS STREET
The walk-in federal disaster recovery center that has been located in the main public library on Loyola Avenue will move to 1250 Poydras Street, 14th floor, on January 1, 2007. The center saw 68,000 citizens since in opened in November 2005.
The new center features validated parking in its garage and will include FEMA, the SBA and a 10,000 square foot Welcome Home Center, an assortment of outreach agencies and organizations assembled by the city of New Orleans. The Louisiana Department of Social Services and other non-profit organizations will match storm victims with volunteers, offer counseling to affected families and children, and coordinate donations of household items.
The Road Home Program will not be located at the site.
LEGISLATORS SEEK RECOVERY COMPANY’S DISMISSAL
Led by Legislature’s newest member, Rep. J. P. Morrell, District 97, several legislators called on Governor Blanco to remove ICF Emergency Management Services of Virginia, which has a $756 million, three-year contract to manage the Road Home Program. Legislators are concerned because only 82 families out of 87,000 applicants have received checks from the program so far. ICF has been paid almost $60 million to date.
HRI’s 10-STORY WAREHOUSE DISTRICT PROJECT MOVING FORWARD
An $85 million, 10-story luxury apartment complex and condominium tower being developed by Historic Restoration Inc., received a green light from the New Orleans City Planning Commission. The Ice House Residences will be located on the block bounded by Andrew Higgins Drive and Constance, Poeyfarre and Annunciation Streets. HRI hopes to begin construction in June and have the residences completed in 18 months.
LEVEE BOARD’S ASSETS CAN BE SEIZED, SAYS AG FOTI
Attorney General Charles Foti has filed court documents that protect the Orleans Levee Board’s assets against seizure by plaintiffs in the Bohemia Spillway case. The Levee Board offered a settlement of $13 million in the case which was rejected by the plaintiffs.
The Governor will appoint a new regional levee board in the coming weeks. Attorney General Foti has asked to represent the Levee Board in this case.
LAW STUDENTS, YOUNG LAWYERS TO INTERVIEW PRE-TRIAL INMATES
More than 150 law students and young lawyers will be interview pre-trial inmates who were arrested before the storm and are still waiting a court hearing. The interviews will provide the public defenders office with the foundation for potential defenses.
ENTERGY’S PACKER ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT
Dan Packer, President and CEO of Entergy New Orleans will retire within the next few weeks. Packer lead the battered utility company through bankruptcy and rebuilding the city’s utility infrastructure. Electricity and gas has been restored to almost all customers. Some gas customers still have problems with leftover water in the lines.
NEW ORLEANS DISAPPOINTED BY LRA ALLOCATION
New Orleans will receive $116 million for infrastructure improvements from the Louisiana Recovery Authority, many millions less than the $200 million originally anticipated. Instead of providing additional funds to New Orleans, the LRA distributed funds to rebuilding the fishing industry, support small businesses, repair state buildings as well as private and parochial schools.
COUNCIL SUPPORTS ENDYMION RETURNING TO MID-CITY
Led by Councilmember Arnie Fielkow, the New Orleans City Council has agreed that the superkrewe Endymion should return to their traditional Mid-City parade route this February. The krewe paraded uptown last year because of hurricane damage.
The New Orleans Police Department wanted Endymion to parade uptown again this year because of a lack of money for police overtime.
Councilmember Fielkow is also asking Mayor Nagin’s administration to report on the status of efforts to find official sponsors to help underwrite the costs of staging carnival.
JAZZ FEST AWARDS GRANT TO INDIANS & CULTURAL ORGANIZATIONS
The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Foundation along with their partners Shell Oil and AEG Live awarded $250,000 to the Backstreet Cultural Museum, the Mardi Gras Indians, Zulu, and 30 social aid and pleasure clubs. The clubs will use their $2,000 donations to help underwrite the costs of second-line parade fees and police escorts.
The Backstreet Cultural Museum, where the largest known video archive of jazz funerals is housed, will purchase flat screen television sets and will remodel its Treme facilities.
CITY’S $15 MILLION HOME REMEDIATION PROGRAM BEGINS
Low income residents, especially senior citizens, can now sign up for a city-sponsored $15 million home remediation program. The City Council passed a law earlier in the year that requires home owners to gut, secure and maintain their flood-ravaged real estate.
More than 9,000 homes across the city still need remediation. City selected contractors – MoonGlo Development, Meyers and Sons Enterprises and Central City Development and General Contractors – hope to gut 5,000 houses by the end of next year. Contractors are paid approximately $3,000 per home.
PLANNING COMMISSION SUPPORTS ROYAL COSMOPOLITAN HOTEL
The New Orleans City Planning Commission recently voted to allow developers Angelo Farrell and Lee LaPorte to build an addition nine floor to a planned hotel tower in the 100 block of Royal Street. Developers say the project will revitalize the entire block of Royal Street. Last year the Planning Commission voted to authorize a 17-story, 178-foot tower. The recent vote allows the tower to reach 268 feet. Farrell and LaPorte paid $3.2 million for the site in 2005.
RECOVERY CZAR TO REACH OUT TO ST. PAUL TRAVELERS
Donald Powell, President Bush’s Gulf Coast recovery czar, will meet with St. Paul Travelers Co. to encourage them to continue to serve commercial property owners in south Louisiana. St. Paul Travelers recently announced they would cease writing commercial policies in the region.
NORA SERVES AS ONE-STOP SHOP FOR ALL ABANDONED PROPERTIES
The New Orleans Redevelopment Authority will begin serving as a one-stop shop for the disposition of all abandoned property in the city. In addition to seizing and selling blighted property, NORA will have the authority to dispose of all properties seized by the city because of tax delinquencies. NORA could also receive property acquired by the Road Home program.
LOCAL LEVEE BOARDS TO CEASE FUNCTIONING ON DECEMBER 31
Commissioners of four local levee boards will cease conducting business on December 31 as Governor Blanco prepares to install regional governance in January, 2007. State monitors have been watching to ensure the transition is smooth.
REP. WILLIAM JEFFERSON RE-ELECTED TO CONGRESS
Rep. William Jefferson was reelected to the United States Congress from Louisiana’s Second Congressional District by 57 percent of the vote. The district consists of precincts in Orleans and Jefferson parishes.
NEW ORLEANS FACES INCREASING FLOOD RISK, SAY INSURERS
New Orleans will still face increased risk of flooding from land subsidence, increased hurricane activity and rising sea levels from global warming, according to a new report by California-based Risk Management Solutions. The report does not credit the Army Corps of Engineers for improvements to the area’s flood protection system because the repairs are not complete.
ARENA BOWL TO BE HELD IN NEW ORLEANS
The Arena Football League announced that the ArenaBowl XXI will be held in New Orleans on July 29, 2007. Commissioner David Baker made the announcement along with Jay Cicero from the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation and Tom Benson and Rita Benson LeBlanc, owners of the New Orleans VooDoo. “It’s exciting for our city,” said Benson. “It’s the first (professional championship) game to be back here of any type.”
LEGISLATORS APPROVE FEDERAL BLOCK GRANT FUNDS FOR ENTERGY
Members of the Louisiana Legislature voted overwhelmingly for Entergy to receive $200 million in federal block grant money to rebuild its hurricane-damaged infrastructure and hold down proposed rate increases for its customers. The grant funds will save customers approximately $32 a month.
Beginning early next year, Entergy customers can expect to see a $14 per month rate hike that was recently approved by the City Council. LRA officials say that the per-customer cost of rebuilding Entergy New Orleans is 11 to 16 times higher than for customers of other utilities in the state impacted by the hurricane.
BLAKELY NAMED N.O. RECOVERY CHIEF
Internationally renowned planner Ed Blakely has been named executive director for recovery management by Mayor Ray Nagin. In that capacity Blakely will weave together many of the neighborhood recovery plans into a “common framework.”
“Everybody should be allowed to rebuild,” explained Blakely. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone should be allowed to rebuild in exactly the same place they built before,” he continued. “Every piece of New Orleans can be rebuilt,” Blakely said. “The question is how do we4 rebuild it to ensure that people in that part of the city are as safe and secure as people in the rest of the city.” Blakely will create a coordinating council to ensure local government leaders are working together and pledged to provide regular updates on his progress. Blakely’s office has been given a $500,000 budget for 2007. Blakely is currently chairman of urban and regional planning at the University of Sydney, Australia. He begins work January 1, 2007.
NEW ORLEANS CAN LEARN FROM KOBE’S POST EARTHQUAKE REDEVELOPMENT
The New Orleans Disaster Study Team led by Council President Oliver Thomas which recently visited Japan to learn their redevelopment techniques found that the Japanese government’s firm handling in directing rebuilding was a key to early success. In 1995, Kobe Japan – a large metropolitan city on Japan’s lower coast - suffered a severe earthquake (7.3 on the Richter scale) which caused significant damage and loss of life. Japanese government officials quickly told Kobe’s residents where they couldn’t rebuild, often over loud protests. They invested in rental housing, in contrast to Louisiana’s emphasis on homeowners. Kobe also added many thousands of rental units, while demolishing many houses so streets could be widened and straightened. Officials also forced the creation of park-like open spaces.
The mayor of Kobe forged a planning team within hours of the disaster and within two months had a quickly revised version of a pre-disaster master plan. Although Kobe’s residents also were given a voice - but not a veto - in the redevelopment plan, government leaders held steadfast to their goals including building housing and improving safety. If Kobe’s trends are a guide, the future is not promising for many of New Orleans neighborhoods that were in poor condition prior to the storm. Kobe’s experience also suggests that a neighborhood’s relative wealth or poverty is a good predictor of its ability to rebound. One Kobe official explained that “disaster reduction should be an integral part of the rebuilding.”
CITIZENS CAN REGISTER ONLINE FOR NEW TRASH CANS
Online registration has begun for the new 30 gallon, 60 or 96 gallon garbage cans that will be distributed to residents as part of the city’s new garbage-collection contracts. Residents in all neighborhoods except the French Quarter, CBD or the Warehouse District, can sign up via the city’s web site, www.cityofno.com.
LSU TIGERS TO FACE NOTRE DAME IN SUGAR BOWL JAN 3.
The LSU Tigers will face the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on January 3 in the Louisiana Superdome. “It’s going to be the type of game that has national interest,” said Sugar Bowl executive Paul Hoolahan. The Sugar Bowl is eager to reintroduce the city’s signature college football game after a one-year forced exile due to the hurricanes. LSU and Notre Dame will create a first class match-up.
DENIRO TO FILM MOVIE IN NEW ORLEANS & SHREVEPORT
Director Tim Hunter will begin filming “Microwave Park,” a good cop, bad cop story set in the aftermath of Katrina and staring Robert DeNiro and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson. The movie will be shot in New Orleans and Shreveport beginning Jan 15. The movie will be co-produced by Emmett/Furla Films and Millenium Films.
NEW ORLEANS STUDIES JAPANESE-STYLE DISASTER MANAGEMENT
With an historic cycle of catastrophic flooding, typhoons and tsunamis, Tokyo Japan has implemented a strict disaster management plan that includes citizen drills and wide superlevees. A small group of New Orleans civic leaders led by City Council President Oliver Thomas recently visited Japan at the invitation of the Japan Foundation’s Center for Global Partnership.
Tokyo’s new levees opened up the river to the city with buildings and streets rising up the gradually sloping embankments. Residents gained vistas of waterways not readily available in New Orleans except from on top of a levee. The levee’s wide flat crown has created new recreation areas that serve a wider variety of sports and create pleasant places for walking paths, bike trails or ball fields. Tokyo also harvests rainwater- rather than sending it into the drainage system – which reduces runoff problems and creates less strain on water plants. Japanese officials feel that New Orleans government should have done a better job in getting citizens to evacuate.
LEVEES WON’T MEET TOP STANDARDS FOR FOUR MORE YEARS
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has acknowledged that it will take four more hurricane seasons before the levees’ fundamental weaknesses that caused much of the flooding will be totally repaired. Called for long-term improvements include permanent pumping stations along Lake Pontchartrain to block storm surge from entering drainage canals, gates to keep surges out of St. Bernard and easter New Orleans, and armoring the fronts and backs of levees and floodwalls with materials such as concrete to prevent scouring and erosion. New floodgates have already been installed along the 17th Street Canal in Lake Pontchartrain and the London Avenue and Orleans Avenue drainage canals. If the floodgates had been in place prior to the storm, flooding would have been reduced by 60 percent.
The Corps is spending $2.06 billion on a variety of improvements due to be completed by September, 2007. The list includes $1 billion to repair existing system damaged by Hurricane Katrina, $533 million to raise sinking levees to design height, and more than $500 million to accelerate completion of unfinished hurricane protection systems. The corps still has a goal of building a flood protection system capable of withstanding a 100-year storm, a weather event which has a 1 percent potential to occur in any year.
SPECIAL LEGISLATIVE SESSION BEGINS FRIDAY
Governor Blanco has issued a list of 25 topics including insurance rebates and tax cuts that will be included in the 10-day special session that begins December 8. Law makers will also decided whether to direct surplus dollars to road construction, emergency communications and reducing debt in public pension plans along with providing raises to teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public employees.
SHIPYARD INDUSTRY PROJECTING GROWTH
Although labor shortages have driven up time and costs associated with the costs of building a ship on the Gulf Coast, strong demand will continue to keep the industry growing. The industry’s short term growth is attributable to strong oil and gas prices and consistent defense department spending.
In 2001, 20,756 Louisiana workers were employed in 28 commercial shipyards, generating $1.3 billion in payroll income. The industry’s labor shortage in Louisiana is partially driven by a lack of housing and competition by other industry’s for welders, pipefitters and electricians.
ANOTHER BODY FOUND IN LOWER 9TH WARD
A body was found this week in a yard at St. Maurice Avenue and North Robertson Street that is thought to be an adult, but the gender and identity are not known. Officials think the house had not been entered since the storm. The coroner’s office will consult records to see whether anyone had been reported missing at that location. Coroner Frank Minyard also thinks that some sections of the Michoud neighborhood have never been searched for bodies. Last week’s body found in Lower 9 is the 28th body that has been discovered in New Orleans since the federal mortuary service shut down and turned body collection over to the coroner’s office.
COUNCIL URGES STATE OFFICIALS TO SUPPORT RAZING OF ST. FRANCES CABRINI CHURCH
The New Orleans City Council passed a resolution by Council Vice President Arnie Fielkow urging the state’s Historic Preservation Office to make a quick decision on the fate on 43-year old St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church in Gentilly. Holy Cross School would like to demolish the church to build a new educational complex on the site. A preservation officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency has said that the church could be eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places because of its “modern expressionistic design.” Councilmember Cynthia Hedge Morrell, a Cabrini parishioner, said that ‘this last-minute ballyhoo about the church is a slap in the face of the church and its parishioners.” The parish was already in decline, said Hedge Morrell, and if Holy Cross decides to build at another site “the neighborhood is faced with 17 acres of blight,” she continued.
NORA BOARD MEMBERS DISAPPOINTED WITH ADMINISTRATION’S PACE
Board members of the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority expressed their dissatisfaction with Mayor Nagin’s administration for its slowness in preparing documents including a cooperative endeavor agreement and a contract that will empower the new expanded NORA to begin working. Once documents are approved by the board, NORA will begin serving as a land bank for flood-ravaged properties whose owners are either unwilling or unable to restore them. Board members are also concerned that the mayor’s office has only provided NORA with a $1 million operating budget for 2007.
Since it was created in 1968, NORA has had the authority to assemble land for development, issue revenue bonds and invest in infrastructure including sewer systems, roads, utilities and streets. The agency has never totally fulfilled its mission.
THIRD CRUISE LINE RESUMES NEW ORLEANS CRUISES
The 2,400 passenger Grandeur of the Seas, the third cruise line that homeports ships at the Port of New Orleans, has returned to the port’s Julia Street Cruise Terminal. The ship will make weekly Caribbean cruises through late-April. Other cruise ships currently calling at the Port are the Norwegian Sun and the Carnival Fantasy. Carnival’s 2,758 passenger Triumph will return on Sept 2,2007. The cruise industry provided almost 2,800 jobs prior to the storms and $200 million in direct expenditures within the city.
CITY COUNCIL APPROVES CITY’S 2007 OPERATING BUDGET
The New Orleans City Council approved a $773.3 million operating budget for 2007 that included extra funds for the criminal justice system, NORD, the City Planning Commission, Safety & Permits, the Vieux Carre Commission and the Historic Districts Landmark Commission as well as a first-time $250,000 allocation for the new Office of Inspector General. Mayor Nagin had recommended a budget of $759.5 million. The budget total includes $70.6 million in already approved federal loans.
The extra funding for the criminal justice system includes a $721,000 reserve fund as well as $250,000 more for Juvenile Court and $200,000 for the Criminal Court Clerk’s office. District Attorney Eddie Jordan also received almost $600,000 to raise the prosecutor’s salaries. Councilmember Carter has been working with the different criminal justice agencies to ensure their adopt the best practices available.
Other additions include $24,000 for Total Community Action, $60,000 for the Council on Aging and $86,000 for the Arts Council of Greater New Orleans. The budget also included $36.3 million for the sanitation department and its new garbage collection contracts. Several Councilmembers including Stacy Head and Shelley Midura expressed their concern over the amount of the garbage collection contracts. Councilmember Midura also was hoping for a larger allocation than $250,000 for the Inspector General. Council Vice President Fielkow said the $250,000 allocation was an “outstanding start” for the office and indicated that additional funding should be expected next year. Councilmember Cynthia Hedge Morrell who chairs the Budget Committee said that funding was predicated on which agencies work was vital to move the city forward post-Katrina.
FIELKOW URGES GOVERNOR TO CREATE GRANT PROGRAM FOR SMALL BUSINESS
Calling relief efforts for hurricane-damaged small businesses “sporadic at best,” City Council Vice President Arnie Fielkow has asked Governor Blanco to launch a well-targeted pilot grant program to help small businesses in the New Orleans area. Small businesses are still struggling 15 months after the hurricanes, says Fielkow, and government should help them. In a letter he wrote to Governor Blanco, he asked that she add assistance to small businesses to the agenda for the legislative special session which begins this Friday.
Thousands of small businesses are “already closed or on the brink of collapse. For those remaining small businesses, increasing costs of doing business…are forcing many to consider leaving Louisiana,” Fielkow wrote the Governor. “Small businesses need grants, not more debt they cannot afford to pay back.” Governor Blanco told a group of New Orleans business owners that $38 million in interest-free loans would become available in January, 2007.
ST. PAUL TRAVELERS GROUP TO STOP ISSUING POLICIES
The state’s largest commercial insurance provider, St. Paul Travelers, will not renew any commercial property policies in the New Orleans areas next year including those in Orleans, Jefferson, Plaquemines, St. Bernard and eastern St. Tammany parishes. Travelers said that the state of rebuilding our levee system was the primary reason for its decision. St. Paul Travelers had 14 percent of the market, followed by State Farm at 13 percent and Zurich Insurance at 10 percent. Zurich is still accepting new customers. Surplus lines insurers are likely to pick up some of Traveler’s customers.
WORKBOAT SHOW PLANS 2007 RETURN TO NEW ORLEANS
The International Work Boat Show which brought 12,000 conventioneers to New Orleans this week will return to the city in 2007. Featuring more than 700 exhibitors, the show is one of the 200 largest conventions in the U.S. annually. The Work Boat Show has been held in New Orleans for 27 years. Last year’s show was cancelled because of hurricane damage to the Morial Convention Center. The Convention Center has undergone a $60 million restoration which included roof repairs, restroom refurbishments, and installation of more than 88,000 square yards of carpet and 700 panels of custom-fabricated glass.
RTA RECEIVES $2.1 FEDERAL APPROPRIATION FOR LA SWIFT
The Regional Transit Authority received a one-time $2.1 million federal appropriation that along with a state allocation of $380,000 will extend the LA Swift bus service between New Orleans and Baton Rouge through March 31. The service runs seven times per day and carries 900 riders each weekday.
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CORPS DISTRICT COMMANDER STEPPING DOWN
Col. Rich Wagenaar, New Orleans district head of the Army Corps of Engineers, has requested to step down and retire from the Army. His resignation will take effect next summer. Wagenaar assumed command on the district in July 2005, just one month before the hurricane.
GOVERNOR BLANCO ASKS PRESIDENT BUSH TO REDUCE TAXES
Governor Blanco has asked President Bush to relieve Louisiana’s hurricane victims of paying income taxes on government grants for rebuilding their homes. She also indicated that the state will not charge extra state income taxes on Louisiana road Home grant receipts. Governor Blanco said it would not be fair for Louisiana residents who are still struggling to rebuild after 16 months to be burdened with higher-than-expected taxes.
HANO TENANTS DISAPPOINTED THAT DEMOLISHIONS WILL PROCEED
Though thousands of public housing families remain displaced since Hurricane Katrina, the Housing Authority of New Orleans still plans to demolish four complexes and rebuild them into planned mixed-income neighborhoods. “We want our families back,” said Donald Babers, HANO’s one-man board of directors. More than 5,000 families lived in public housing before the hurricanes and some 1,100 families have returned.
BYWATER RESIDENTS OPPOSE “AFFORDABLE” APARTMENT COMPLEX
Residents of the Bywater neighborhood told the City Planning Commission that they oppose developer Pres Kabacoff’s plans to build a 54-unit “affordable” housing complex in Bywater that would be occupied by painters, musicians, writers and other creative artists. Residents fear that the development would bring parking and traffic problems.
NATIONAL GUARD PLANS $158.3 MILLION IN REPAIRS
Major General Bennett Landreneau, adjutant general of the Louisiana National Guard, has signed five rebuilding contracts valued at $158.3 million to repair the historic 100-acre Jackson Barracks military post on the border between New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish. The rebuilding of Jackson Barracks could motivate many surrounding neighbors to return to the area. Area contractors who will be working on the rebuilding include Walton Construction, Carl E. Woodward, Broadmoor, Cajun Contractors, and Gibbs.
NEW ORLEANS POPULATION ESTIMATES RISE TO 200,000
According to a new survey released by the Louisiana Recovery Authority, the population of New Orleans is reaching 200,000 – almost 40 percent of its pre-Katrina size. Mayor Nagin considers the estimate too low. The estimate includes almost 9,500 people who reside in non-household living arrangements including university dorms, assisted living centers and transitional housing. New Orleans racial composition has shifted since the storm. Recent studies indicate that the city is now 47 percent African-American and 43 percent Caucasian. The 2000 U.S. Census revealed that 67 percent of the population was African-American and 28 percent Caucasian.
MINISTER TO RECEIVE DONATION OF FORMER THIRD PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
New Orleans pastor Dr. Greg Thomas whose New Orleans East ministry was devastated by Hurricane Katrina will be moving into the former Third Presbyterian Church on Esplanade Avenue, courtesy of Las Vegas developer Brent Lovett. Dr. Thomas will create the interdenominational Jubilee Church International on the site which was built in 1909. Lovett is donating $1 million for the church’s renovation and secured a $500,000 loan from United Bank & Trust to purchase the property. Lovett plans to build 16 foot by 70 foot steel-framed concrete-floored living units in New Orleans east. Lovett plans to employ 500 workers and produce 3,500 modular units a year at a plant he will build east of Jordan Road near the New Orleans Lakefront Airport. Dr. Greg Thomas is pastor of Christian Faith Ministries and has been temporarily using the Christian Bible Church in Gretna.
UNO POLL SAYS RESIDENTS ARE CONSIDERING LEAVING AREA
University of New Orleans pollster Susan Howell says that one-third of residents in Orleans and Jefferson parishes would consider leaving the area within the next two years. Individuals surveyed were only those with landline telephones – not cell phones - and probably reside in their homes, not FEMA trailers. Respondents says local government needs to make them feel safe, slice through red tape, fix the levees, prevent flooding, repair streets and provide more jobs and affordable housing. New Orleans residents indicated that their greatest difficulty was getting home repairs done.
STATE PLAN TO PROTECT COAST RECEIVES PUBLIC COMMENT
The state’s Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Transportation and Development have completed the draft plan to restore coastal wetlands and protect coastal communities from hurricanes. The plan has been submitted to the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, which oversees decisions on both levees and restoration projects.
The state’s plan calls for a “multiple lines of defense” strategy that includes recommendations to rebuild barrier island and shorelines, and ancient natural ridges that once marked the paths of old Mississippi River distributaries. Other recommendations include strengthening shorelines with rock and other materials, and using part of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway to move freshwater into wetlands to combat saltwater erosion. For more information contact the Governor’s office of Coastal Activities Public Information Director Chris Macaluso at 225 342-3968 or e-mail Chris.Macaluso@GOV.STATE.LA.US.
QE 2 DOCKS IN NEW ORLEANS
The 40-year old Queen Elizabeth 2, one of the worlds most famous and luxurious ocean liners, docked at the Port of New Orleans for its first visit to the city bringing with her 1,778 passengers. The 963 foot vessel regularly travels a trans-Atlantic route.
FORTY-ONE RECRUITS BEGIN NOPD TRAINING
A 41-person recruit class has begun at the New Orleans Police Department. The recruits range in age from 21 to 49 and include men and women of a wide range of ethnicities. The training focuses initially on physical activities and military-style discipline. Recruits talked about what motivated them to join including family tradition, financial security, and helping rebuild a broken city. The NOPD currently has 1424 officers including 100 who are on leave because of illness or other problems.
By the end of the training, recruits will be required to do 29 sit-ups within one minute; run a mile and a half in 16 minutes and 28 seconds; and right afterwards a 300-meter dash in 71 seconds. They must also pass a series of written tests on Louisiana laws and criminal procedure, investigations, writing reports, using firearms properly, traffic enforcement, and protecting themselves with defensive tactics.
NON-PROFIT GROUPS REBUILD HOMES FOR AREA KATRINA VICTIMS
More than 6,500 members of a large Kentucky Christian church have been building wall panels that will eventually become 31 New Orleans homes. The Southeast Christian Church has partnered with the Episcopal Church’s Jericho Road Project. In the next few months, an ad hoc coalition of Protestant, Episcopal and Catholic volunteers will concentrate on home-building in Central city and Algiers. The homes will be sold at a 40 percent discount to low-income New Orleanians. Baptist Crossroads began working with Habitat for Humanity last summer to build 50 homes. Almost 35 are complete. Baptist Crossroads is a nondenominational Christian ministry that was founded 13 years ago to organize building projects for volunteers who want to get involved in worthwhile activities. Volunteers working with Baptist Crossroads pay $100 weekly for the privilege of participation.
The Jericho Road Project has been awarded 50 properties for rehabilitation that the city had seized for nonpayment of taxes. If the owners do not step forward within the next 60 days to pay the back taxes, Jericho Road will move forward to renovate and sell the homes for approximately $80,000 each to families selected by the group. Each home will appraise for about $140,000 with the purchaser taking a ‘soft second” mortgage with Jericho Road for the balance. Jericho Road will forgive the “soft second” over 10 or 15 years as long as the homeowner lives in the house.
PUBLIC SCHOOL OPERATING ALMOST AT FULL CAPACITY
Demographics at the New Orleans public schools post Katrina remain almost the same as before the storm. The district’s poverty level and racial breakdown are similar and the percentage of students enrolled in free and reduced priced lunches have risen from 74 percent to seventy five percent. The student body is 90 percent African-American, compared to 93 percent before the storm. Currently 27,000 students are enrolled in 53 public schools operating in New Orleans. The schools are at 98 percent capacity. Prior to the storm 59,000 students were enrolled in the city’s public schools.
CITY WISHES TO PUCHASE NAVY’S POLAND AVENUE PROPERTY
The City of New Orleans has received a $237,780 grant from the Defense Department’s Office of Economic Adjustment, to pursue use of the naval Support Activity’s east bank installation on Poland Avenue in the Bywater neighborhood and plan for its reuse. The City of New Orleans will be hiring a two-person staff to work on the local reuse plans. The city will soon accept applications for the two positions.
Long term, the City would like to take ownership of the property and lease the parking garage to the Port of New Orleans as part of a proposed cruise ship terminal complex. The Port estimates that 1000 cars could be parked in the garage. The city and the port would share in revenue generated from the site. The 25-acre installation must close by 2011. The Naval Reserve and Marine Corps Reserve command must relocate before that time. The military has used the Poland Avenue site since 1919. Earlier this year the Navy declared the property surplus.
CHALMETTE FIRMS LOWEST BIDDER FOR QUARTER/CBD GARBAGE PICK-UP
A politically connected St. Bernard company, SDT Waste & Debris Services of Chalmette, is the lowest bidder for trash collection in the French Quarter and the Central Business District. City officials plan to award the $8.9 million contract this week which Mayor Nagin has hailed as a way to bring “Disneylike” cleanliness to the area.
CITY MOVING FORWARD ON BLIGHT EFFORT
The City of New Orleans is expecting almost 2000 residential buildings to be back in commerce by late 2007 as part of the SOAP program, Sale of Adjudicated/Abandoned Property. The City awarded the right to rehabilitate the properties to 22 non-profit and for-profit developers who made applications to the city. An additional 500 properties will be distributed to smaller firms or individual developers in the coming months.
Several City Council members voiced their concerns that the rights of property owners including senior citizens be protected in the process. Councilmember Cynthia Hedge Morrell said that she would do everything possible to protect senior citizens’ rights and make sure no one loses property without proper notification. Councilmember Hedge Morrell also reminded city housing officials that the Council previously gave first priority to purchase adjudicated properties to people whose own homes were determined to be uninhabitable due to hurricane damage. Councilmembers Stacy Head and Cynthia Willard Lewis asked Nagin housing officials why they set strict criteria for developers such as financial capacity and past experience. They noted that many adjoining neighbors have been cutting the grass on these properties for years and should have been given the first right to purchase the lots.
Non-profit groups receive the homes at no costs. For profit developers must pay 50 percent of the site’s current market value. Many of the developers will rely on tax credits or other Katrina-created incentives and subsidies form the state and federal government.
HANO SCHEDULES MEETING TO DISCUSS PROPOSED DEMOLITIONS
Former public housing residents and their supporters who are concerned about the proposed demolition of more than 5000 public housing units in four complexes and several scattered sites will have a chance to hear from HANO officials at a special public meeting Wednesday, Nov. 29 at 6 p.m. at John McDonogh High School, 2462 Esplanade Ave.
FEDERAL LAWSUIT STALLS REDEVELOPMENT
A federal lawsuit filed last June by former New Orleans public housing tenants has stalled the redevelopment of four public housing projects – C.J. Peete in Central City; Lafitte in Treme; St. Bernard in the 7th Ward and B. W. Cooper between Earhart and Martin Luther King boulevards. HANO also wants to tear down 586 units of “scattered site” housing, mostly in the upper 9th Ward and New Orleans East. The four major redevelopments are valued at $681 million. HANO wants to apply for Hope VI revitalization grants for the four major redevelopment projects. The former St. Thomas housing project was redeveloped into a mixed income community, River Gardens, with a Hope VI grant.
Before the storm, HANO had approximately 7,500 units of public housing but only 5,100 were occupied. Almost 7,000 families are currently on the waiting list for public housing, nearly all of which are classified as “extremely low income” by federal guidelines. More than 10,000 families are on the waiting list for Section 8 vouchers. HANO has reopened more than 1,000 units of public housing as of June, 2006 and has distributed almost 2500 Section 8 vouchers and more than 1700 special “disaster vouchers” since the storm.
ROAD HOME PROGRAM INCREASES PACE OF AWARD LETTERS
The LRA’s Road Home program has stepped up the pace of awarding letters of determination to applicants. More than 80,000 people have applied for grants. The agency has notified almost 9,000 to date that their grant amounts have been determined. Less than 50 applicants have actually received their money. Governor Blanco charged the LRA’s contractor with sending out 10,000 grant award notifications by November 30.
HISTORIC EAGLE SALOON TO BE RENOVATED
The historic three-story Eagle Saloon, where jazz legends Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong and Charles “Buddy” Bolden are said to have played should be renovated under a plan developed by chicken restaurateur and tour operator Jerome “PopAgee” Johnson. Johnson says he will be closing on the purchase of the property – considered hallow ground to jazz preservationists – within 45 days. The Eagle Saloon along with the Iroquois Theater and Karnofsky’s Music Store are listed among the nation’s top at-risk historical buildings by the group Save America’s Treasurers, a nonprofit affiliated with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Johnson would also like to acquire several other historic buildings in the 400 block of S. Rampart, formerly known as “Back of Town. Johnson is receiving a $2 million allocation from this year’s state capital outlay budget and a $200,000 city grant. Johnson plans to convert the building’s first floor into an exact replica of the original Eagle Saloon and convert the second floor into a jazz museum. The third floor would include offices and a party room with a garden reception area located on the roof.
ROYAL SONESTA SEEKS EXPANSION TO KEEP FOUR STAR RATING
The Royal Sonesta Hotel is seeking to expand its rooftop penthouse to provide the amenities customers expect from a four-star hotel. According to general manager Al Groos, the hotel would like to add space for everything from a manicurist to exercise equipment. The expansion would not mean the addition of sleeping rooms. Located at 300 Bourbon Street, the Royal Sonesta was built in the late 1960’s on the site of the former Regal Brewery.
2007 PROPERTY TAX BILLS TO DECLINE
The agency that oversees the city’s bonded indebtedness, the Board of Liquidation, City Debt, voted unanimously to roll back property tax hikes imposed after Hurricane Katrina. The rollback was credited to an increase in assessments and greater success in collecting taxes.
Citywide property taxes in 2007 will total approximately 175 mills. Taxes in special areas such as the Downtown Development District, neighborhood security districts, and the New Orleans Regional Business Park will be assessed differently. After calculating the savings due to a homestead exemption, the owner of a home valued at $200,000 will be assessed $20,000. That homeowner will pay approximately $2,260 in citywide taxes in 2007, approximately $150 less than in 2006. The owner of a house valued at $100,000 will pay approximately $515.
IRS COULD TAX LRA GRANTS
Louisiana taxpayers who claimed a storm loss on their 2005 taxes and are receiving a Road Home grant from the LRA should count the grants as income on their federal tax returns this year. The average grant is approximately $60,000. Almost 170,000 Louisiana homes suffered major flooding in the two hurricanes last year. Citizens who have received an LRA grant and previously claimed a casualty loss on their 2005 taxes should amend their returns to show that they have received Road Home funds. Some Road Home recipients would avoid higher taxes if their grants and insurance payments exceed the pre-storm value of their houses. Citizens with tax questions should check with an accountant or another tax preparer.
CELEBRATION IN THE OAKS REOPENS WITH WALKING TOURS
City Park’s Celebration in the Oaks has opened again after missing last year due to storm damage. This year’s holiday festival includes walking tours of the Botanical Gardens and La Maison Nool, a house decorated for Christmas in the French style. The house is meant to honor both the city’s French-Creole customs and the heritage of the display’s sponsor, the French electric company Square D.
LEVEE BOARD PREPARES TO SETTLE BOHEMIA SPILLWAY CASE
The Orleans Levee Board has offered a financial settlement of approximately 50 percent to the plaintiffs in the Bohemia Spillway case. The board has agreed to pay $13 million over the next 19 months.
AIRPORT OPENS FREE CELL PHONE LOT
Louis Armstrong Airport has opened a new 350-space cell phone lot on Hollandey Street and Airline Drive across from the Airport near the Budget car rental lot. Citizens will find the lot a convenient place to wait for arriving passengers. The lot features new lights and a security guard to prevent drivers from leaving their vehicles. The lot operates from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
HOMELAND SECURITY MUST STILL RESOLVE COMMUNICATIONS ISSUE
U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Joseph Lieberman have criticized the Department of Homeland Security for failing to create a Common Operating Picture database to enable first responders to quickly give up-to-the minute information about conditions on the group. The senators say that the agency has not adequately trained first responders about the program and how to use it. The program provides first responders with the same access to computerized information provided federal officials, including a new feature that provides information on where emergency supplies are and where they are heading.
DA, AG BEGIN JOINT CONTRACTOR FRAUD TASK FORCE
Attorney General Charles Foti and District Attorney Eddie Jordan have announced a joint task force which will receive and investigate contractor fraud claims from the public and determine which warrant criminal prosecution. Residents can file a complaint by calling 1 (866) 5123-2820 or 1(800) 351-4889. Property owners will be able to speak directly with task force members who will be circulating through New Orleans neighborhoods in specially marked vans. More than 1000 citizens have filed contractor fraud complaints and more than 240 contractors have been charged, including 139 in the New Orleans area.
Attorney General Foti suggests that citizens hire only Louisiana licensed or registered contractors, check their experience, get local references and have a written contract. He also suggests that you never pay cash or let payments get ahead of completion of the work.
GOVERNOR CONSIDERS USES FOR STATE SURPLUS
Governor Kathleen Blanco has predicted five years of surplus with at least $800 million extra in the current budget year. She credits the surplus to the state’s strong post-hurricane economic momentum which has brought higher-than-expected tax collections. Combined with a budget surplus from the last fiscal year, legislators will have $1.6 billion in new spending to allocate during their 10-day special session which begins Dec. 8. Among the funding priorities Governor Blanco is considering is a tax credit for families with children, an acceleration of business tax credits, insurance rebates for property owners and salary increases for teachers and other many public employees.
FEMA DESIGNATES ST. FRANCES CABRINI CHURCH HISTORIC
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has issued a preliminary decision that the St. Frances Cabrini Church, which was heavily damaged during Hurricane Katrina, is historic and should not be demolished. Holy Cross school has plans to build a new campus on the Paris Avenue site to replace their flooded Lower 9th Ward facility.
FEMA WILL ONLY REMOVE TREES WHICH THREATEN PUBLIC SAFETY
FEMA is only prepared to remove dead or dangerous trees which have been damaged by salt water, not by wind or other causes. Only standing dead or deteriorated trees that create an immediate threat to people or buildings are eligible for free removal. Small trees and shrubs and trees in vacant areas that do not pose a threat to public safety will not be removed. Stumps will also not be removed. All debris must be placed at the curb to be picked up. Corps contractors are not permitted to go on a resident’s property unless the resident has signed a right-of-entry form. The form is available on the city’s Web site, www.cityofno.com. The form can be mailed on delivered to the Department of Safety & Permits, 1300 Perdido St. New Orleans, Louisiana 70112.
AREA BUSINESSES PREPARE FOR HOLIDAY SHOPPING SEASON
New Orleans area businesses are projecting a busier holiday shopping season than last year, though not yet back to pre-Katrina levels. With many stories re-opening, more residents returning and “feel-good” spending by storm-weary consumers, retailers are enthusiastic about their opportunities. A strong buy-local sentiment that was especially prevalent at Magazine Street shops last year is again expected.
BLANCO SEEKS CANDIDATES FOR LEVEE BOARDS
With the new levee consolidation law in effect, Governor Blanco is seeking qualified applicants to fill two regional levee boards. Prospective candidates for the two new eighteen-member superboards must meet several stringent requirements including residency, educational, technical and geographic. Governor Blanco has set a deadline of Dec 29 to have the list of candidates completed. Voters approved Constitutional Amendment # 3 which consolidated the levee boards on Sept 30. Applications for the new boards can be downloaded from the secretary of state web site at www.sos.louisiana.gov or call (225) 922-1200.
LOUISIANA RECOVERY JEOPARDIZED BY INSURANCE RATES
Louisiana could see a mass exodus of residents if the state is not able to reduce skyrocketing insurance rates, said Sen. Ken Hollis. The state-sponsored Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corp. has requested a minimum 31.7 rate increase for homeowners. The Louisiana Insurance Rating Commission will decide next month if the increase is warranted. Citizens is the third largest residential insurer in Louisiana.
CITY PARK’S AMUSEMENT AREA REOPENS
The Carousel Gardens, City Park’s amusement area, has reopened with six new rides including a motorized pendulum dubbed the Rockin’ Tug and the Scrambler, a classic carnival ride with mechanical arms that whirl like a hand-mixer. The children’s roller coaster and the large plexiglass slide are also ready for riders.
Like much of the 1300-acre City Park, Hurricane Katrina broke the existing rides and let an unsightly mass of mud and debris in the gardens. The park’s historic carousel is still under repair along with the signature miniature train and tracks. The train should begin to operate within the next few weeks. The total cost of restoring the amusement park could reach $5 million. City Park sustained $43 million in storm losses. Reopening the amusement park meant the return of 25 seasonal jobs.
NEW ORLEANS EAST PRESENTS OPPORTUNITIES FOR RESIDENTS
The escalating pace of new construction and renovation in eastern New Orleans is a welcome sign to both returning residents and those who are building new. Many returning residents are taking the opportunity to upgrade their existing properties or purchasing a larger home.
Businesses providing grocery, retail and other types of stores and services are also returning. New Orleans East is one of the few areas available for new construction. Various neighborhoods have access to natural waterways including Lake Pontchartrain, the Mississippi River and the wetlands. Many housing styles and sizes are also available. Realtors working in eastern New Orleans can discuss available rehabilitation loans and incentives. Said one realtor, “I feel very positive on New Orleans East and I look forward to it booming.”
LEGISLATORS TO ATTEND SPECIAL SESSION ON INSURANCE RATES
Governor Kathleen Blanco will call a special 10-day session of the Louisiana Legislature on Dec. 8 to tap the state’s $827 million surplus for insurance tax cuts for families and businesses, to finance large economic development projects and to give pay raises to teachers, state employees, police officers and fire fighters.
MORE BIDS OPENED FOR ADDITIONAL SANITATION SERVICES; COSTS SKYROCKET
Two firms, SDT Waste & Debris Services of Chalmette and The Ramelli Group of New Orleans each bid $9 million to pick up garbage in downtown neighborhoods including the French Quarter, the Central Business District and the Warehouse District. Coupled with the garbage collection contracts already awarded, the overall price tag for garbage collection has increased four-fold.
BANKING EXECUTIVE COULD LEAD REDEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY
Banking executive Joseph Williams is considered the front-runner to lead the city agency, NORA, which will play a pivotal role in the redevelopment of large sections of New Orleans storm-ravaged real estate. Williams is currently president of Beacon Street Financial Group and is a former head of Hibernia’s Southcoast Capital, their investment-banking arm. NORA possesses broad powers to put blighted properties back into commerce.
PORTION OF UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL REOPENS
Louisiana State University reopened its emergency room, intensive care unit and 85 of the original 575 general medical and surgical beds at University Hospital. LSU has formed a partnership with the U.S. Dept of Veterans Affairs to build a new teaching hospital to replace Charity Hospital. Officials say the damage to Charity is so extensive that it cannot reopen. University will serve as the level-one trauma center in the region. The free medical clinic that has been operating at the old Lord & Taylor building will soon close. LSU currently employs almost 1200 people but that number will increase to 1500 by next spring.
MORE STRINGENT GUIDELINES SET FOR GENTILLY LANDFILL
The Army Corps of Engineers and the Louisiana Dept. of Environmental Quality have set more stringent safety requirements for the city-owned Old Gentilly Landfill that will better protect a neighboring hurricane levee. The agreement could result in an increase in the amount of construction debris deposited in the landfill each day. Members of the Louisiana Environmental Action League have argued that the reopening of the Gentilly landfill has increased the risk of exposing neighbors to improperly disposed materials and could cause wastewater leakage from the older and new parts of the landfill.
NEW ORLEANS BUSINESSES OPEN BATON ROUGE LOCATIONS
Several New Orleans businesses including Mandina’s Restaurant, Galatoire’s, Martin’s Wine Cellar, Adler’s Jewelry, Mignon Faget and Gulf Coast Bank have opened locations in Baton Rouge to make up for the lack of customers in New Orleans at this time. Fidelity Homestead considers their new Baton Rouge offices as a back-up in case of another storm. The sons of Owen “Pip” Brennan are also evaluating the possibility of opening signature restaurants in other markets in the region.
COUNCILMEMBER HEAD REFUSES ALCOHOL PERMIT FOR MAGAZINE SHOP
Councilmember Stacy Head turned down a coffee shop’s request for an alcohol beverage license because two Magazine Street area neighborhood organizations did not want additional alcohol beverage venues in their area. If the store, Puccino’s, had received an ABO license, they could have applied for video poker machines, which the neighbors also opposed. Residents say twelve alcoholic beverage outlets already exist along Magazine between Louisiana and Washington.
RTA WILL CONTINUE CURRENT SERVICE LEVEL IN 2007
The financially strapped Regional Transit Authority will continue its current level of service of buses, streetcars and paratransit vehicles in 2007. The federal government will provide almost $15 million in loans as well as grant a waiver to redirect almost $14 million more from a capital projects fund into general operating costs. The RTA’s projected 2007 budget is $66.6 million including $14.8 million in GO Zone loans. The RTA will operate 28 bus routes along with the Canal Street and Riverfront streetcar lines and paratransit service for disabled riders.
CVB OPENS NEW YORK OFFICE
The New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau has opened a northeast Sales Office in Sag Harbor, New York which will promote New Orleans as a tourism destination in the Northeast. The CBV also has regional offices in Washington and Chicago.
ORLEANS LEVEE BOARD COULD SETTLE WITH SPILLWAY OWNERS
The Orleans Levee Board may be about to settle a long-standing legal dispute with owners of land inside the mineral-rich 30,000 acre Bohemia Spillway, that the levee board has controlled since the 1920’s. Last month, U.S. District Judge Marcel Livaudais, Jr. ordered the board to pay a $17.4 million judgment to scores of corporations and families. The Orleans Levee Board is set to become extinct at year’s end.
ALVAREZ CONTRACT EXTENDED BY SCHOOL BOARD
The Orleans Parish School Board has extended the contract of Alvarez & Marsal because of the difficulty of hiring key positions, mostly in the finance department. Alvarez & Marsal bills the school board $308 per hour, including expenses. The original A & M contract was for $19 million with a $1.5 million extension. The contract is expected to end in March.
LAKEVIEW BUSINESSES RETURNING TO HARRISON AVENUE
A handful of businesses in the retail corridor along Lakeview’s Harrison Avenue – including three bank branches, a deli, a bar and a snowball stand – have reopened as the neighborhood slowly repopulates. While Little Miss Muffin and Lakeview Harbor Restaurant are expanding their spaces, others including Lakeview Fine Foods, The Steak Knife and Coffee & Company will not reopen along Harrison. The businesses that have already reopened are bringing optimism to the neighborhood. A strong retail base is a key to recovery. Other Lakeview area businesses that have already returned include Fleur de Lis Car Center and Deluxe Cleaners.
COUNCILMEMBERS QUESTION PRISON INMATE POPULATION
Several members of the New Orleans City Council – led by Councilmember Shelley Midura – questioned Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman about why the prison population is so high even though the population is reduced. Councilmember Midura was concerned about why New Orleans would need 3,300 jail beds for 2007. She and other advocates stated that the Sheriff should aim to reduce the number of people jailed before trial and that work release and other programs could be a less expensive alternative to traditional incarceration.
The City Council has been studying best criminal justice practices since last September’s Crime Summit. The Orleans Parish prison system held approximately 6,000 people pre-Katrina but had a capacity of 7,200 inmates. The Criminal Sheriff’s budget was $35 million in 2004 and $17 million in 2006. Mayor Nagin is recommending a $28.6 million budget for 2007. Sheriff Gusman requested $38.1 million.
STATE-SPONSORED INSURANCE CARRIER RAISING RATES
The state-sponsored Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the third largest residential property insurer in Louisiana, would like to raise rates between 31.7 percent and 129.6 percent. Citizens represents 135,000 residential policyholders. Citizens is offering increased deductibles to lower rates.
COUNCIL PRESIDENT OLIVER THOMAS TO HOST THANKSGIVING DINNER FOR SENIORS AT ZULU CLUB
City Council President Oliver Thomas will host a Thanksgiving Dinner for all senior citizens on Tuesday, November 21 from noon – 3 p.m. at the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club, 732 N. Broad Street. For more information call 658-1070.
DOWNTOWN HOTELS DONATE ROOMS TO HOUSE RELIEF SPARK VOLUNTEERS
Several New Orleans downtown hotels including the Renaissance Hotel and the Royal Sonesta are donating rooms to the non-profit organization Relief Spark which is gutting houses and providing other types of aid in Orleans and St. Bernard parishes. The Sheraton Hotel and the W Hotel donated rooms last spring. Relief Spark founder Sidney Ray, a Los Angeles marketing consultant, says that the organization quickly collected $3 million in goods and sent out 54 donated semi-trucks loaded with 814 pallets of much needed supplies and materials.
Relief Spark works with Lean on Me – based in Sacramento, California; St. Bernard Project – based in Chalmette; Community Center of St. Bernard Project – based in the St. Bernard Project; Common Ground, Project H.O.P.E. and ReliefNOW Network – based in Texas. Relief Spark provides their volunteers with dependable housing, safety gear and rebuilding tools and materials. “We appreciate volunteers taking time of from work and time away from their families to come to New Orleans to gut houses and/or rebuild,” said Sidney. If you would like volunteer with Relief Spark or provide other assistance, contact Sidney Ray at 310-409-8416 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
FIRE SUPT. CHARLES PARENT RECOMMENDS TRAVEL TRAILER AND FIRE SAFETY TIPS; DIAL 911 FOR EMERGENCIES
Superintendent of Fire Charles Parent advises that every family design a fire escape plan. He offers the follows suggestions: Include the entire family in the preparations; determine two ways of escape; make sure windows can be opened in the event you must exit a fire; discuss and agree on what to do with a pet if fire breaks out; designate a place outside where family members can meet after escaping a fire; in a fire, crawl low on the floor with your mouth and nose covered. Above all, get out and stay out!
Each year, fire claims the lives of 4,000 Americans and injures approximately 25,000. Many of these fires are caused by misuse or poor maintenance of electrical devises, such as overloading extension cords or using portable space heaters too close to combustibles such as bedding, furniture and curtains.
Thousands of New Orleanians are currently residing in travel trailers while their homes are being repaired. Supt. Parent says there are simple steps you can take to prevent the loss of life and property resulting from fires in travel trailers. Do not make changes to your temporary home unless approved by FEMA. Do not bring combustible materials into your unit. Do not smoke in bed or use an open flame as a flashlight. Do not trap electrical cords against walls, under carpet, in walkways. Remember your trailer can only handle so many watts, do not overload circuits. Never smoke in bed, use deep ash trays and make sure cigarettes are completely out before discarding. Do not leave children unsupervised, keep matches and lighters out of reach. Be sure to have working smoke detectors and test them monthly. Supt. Parent recommends the following regarding kitchen safety: Stove Fires - don’t store things over the stove; keep pot handles turned inward; do not leave cooking food unattended; keep stoves free of grease; if a pan catches fire with grease or food in it, cover the pan with a lid and turn off the burner; keep all cooking surfaces clean. Oven Fires – close oven door and turn off the oven. Microwave Oven Fires – Only place acceptable items in microwave; don’t put metal in microwave oven; if microwave catches fire, close the door and push the stop switch. Regarding the use of propane, if you should smell escaping gas, open the window or door, go outside and shut off the gas at the propane tank. If you are unsure what to do in the event of a gas leak, don’t hesitate to contact the fire department. Other precautions include: know where your shutoff valve is located and how to shut it off; do not replace your propane tank with a larger unit, the supplied regulator is not compatible and may cause an explosion; always be sure to have proper ventilation in your trailer; never place your head near or directly over the values on your storage tank; never use grills or camp stoves indoors. Supt. Parent wants to remind all citizens that oxygen, heat and fuel create a deadly fire triangle. Dial 911 for fire and other emergencies.
COUNCILMEMBER FIELKOW LEADS CLEAN-UP OF PONTCHARTRAIN PARK PLAYGROUND
On Saturday, November 18, Saints and Bengals fans will come together to participate in the fourth “Playground Partnership” and the cleaning of the Pontchartrain Park Playground, a local playground which suffered damage from Hurricane Katrina. Arnie Fielkow, New Orleans City Council Vice President and Chairperson of the New Orleans Youth and Recreation Committee, launched “Playground Partnership” in September and has facilitated the cleanup of Conrad, Hunter Field and Goretti Playgrounds over the past two months.
Acadian Ambulance and BellSouth are partnering together to sponsor this Saturday’s playground cleanup. Both companies have a long and dedicated history with community involvement in New Orleans and welcome the opportunity to participate. Employees of both Acadian and BellSouth will don their Saints gear and partner with Bengals fans to repair the damaged playground while cheering on their respective teams. Fielkow states, “I am grateful to Acadian Ambulance and BellSouth for their strong commitment to rebuilding the city of New Orleans through their generous contributions of time, personnel and funds.” For additional information on how your company can participate in the cleanup efforts, please contact Broderick Green at email@example.com or call 504-658-1065.
COUNCIL PRESIDENT THOMAS TO ADDRESS TULANE’S ROOSEVELT INSTITUTE AT OPENING OF NATIONAL CENTE FOR DISASTER RECOVERY
City Council President Oliver Thomas will be the keynote speaker at the launch of Tulane University’s National Center for Disaster Recovery. The Center is a project of the Tulane Chapter of the Roosevelt Institution, the nation’s first student think tank and an emerging leader in the world of public policy. Council President Thomas will interact with students to encourage them to become part of the policy making process. Tulane students will also present their ideas on how to rebuild New Orleans and prepare for future disasters. The event will be held Friday, Nov 17 in room 102 of Tulane’s Jones Hall. For more information contact Mark Newberg at 658-1071 (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Sara Warren at (804) 869-8965 (email@example.com).
COUNCIL QUESTIONS MAYOR NAGIN ON HOUSING INITIATIVES
At least one New Orleans City Councilmember recently questioned Mayor Nagin on whether his $50 million gap-loan program designed to help homeowners waiting for LRA funding, the One New Orleans Road Home Fast Track Program, would get the grants to them quickly enough to make a significant difference. Mayor Nagin plans to fund the program through federal HOME funds, the city’s Neighborhood Housing Improvement Funds and from federal CDBG funds. Liberty Bank and Chase Bank have agreed to work with the program.
Several councilmembers including Arnie Fielkow, Stacy Head, and Shelley Midura also wondered whether the Mayor’s Good Neighbor Plan to get owners to gut or repair their blighted properties was properly staffed and moving with sufficient speed. Councilmembers were also concerned that the program did not have enough inspectors checking on properties, as well as hearing officers and clerical staff.
The Good Neighbor Plan has already cited 8,348 flood-damaged or otherwise blighted properties in Council District’s A, B & C as public nuisances and is now moving into District’s D & E. The Fast Track Program is set to begin in January and will target 1,000 households – about 2 percent of New Orleans homeowners expected to receive funds. The loans will be offered to all homeowners who have registered for Road Home funds.
GENTILLY SHOPPING CENTER COULD GET MAKEOVER
A neighborhood rebuilding plan crafted by Miami architect Andres Duany calls for a redevelopment of the Elysian Fields/Gentilly Blvd. shopping district to include “quality retail.” Fewer than half the businesses that operated in the areas have reopened. The plan calls for a mixed use development with residential on the upper floors and commercial on the first floors. A green space square surrounded by trees could be added. The site is very central to the entire Gentilly corridor, especially the Dillard University campus.
NEW ORLEANS CRUISE INDUSTRY REBOUNDING WITH CARNIVAL’S RETURN
With the return of Carnival Cruise Line’s Fantasy, Port of New Orleans officials feel that the cruise industry in rebounding. Before Katrina, New Orleans was on pace to become the U.S.’s fifth busiest cruise port. Four ships and three cruise lines homeported in New Orleans prior to the storm. According to a study by the International Council of Cruise Lines, in 2004 cruise industry passengers spent $208 million in Louisiana and were responsible for 5,000 jobs. Cruise line officials say they must rebuild confidence with their customers that New Orleans is ready for cruise ships and their passengers. Carnival Cruise Lines plans to bring the Carnival Triumph here next year.
WORLD TRADE CENTER LAUNCHES 1ST STOP INTERNATIONAL
The World Trade Center of New Orleans has launched a 1st stop for International Business Services to help international companies seeking trade and investment opportunities as part of the region’s economic recovery and rebuilding. Nicholas Bousquet (529-1601 ext 262) is heading up the program which provides access to statewide business and economic development information and contacts with the business community.
JAZZ FEST AWARDS GRANT TO INDIANS & CULTURAL ORGANIZATIONS
The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Foundation along with their partners Shell Oil and AEG Live awarded $250,000 to the Backstreet Cultural Museum, the Mardi Gras Indians, Zulu, and 30 social aid and pleasure clubs. The clubs will use their $2,000 donations to help underwrite the costs of second-line parade fees and police escorts.
The Backstreet Cultural Museum, where the largest known video archive of jazz funerals is housed, will purchase flat screen television sets and will remodel its Treme facilities.
CRIMINAL COURT JUDGES SEEK FUNDING FOR DRUG COURT LITERARY PROGRAM
The Orleans Parish Criminal Court judges are asking the New Orleans City Council for $200,000 to fund a literary program for offenders in drug court. Local trade unions and companies would be willing to hire drug-free ex-felons if they were able to pass basic entry-level exams in reading and math typical of a sixth-grade education. Officials at the Youth Empowerment Program say it will take work on offenders part to reach those goals. Criminal Court Judge Calvin Johnson envisions the program to be held in the same building as the drug court where offenders already come each week for drug testing and to meet with case managers.
NEW ORLEANS EAST FOOD BANK SERVES HOT MEALS TO ALL TAKERS
The United Way supported Just the Right Attitude Food Bank, located in the parking lot of Faith Church near Bullard Avenue in eastern New Orleans, provides meals, groceries and a helping hand to hundreds of New Orleanians who have returned to the area. Since March volunteers have been preparing 7,500 hot meals per month along with offering breakfast and a drive-through food bank for those in need. Many participants are living in gutted houses and do not have kitchen facilities to prepare meals. In addition to funding from the United Way, the Northwest Medical Team from Portland, Oregon is supporting the program.
Breakfast is served Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 8 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. Lunch is available from 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. On November 20 and 21, JTRA will hold a two-day Thanksgiving celebration including breakfast, hot hors d’oeuvres and lunch. Founder and director Debra South Jones will receive the Lindy Boggs Hunger Awareness Award at Loyola University, Dec 10. Jones commutes to New Orleans each day from Breaux Bridge to operate JTRA.
DEVELOPERS SEEK TO BUILD $36 MILLION DRAG RACE TRACK
Developer Gilbert Smith along with Eugene Green, president of the New Orleans Regional Business Park, are seeking $36 million to build a quarter-mile-long drag racing course and associated facilities to host nationally sanctioned drag races. The track would be the only one in Louisiana or Mississippi able to host sanctioned drag races. Smith hopes to attract a minimum of one national and one major regional race each year, along with local races, car shows, swap meets and other events. The race course could create 25 full-time jobs and additional part-time jobs on race days.
The developers have their eyes on an isolated, undeveloped 444-acre tract in New Orleans east as their first choice. That site is marshy and would require $13 million of fill and excavation. In addition to the drag strip, $11 million will be spent to build a grandstand, luxury suites, a tower, lights and other facilities. Smith hopes to also generate funds from corporate sponsors and naming rights for the track as well as ticket sales and concessions. The developers sought support from the City’s Industrial Development Board so that they could ask the State Bond Commission to authorize the issuance of bonds to cover up to $33 million of the $36 million cost. If the developers gain State Bond Commission approval, they will return to the IDB with a formal cost-benefit analysis to receive final project approval.
PROPOSALS SUBMITTED TO REDEVELOP RIVERFRONT
Five teams comprising some of the world’s best known architectural firms are vying for the opportunity to redevelop a 4.1 mile stretch of publicly owned land along New Orleans’ east bank riverfront from Poland Avenue to Jackson Avenue. Sean Cummings, director of the New Orleans Building Corp., is overseeing the project which he calls “reinvesting the crescent.” The five teams are the finalists from a larger competition. The winning team, which will be selected by Dec 15, will propose what type of facilities should be built along the river.
Preliminary plans call for an uninterrupted and continuous linear green space or riverfront park, a world-class performance venue, and a hotel and expanded cruise ship terminal. Other suggestions include hotels, museums, an amphitheater, opera house or planetarium. The work is expected to be complete within one year. Local firms that are members of one of the five team include Eskew + Dumez + Ripple, Kulkarni Consultants, Robinson et al, Carol Bebelle, Julie Brown Consulting Services, Thorton-Tomasetti Group Inc., Morphy Makofsky, Marks Associates, DMJM Harris, Metro-Source, Creative Industry, Perez Architects, Huntly Partners, Robert Tannen, Cliff James, Nash Marketing, Mathes Brierre Architects, The Rev. Tom Watson, Urban Systems, Studio Matrix, Dr. Douglas Meffert and Dr. Richard Campanella, and Billes Architecture. Reclaiming the riverfront for non-maritime uses has been a goal of residents and city leaders for several decades.
CLINTON & BUSH PLEAD FOR BIPARTISAN LEADERSHIP TO AID KATRINA RECOVERY
In a speech before a standing-room-only crowd at the National Association of Realtors convention in New Orleans, former Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush pleaded for bipartisan leadership to push forward financial aid to help Louisiana and the Gulf Coast recover from last year’s hurricanes. The two former presidents have raised $129 million for recovery efforts in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. President Clinton urged the realtors to spread the word about New Orleans continuing needs and progress when they returned home. Thousands of NRA members engaged in volunteer efforts while in New Orleans and the organization itself committed $18 million to the recovery.
TWO COUNCILS BUILD CLOUT WORKING TOGETHER IN NEW FOUND SPIRIT OF REGIONAL COOPERATION
The New Orleans and Jefferson Parish councils - having had a highly successful joint meeting – are preparing to move forward on initiatives of mutual interest including getting money faster for residents from the LRA, securing additional funding for levee repairs and rebuilding, and fighting crime. Councilmember Arnie Fielkow has suggested that the two councils create several smaller working groups to move specific issues forward, such as the regionalization of services including garbage pick-up, public transportation, drainage and other infrastructure projects.
DEMOCRAT MAJORITY CONGRESS COULD HELP LOUISIANA RECOVERY
If Congress follows up on the campaign rhetoric, the pace of Louisiana’s recovery could increase. They could help cut red tape in disaster response, assist low-income people in finding housing, reform “a complicated and unfair” insurance system, bolster levees, shore up the coast and improve education. “I will make sure the new leadership remembers those priorities and that rebuilding the Gulf Coast remains a priority,” said Louisiana Congressman Charlie Melancon. Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is still considering the pro-drilling legislation that Senator Mary Landrieu has been promoting which would cut Louisiana in for oil and gas royalty revenues. The Democrats have also been pushing an increase in the per-hour minimum wage to $7.25 over two years.
RENTAL PROPERTY REAL ESTATE BOOM EXPECTED
More than 10,000 rental apartment units could be created in Orleans, Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes to help replace housing destroyed by the hurricanes. Dozens of developers have applied for $80 million in tax incentives for subsidized and market rate rental units. Public housing officials plan to create more than 1800 units of subsidized housing. Among the locations developers are interested in include the Lower Garden District, Algiers, Gentilly, Mid-City and Uptown. Only about 25 percent of the proposed units are located in New Orleans east, where many apartment complexes were destroyed by the storm. Overall, the hurricanes damaged or destroyed 58,000 rental apartments in metro New Orleans. After the storm, Congress awarded $178 million in low-income housing credits to the Louisiana Housing Finance Agency through the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act.
NEW LEVEES NEED ARMORING TO LAST; LAKEFRONT LEVEES COULD FAIL IF A MAJOR STORM HIT JUST WEST OF CITY
Levees that are being repaired or built since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita must be armored with rock and concrete if they are to last say forensic investigators. Several of the areas where repairs have been made since the storms without the rock and concrete armoring on the sides already show extensive damage.
“In our estimation, given the catastrophic failure of the MR-GO levee during Katrina, it would be prudent to armor them right now for waves and overtopping,” said Ivan van Heerden, a co-founded and deputy director of the LSU Hurricane Center. “If we got a Katrina-type storm that came west of the city over the airport or just west of the airport, we have the potential to see bigger waves on Lake Pontchartrain,” he continued. The Army Corp of Engineers is studying whether to armor the levees and how to do it. No decisions have been made.
LOUSIANA EXPORTS VALUES LEAPED SAYS WORLD TRADE CENTER
The World Trade Center of New Orleans Inc. says that the value of exports leaving Louisiana rose 39 percent in the third quarter of 2006, compared to the same quarter in 2005. More than $5 billion in goods were shipped from Louisiana in the three months ending Sept. 30.
COUNCIL QUESTIONS DEPARTMENTS ON STAFFING NEEDS
The New Orleans City Council questioned several city departments regarding their staffing needs during yesterday’s budget hearings. The Council must approve the 2007 operating budget by December 1. Although many developers and others seeking permits and inspections have been frequently complaining to Council members about a lack of available staff to handle their requests, Safety & Permits Director Mike Centineo said he did not need any additional staff at this time. Centineo’s staff was cut from 121 to 62 workers after the hurricane. Centineo admitted he needs more electrical inspectors, building inspectors and building plans examiners but is willing to wait until sometime next year to get the additional staff. “We want to be sure you have the resources you need,” said budget chair Cynthia Hedge Morrell to Centineo.
Elliot Perkins, acting director of the Historic District Landmarks Commission asked the council to double his five-person staff to handle the existing workload and several proposed new historic districts. Vieux Carre Commission Director Lary Hesdorffer also voiced his need for additional staff. The VCC has been function with just Lary and one co-worker. Several Councilmembers spoke in favor of additional funding for the two historic preservation agencies. “We want to be sure we preserve our cultural heritage,” said Councilmember James Carter.
CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS REMAIN UNCOMMITTED TO MAYOR’S PROPOSED SANITATION CONTRACT
Mayor Nagin’s proposal to award contracts totaling $26.8 million to two New Orleans companies is still causing concern with several City Council members who feel the Council is being pushed to accept the deal without adequate information. The current garbage hauler, Waste Management, will conclude their contract on January 1. If the Mayor’s contractors are not approved by that time, garbage collection could cease.
Several Councilmembers are also concerned about the cost of the new service and have asked for a total cost per household. Even though the sanitation fees to homeowners would not increase at this time, millions of dollars from the city’s operating budget would be used to pay the additional costs of the contracts. The trash collection contracts are the largest ever awarded by City Hall to minority-owned firms. Under the plan, residents would be able to select a uniformly designed trash can for the proposed automated service – sized 30,60 or 95 gallons – that the city will provide free of charge.
ROAD HOME GRANT APPROVALS INCREASE
The LRA has added 100 workers and begun to take applications over the telephone as part of an effort to speed up the grant approval process. Phone-in applications are designed to encourage applications form people hesitant about filling out paper documents or using the internet. Homeowners can complete and application and schedule an appointment by calling 1-(888) 762-3252 seven days a week from 7 a.m. – 11 p.m.
FEMA RED TAPE CREATES CONFUSION DURING BUDGET PROCESS
As the City Council works its way through Mayor Nagin’s proposed $759.5 million operating budget for 2007, FEMA red tape provides constant frustration to department heads. FEMA is funding much of the City’s massive restoration efforts including Public Works, the Sewerage & Water Board, and other agencies. Though last month FEMA officials committed to speeding up the approval process for funding and reimbursements, frequent staff turnover and cumbersome requirements are still slowing down progress.
DEPARTMENTS SEEK ADDITIONAL FUNDING AND STAFF
Many city departments are asking the City Council for additional funding and staff as they present their 2007 budgets. The Office of Municipal Investigations will be reinstated in 2007 as a two person operation. District Attorney Eddie Jordan is asking for an additional allocation of $586,000 to raise prosecutors salaries from $38,000 to $45,000. The Mayor’s Office announced they will seek new bids for the janitorial contract at City Hall because of the vendor’s failure to keep the building clean and maintained.
LSU HEALTH SCIENCES CENTER TO START NEW COLLABORATION BETWEEN RESEARCHERS AND CLINICIANS
The Louisiana State University health Sciences Center has announced a new $1 million project to underwrite the work of 15 teams of researchers and clinicians who will work in a multi-disciplinary approach to gather data on new treatments for patients with cancer, tuberculosis and cystic fibrosis. By working together, the teams could be more competitive when they go after grants to continue their investigations. “It’s a bridge between the bench and the bedside,” said LSUHSC chancellor Larry Hollier.
BUSINESSES SHOULD CONSIDER RELOCATING TO NEW ORLEANS
Expansion Management Magazine has ranked New Orleans as the top spot for businesses to consider relocating to. New Orleans received the designation over 40 other metropolitan markets including Houston, Baltimore, Orlando, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Albuquerque because of circumstances surrounding the hurricanes.
The area’s advantages include the availability of federal and state incentives, a reasonable cost of living, a stable, middle-class labor force and low wages. The magazine is distributed to 45,000 executives including many Fortune 500 companies who make decision on regional headquarters as well as office, retail, manufacturing or warehouse space. Other advantages New Orleans offers include the Port of New Orleans, easy access to the highway system and rail, and competitive rents, land prices, building costs and wages.
BEARINGPOINT INC. HIRED FOR FEDERAL CITY LAND DEALS
The Algiers Development District Board has hired BearingPoint Inc., a global technology consulting firm based in McLean, Virginia to negotiate land leases with the Navy at the Navail Support Activity in Algiers and later to help select a master developer. BearingPoint is experienced in working both in commercial real estate and with the Defense Department. BearingPoint beat out five other firms for the $1.2 million contract. As part of the Base Realignment and Closure process last year Naval Support Activity was targeted for closure but was selected to remain open because of the proposed federal city initiative. The City has until Sept. 30, 2008 to get funding in place and start construction.
ORLEANS PARISH WILL HAVE ONLY ONE ASSESSOR BEGINNING IN 2010
New Orleans voters recently approved an amendment to the state Constitution to reduce the number of assessors in Orleans Parish from seven to one. The system of multiple assessors dates back to the mid-1800s. Proponents of the new law including Mayor Ray Nagin said that the consolidation of assessors would save taxpayers money. Each assessor earns an annual salary of approximately $90,000, excluding benefits. The existing assessors will remain in office until 2010 when New Orleans voters will elect one single assessor.
BOOTING, TOWING PROGRAM SET TO RAMP UP; AMNESTY PROGRAM OFFERED
The Department of Public Works will begin a more aggressive effort to book vehicles whose owners have failed to pay their parking tickets and well as tow more vehicles which are blocking driveways or violating other parking rules. Public Works Director Robert Mendoza would also like to install traffic cameras around the city which would enable automated ticketing of speeders. Parking control officers are receiving training on new hand-held devices that will give them ready access to the database of boot-eligible vehicles. Motorists who have past-due tickets will have the opportunity to pay the original parking ticket amount without late fees between Nov.15 and Nov 30 under a one-time amnesty program. “If you don’t do it then, there will be no mercy,” said Mendoza.
BLANCO SEEKS TO SPEED UP ROAD HOME PLAN
Governor Kathleen Blanco has demanded that officials with the Road Home program approve rebuilding money fore 10,000 storm-damaged families by the end of November. From July 2006 to date, the agency has only approved about 1,400 grants. The LRA has also asked the Small Business Administration to stop demanding homeowners or small businesses pay off their SBA loans when they get other forms of federal storm relief. The SBA typically offers a lower-than-market interest rate, typically about 2.7 percent versus 6.3 percent. The Road Home program is financed through $7.5 billion in federal money to compensate homeowners whose properties were damaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita for uninsured losses of up to $150,000.
UNCLAIMED PROPERTY TO BE PLACED WITH STATE TREASURER
State Treasurer John Kennedy says that million in unclaimed property – checks and valuables -- will be turned over to the unclaimed property division of the state treasurer’s office. Those items could include utility deposits, wages and payroll, court-ordered refunds and proceeds of class action lawsuits, retirement accounts, stock shares, mutual funds, dividends, bank deposits, savings, checks, bonds, express money orders and travelers checks. Many individuals who had leased safety deposit boxes at area banks have not re-claimed their contents. Most banks will hold on to property from safety deposit boxes for five years. A record $48.3 million was handed out last fiscal year by the treasurer’s office. Citizens who want to contact the state treasurer’s office can call (888) 925-4127 or go to www.latreasury.com.
VOLUNTEERS STILL ESSENTIAL TO HURRICANE CLEAN-UP
Thousands of volunteers are still needed to help gut and rebuild homes across the region. Churches and non-profits around the country continue to recruit skilled and unskilled participants. Lodging camps for volunteers remain in full swing. Individuals or groups interested in providing volunteer labor can contact Brendan Hendrix, field supervisor for Hilltop Rescue and Relief and the Inter-American Restoration Corps at Brendan@hilltoprescue.org.
ENERGY EFFICIENCY ANSWER TO RISING UTILITY RATES
With utility rates rapidly rising, homeowners should consider making their homes more energy efficient or using environmentally friendly materials. Many new products on the market can provide financial relief to the consumer.
Water heats instantly in tankless water heaters, which are more efficient than storage water heaters. Spray foam insulation seals and fills even the smallest cracks and seams. Cellulose insulation is made from recycled newspapers and is energy efficient. Bamboo flooring is a durable, sustainable flooring alternative. Radiant barriers reduce the amount of heat that reaches from the roof to the attic floor. Compact fluorescent bulbs, which last four to 16 times longer than regular incandescent bulbs, only use one-fourth of the energy. Appliances which feature the EnergyStar logo use 10 to 50 percent less energy and water. For more information on energy efficiency, contact the Alliance for Affordable Energy at www.all4energy.org; or Global Green at www.globalgreen.org.
PUBLIC DEFENDER’S OFFICE SEEKS $7 MILLION BUDGET
The Orleans Parish public defender’s office needs a budget of more than $7 million in 2007 to provide adequate representation for its clients – many of whom have not received quality service in recent years. Even with recent improvements including more staff, larger offices, more phones and computers, the office still does not meet client needs.
VIBRATIONS CONTINUING PROBLEM AT THREE OUTFALL CANALS
The Army Corps of Engineers has missed another deadline for increasing drainage capacity at the 17th Street Canal while vibration problems continue to plague new pumping systems in three outfall canals. Corps officials were unable to install the six additional pumps needed to boost capacity to 5,200 cubic feet per second by the October 31st deadline. Two of the pumps should be installed within the coming week.
New pumps and floodgates are also being installed at the London and Orleans Avenue canals. They will only be used if a tropical system threatens to push surge from Lake Pontchartrain up the open waterways and flood New Orleans and parts of east Jefferson as happened during last year’s hurricane. When the pumps are working, Sewerage & Water Board officials believe they can pump water into the London Avenue Canal at the rate of 7,000 cfs.
LRA’S ROAD HOME PROGRAM OPERATES SLOWLY
Even though the federal government has allocated $7.5 billion in federal relief dollars for qualifying homeowners, only 18 homeowners have received grants totaling almost $700,000 at this time. Almost 80,000 citizens have applied to receive grants.
XAVIER RECEIVES NATIONAL HONOR FOR VOLUNTEER WORK
Xavier University was one of 140 higher education institutions named to the first President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for volunteer work by the students and the school in communities impacted by the hurricane. Among the initiatives Xavier championed was an all-male volunteer effort which encouraged African-American males to get involved in mentoring and tutoring and a partnership with the Girl Scouts to establish troops in communities where girls would not have such an opportunity.
ALLSTATE SEEKS RATE INCREASE FOR HOMEOWNERS
Allstate Insurance companies will be seeking a series of rate increases over the next few years which could total more than 50 percent. They will also increase the deductible on hurricane policies by 5 percent on homeowners qualified for wind and hail coverage. Allstate will also begin restricting or not renewing wind and hail coverage to almost 20,000 Louisiana residents who live mainly along the coast. Allstate recently received as 12 percent rate increase. Allstate will no longer renew wind and hail coverage in Orleans Parish for homeowners, renters and condominium policies that have been in effect for less than three years. Beginning November 26, Allstate homeowners will not be able to purchase wind and hail coverage on “replacement policies” that are written on new homes an existing customer might move into. Beginning March 2, 2007 Allstate will not renew landlord insurance in non-owner occupied properties.
CITY COUNCIL UNANIMOUSLY APPROVES INSPECTOR GENERAL PLAN
The New Orleans City Council unanimously approved a plan to create an inspector general’s office which will seek out waste, fraud, corruption and inefficiency in government. Councilmen Arnie Fielkow called approval of the ordinance “a great day for New Orleans.” The Inspector General’s office will be funded by the city’s general fund. The initial budget estimate if $200,000 annually. The purpose of the new office is to establish a full-time program of investigation, internal audit and performance review to provide increased accountability and oversight of entities of city government or entities receiving funds through the city and to assist in improving agency operations and deterring and identifying fraud, abuse and illegal acts.
The inspector general will be appointed by the Ethics Review Board which still must be reactivated. Mayor Nagin will appoint six of the board’s seven members from lists of three nominees each submitted by the presidents or chancellors of six local universities. The mayor will make the final appointments. All appointments must be approved by the Council.
Councilmember Shelley Midura who authored the legislation expects a national search to be launched to fill the position. The winning applicant must have at least five years of experience as a federal law enforcement officer, federal or state judge, senior-level auditor, inspector general or lawyer with expertise in investigating fraud, corruption and abuse of power. Councilmember Midura stated that the ordinance “has been more than an issue for me, it has been a cause.”
HOMEOWNERS CAN RECEIVE ALL LRA FUNDS IN LUMP SUM
Homeowners who receive grants from the LRA will be able to get their money in a lump sum rather than over a three-year period if they choose. Some citizens who participated in LRA interviews early on said they were told that grants would be disseminated only over a three-year period. People who want to use their LRA funds to make repairs will get the money in a disbursement account which will be managed jointly by the homeowners and lenders if there is a mortgage on the property. The contractor will be paid out of this account, with the final payment being made after all the work is complete to protect against fraud.
NEW ORLEANS BOWL LINES UP RACING SPONSOR
The New Orleans Bowl has signed R & L Carriers, an Ohio-based trucking company with local offices on Almonaster Blvd., as the new title sponsor for the December 22 bowl game at the Louisiana Superdome. R & L operates a fleet of 13,000 tractors and trailers and employs more than 150 Louisiana residents. In 1997, R & L Carriers became the first interstate hauloer to become affiliated with NASCAR. The New Orleans Bowl will pit the Sun Belt Conference champion against a team from Conference USA.
HORNETS SEASON SET TO START; TICKETS STILL AVAILABLE
The NBA New Orleans Hornets will return to the New Orleans Arena this year with the first season game on Sunday, November 5. More than 3,000 tickets remain unsold for that game as well as 6,000 unclaimed for the remaining five games.
MAYOR NAGIN PRESENTS SLIM 2007 OPERATING BUDGET
Mayor Nagin and his staff are trying to prioritize the city’s many rebuilding needs and stretch the few dollars that are available. As early projections indicate, many departments including Public Works, Parkways, NORD and Safety & Permits are still woefully understaffed. This year’s budget just touches the surface of staff rebuilding. Even with federal loans to help provide essential services, the city will continue to struggle. Perhaps the most critical area is the New Orleans Police Department which still suffers a manpower shortage and an ongoing problem with recruitment, promotion and retention.
Mayor Nagin did unveil a new no-interest loan initiative for individuals awaiting grants from the Road Home program. The City will provide loans of up to $50,000 each to 1,000 Orleans Parish homeowners, which will be repaid when their Road Home money comes home.
KREWE OF ENDYMION TOLD TO ROLL UPTOWN
The Krewe of Endymion will not be able to return to their historic Mid-City route in 2007 because of a lack of money for police overtime as well as flood damage in Mid-City. Instead, Endymion will utilize the same uptown route as in 2006. The Mardi-Gras parade schedule has not been finalized. The schedule must be presented to the City Council which makes the final decision.
ST. CHARLES STREETCARS COULD ROLL AGAIN BY CHRISTMAS
The Federal Emergency Management Agency will provide a $43 million grant to the RTA to repair 24 water-damaged Canal St. streetcars, replace some of the more than 200 buses damaged by floodwaters with hybrid buses. Repairs are already being made to the overhead electrical systems that power the St. Charles Avenue streetcars. The streetcars should be fully operational by Christmas. Each Canal St. streetcar could need $800,000 to $1 million in repairs because of such features as air-conditioning and wheelchair-lifts and seats. Streetcar repairs will utilize $21.6 million of the grant. The remaining $21.4 million will be directed toward the purchase of new buses. A new diesel bus costs approximately $325,000 and a hybrid bus costs as much as $550,000.
PREFAB HOME FACTORY TO OPEN IN NEW ORLEANS EAST
Three Nevada businessmen plan to build a factory in New Orleans East that will construct living units of 16 feet by 70 feet that can be assembled quickly and stacked into complexes as high as 12 stories. Nevada contractor Brent Lovett and his partners Lonnie and Saron Wright hope to operate out of 179,000 square feet of warehouse space near the New Orleans Lakefront Airport. Lovett will invest $3.7 million to purchase the warehouses and $10 million on an initial retrofit. Lovett got the idea for the stackable units from a similar project in China. The units will be permanent and will exceed building code requirements. The Rev. Dr. Gregory Thomas introduced Lovett to the Wrights.
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ORLEANS PARISH PRISONERS RETURNING TO TEMP FACILITIES
Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman is bringing back nearly 800 prisoners who have been housed in jails outside New Orleans to reside in temporary dormitory style tents while repairs continue at the prison. The tents are erected on a concrete foundation and are constructed with a Tedlar architectural membrane that is placed on an aluminum frame. Each dorm pod will hold 98 “low-risk” inmates in rows of bunk beds. The eight buildings were constructed with assistance from FEMA which has invested $30 million to repair jail buildings and help replace portions of the sheriff’s vehicle fleet including cars, motorcycles and boats. Prior to Katrina, the Orleans Parish Jail housed 7,500 inmates. The new prison facilities might hold only 5,000 inmates.
CRIMINAL COURT IN FULL OPERATION
Criminal Court Judge Calvin Johnson says that with repairs complete, all 12 sections of criminal district court have reopened. Each judge now has a separate courtroom and the pace of trials is expected to pick up immediately. Many court employees evacuated from the courthouse in boats after the storm, carrying documents and computers. They quickly set up operations on the campus of Southern University in Baton Rouge. More than 90 percent of the evidence that was stored in the court’s basement was also saved. Approximately 2500 defendants are awaiting trial, many needing public defenders. The public defender’s program is currently woefully understaffed. Lawyers have been assigned to almost 20 of 30 capital cases now awaiting trial.
GRANTS AVAILABLE FOR HISTORIC HOMES
Owners of historic homes and other architecturally significant properties damaged by Hurricanes Katrina or Rita can apply for recovery grants ranging from $5,000 to $45,000. Homes or historic structures built in the 1800’s as well as houses built in the early to mid-1900’s could be eligible for the grants, which are being administered by the state’s historic preservation office. Congress allocated $12.5 million for the Historic Building Recovery Grant Program.
To qualify, each property must be listed or be eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. Most homes 50 years or older qualify. Qualifying properties include plantation houses, courthouses or log cabins, historic structures such as bridges, lighthouses or forts, historic districts such as residential or commercial neighborhoods; historic sites such as battlefields or Indian mounds and historic objects such as steamboats or fire engines. Properties must have some significance at the local, state or national level to qualify. Applications are due by December 15. Packets may be obtained from the Historic Building Recovery Grants Call Center at (225) 342-0227 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LOUISIANA ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES SEEKING FUNDS TO REHAB HISTORIC TURNER’S HALL
The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities is seeking the final $700,000 needed to fund the purchase and renovation of the 19th century Turner’s Hall where the LEH has offices and plans to create a high-tech education center. The LEH already received a $400,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation, $600,000 from state capital outlay funds, $500,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts, and $250,000 from the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation.
Turner’s Hall - built in 1868 for the Society of Turners, a social, educational and benevolent association for German Immigrants – is one of the most significant 19th century buildings in the Central Business District. The new education center will include a 120-seat auditorium and several seminar rooms equipped for Internet and wireless teleconferencing and “distance learning” programs. LEH executive Michael Sartisky plans to raise the final $700,000 from foundations, individuals and businesses statewide.
UNIFIED NEW ORLEANS PLAN HOLDS CITYWIDE MEETING
More than 300 New Orleans residents attended a citywide town hall meeting of the Unified New Orleans Plan, a $5.5 million project which will provide a rebuilding blueprint that will be presented to the Louisiana Recovery Authority. AmericaSpeaks guided participants through 27 questions by which residents prioritized their desires. Residents who did not participate can call (877) 527-3284 to answer the questions by phone. District meetings will be held November 11 and 12 where neighborhood recovery needs will be discussed. A second city-wide congress will be held Dec 2nd. Displaced New Orleanians living in Atlanta, Houston, Baton Rouge and Dallas will participate by conference call.
STAKEHOLDERS ACROSS THE REGION WANT MR-GO CLOSED
At a meeting called by federal officials seeking public input, several hundred area residents emphatically told the Army Corps of Engineers that they want the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet closed. In 1956, Congress authorized the Corps to dredge the shipping channel, which enjoyed wide local support when first built.
Congress has now asked the Corps to present a plan which will end deep-draft navigation on the channel. Those opposed to the 76-mile shortcut to the Gulf of Mexico say the channel eroded protective wetlands leaving New Orleans East and St. Bernard Parish more vulnerable to storms. Local shipping interests are seeking alternatives to keep the channel open including adding gated structures that would offer storm protection while allowing shipping to continue. Some residents suggested that the Corps build a land ridge at Bayou la Loutre near Shell Beach which would create a natural buffer against storm surges and saltwater intrusion before the channel was dug. City Councilmember Cynthia Willard-Lewis recently met with 2,000 New Orleans East residents who indicated strong support for closure.
REGION’S FUTURE COULD INCLUDE MORE MANUFACTURING JOBS
As more advanced construction materials come onto the market, area economic development officials are hoping that manufacturers will locate their plants in the New Orleans area or expand existing plants into construction-related production. Almost 125,000 homes were destroyed by the hurricanes and many thousand more were substantially damaged.
Often well-paid and offering benefits, manufacturing jobs are considered a main-stay of every middle-class economy. Although New Orleans enjoys excellent shipping and railroad connections through the Port of New Orleans, New Orleans has never been a hub for manufacturing. Only 11 percent of Louisiana’s jobs are manufacturing positions. Manufacturing jobs could come from the modular housing industry as well as electronic components or steel-frame construction. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, more than 8,000 New Orleanians were working for 225 manufacturing concerns. The largest sector of employment was transportation equipment manufacturing with 3,500 workers, followed by food manufacturing with more than 2,000 employees.
FOUR FIRMS BID ON CBD GARBAGE COLLECTION CONTRACT
Four firms – Royal Services of New Orleans, The Remelli Group of New Orleans, Earth Friends Recycling & Disposal of Tallulah and SDT Waste and Debris Services of New Orleans – recently submitted bids for garbage collection services for 6,500 residents and businesses in the Central Business District, Warehouse District and the French Quarter. Mayor Nagin’s office has yet to make details of the bid specifics available. According to city officials, garbage in the downtown zones would be picked up at least once daily, twice for commercial customers. Streets and sidewalks would also be swept mechanically at least once a week.
New free litter cans would be available for all customers. Cans at residential addresses will be emptied once daily and at business addresses twice a day. The contract also includes hefty fines for operators who fail to pick up garbage during the specified hours, 5 a.m. – 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. – 8 p.m.
CITY COUNCIL APPROVES 8 PERCENT UTILITY RATE INCREASE
The New Orleans City Council unanimously approved an 8 percent rate increase over two years on electric and gas bills, a much smaller amount than had been initially anticipated. "It’s an excellent day for the city of New Orleans, the region and our state,” said Greater New Orleans Inc executive Mark Drennan. “This is one area where we found a solution to our problems. It’s crucial to our rebuilding.”
The agreement also makes permanent a $20 per month fuel adjustment charge that customers have already been paying as a temporary measure. Under the plan, electric rates will be frozen until January 2008, when an average customer increase of $1.34 will go into effect. Gas rates will rise approximately $5 per month beginning next week. Gas rates will increase almost an additional $10 per month by December 2007. In March, 2007 customers will also start paying a $2.59 monthly fee to create a $75 million storm reserve fund. Although frozen now, electric rates have already risen $20 to $25 per month for customers using 1,000 kilowatt hours per month.
TAX ASSESSMENTS TO INCREASE UPTOWN
Assessor Nancy Marshall will increase assessments in her uptown district as much as 40 percent in 2007. This increase will bring assessments back in line with pre-Katrina amounts. Marshall’s actions are in direct opposition to her predecessor, Al Coman, who slashed assessments significantly after the hurricane even in neighborhoods that did not flood. Marshall was elected last April as part of the “I.Q.” ticket.
Overall 2007 assessments are down 18 percent from 2005 assessments. Third District Assessor Errol Williams’s whose area begins on Esplanade Avenue and continues through New Orleans East to the St. Tammany Parish line, sees the biggest reduction. Williams attributes the decline to the reduction in taxable personal property such as business losses recently reported. First District Assessor Darren Mire is still in the process of reassessment many of the large office buildings in the Central Business District. Assessor Betty Jefferson has increased assessments in her district as has Algiers Assessor Tom Arnold. The city lost 23 percent of its tax base after the storm.
KREWES OF IRIS & TUCKS WILL CONTINUE UPTOWN ROUTES
Mayor Nagin approved a request from the krewes of Iris and Tucks to keep their traditional uptown routes even though the New Orleans Police Department sought to move the krewes to the mid-city route traditionally followed by the superkrewe Endymion. Endymion will parade along Orleans Avenue on Saturday, February 14. The Krewe of Iris will celebrate its 90th anniversary in 2007. Tucks has been parading for 39 years.
GENTILLY COMMERCIAL STRIPS & NEIGHBORHOODS RETURNING
The Gentilly business corridor is coming back and so will the Gentilly’s residential neighborhoods. Almost one-third of the businesses along the Gentilly Blvd corridor between Elysian Fields Ave. to Norman Mayer have reopened. Almost all the businesses are locally owned. They include Liberty Bank, Good Phellaz Barber Shop, a pawn shop, paint store and electronics business.
In 2005, almost 28,000 automobiles traveled down Elysian Fields Avenue. The return of businesses to Gentilly will provide momentum to residential rebuilding. A revived business district brings hope to residents who wish to return. Gentilly business still closed but which plan to reopen include Ashley Stewart, Auto Zone, Payless Shoe Source, Sherwin Williams, and Rent-a-Center. Walgreens, Blockbuster Video and McDonald’s do not have plans to reopen at this time.
CONVENTION CENTER NOT AVAILABLE FOR 2007 HURRICANE STAGING
Officials at the Morial Convention Center are asking the City to identify a new staging area for hurricane evacuees in the 2007 plan. The city’s 2006 plan called for all evacuees unable to leave the city on their own to be moved on RTA buses to the Convention Center where they will be processed before boarding buses that would take them to shelters outside the storm’s path. Convention Center Board Chairman says that rebuilding the area’s convention industry is dependent on creating a new image not associated with hurricanes. More than 60 conventions scheduled for 2006 cancelled after the hurricane.
“MANSIONIZATION” FEARED IN LAKEVIEW
There is a growing fear in Lakeview that large, out-of-scale new houses will be built on already vacant lots or on lots were flooded homes were torn down. The practice of building oversized homes that drawf their lots and neighborhood lots is known as “mansionization.” This trend began in Lakeview before the storm, but has increased substantially and can cause disagreements between neighboring homeowners. Construction costs that were previously $110 to $115 per square foot are now $125 to $150 per square foot.
Neighborhood groups such as the Lakeview Civic Association may not welcome the arrival of larger homes which could destroy the character of the 7,000-home neighborhood. Housing styles in Lakeview include 1920s and 1930s cottages and ranch-style homes built in the 1960s and 1970s. A recent survey of Lakeview residents concluded that 65 percent of residents are returning.
CITY ANTICIPATES HIGHER TAX COLLECTION IN 2007
Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Cary Grant and city economist Jerome Lomba told the city’s Revenue Estimating Conference that the general revenue fund will total $405 million in 2007, up $45 million from 2006 but still 14 percent below 2005 levels.
A five-member panel that included Council President Oliver Thomas and Budget Committee chair Cynthia Hedge Morrell, the Revenue Estimated Conference decides how much money the city can spend in 2007. Mayor Nagin will utilize the $405 million figure as the basis for the city’s 2007 budget, which he will present to the City Council on November 1. The City is projected to collect $204 million in taxes in 2007, approximately 78 percent of pre-storm totals.
JAPANESE CONSULATE MAY RELOCATE TO NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE
The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has set their sights on moving their consulate to Tennessee to be closer to where the majority of the region’s Japanese live and work. Toyota builds vehicles in Kentucky and Nissan has a Tennessee-based plant. The New Orleans based consulate, which employs twenty-three people, serves Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. It has been located here since 1922.
FRENCH QUARTER CLEAN-UP SCHEDULED FOR TRASH, SEX
The New Orleans Police Department has started a clean-up of the French Quarter and surrounding neighborhoods that will focus on prostitution, pan-handling, and trash on sidewalks and streets. Eighth District Captain Kevin Anderson says that a federal grant will pay for the overtime needed to complete the crackdown.
SLAB-ON-GRADE HOUSING CONSTRUCTION SHOULD CEASE
Once considered modern, attractive, and safe, the slab-on-grade housing style that became prevalent in some New Orleans neighborhoods beginning in the 1950’s will fade into the past as residents return to the tradition of raised houses to avoid flooding. As the City was being developed in the 1700 and 1800’s, houses built along the shallow slope of high ground near the Mississippi River were raised on piers above the mud-slick streets. After World War II, developers and residents became confident in new technology and sought new ranch-style construction to replace the narrow, raised, wood-frame houses of the past. The federal government also provided low-cost government backed mortgages for millions of veterans. As drainage improvements continued, residents and developers built farther away from the city’s core creating hundreds of subdivisions filled with modern homes. The design of the city’s pumping system by noted engineer Baldwin Wood opened the doors for the development of many areas including Broadmoor, Mid-City and Lakeview.
Starting in 1978, the metro New Orleans area was hit by a historic succession or rainstorms including the 1995 storm which drowned five people and damaged almost 15,000 homes in twelve parishes. A 1998 study of national flood insurance showed that Jefferson and Orleans parishes ranked one and two respectively on the payout of flood-damage policies. Between 1977 and 1995 insurance companies paid out $308 million on more than 9,000 homes in Orleans and Jefferson parishes, many of which had flooded repeatedly.
In 2007 FEMA will recalculate the height of a one-in-a-100-year rainfall in New Orleans. FEMA has already offered new elevation advisories for homeowners rebuilding. Homeowners who are applying for rebuilding assistance from the LRA must abide by the new flood elevation standards. Homeowners who declared their homes were damaged less than fifty percent are not obligated to raise their properties. Thus the New Orleans landscape in many of the post 1950’s suburban neighborhoods will be filled with on-slab houses until the next massive hurricane hits.
RAND CORP. STUDY RECOMMENDS REBUILDING SMARTER
A new study by the RAND Corp. suggests that closing flood prone neighborhoods to redevelopment might have a greater impact on reducing death and property loss than building bigger and better levees and floodgates. Public officials, the 66-page study continued, should plan now to avoid a repeat of the breakdowns in such regional infrastructure and services as a disruption of first-response and public safety networks. The study also warned that residents must look beyond rebuilding what used to be to rebuilding better alternatives. RAND officials James Kahan said another disaster is sure to hit New Orleans at some time in the future and that the City needed to have the necessary infrastructure in place to address its effects. Kahan also recommends that citizens and businesses should develop their own disaster plan.
TICKETS ON SALE NOV 3 FOR 2007 ESSENCE MUSIC FESTIVAL
Tourism officials led by Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu have sealed a three-year deal for the Essence Music Festival to return to New Orleans. The festival will be held July 5, 6, and 7. Ticket prices, sponsorship and participating musicians have not been announced yet. Essence has a block of 8,000 hotel room for which they will earn commission. The festival will also receive almost $1 million incentive package and cash payments to cover other expenses including marketing, production, and rent deferrals. In 2005 Essence had a combined attendance of 232,000 people for three days of events. Essence could deliver an economic impact in excess of $100 million in 2007.
SUNO CELEBRATES 50TH ANNIVERSARY
Southern University at New Orleans recently celebrated its 50th anniversary of its founding and drew attention to the school’s many needs since being devastated by Hurricane Katrina. SUNO is still operating out of a series of trailers and is the only local institution of higher learning that has not returned to its campus. SUNO Chancellor Victor Ukpolo hopes that the campus’ first building to return will be the gymnasium, set to re-open in January, 2007. SUNO officials hope that by the fall of 2007 repairs will be complete on most of the campus’ buildings.
In September, 1956, the Louisiana Legislature passed a law that created SUNO on a 17-acre site at the edge of the Pontchartrain Park subdivision. According to SUNO’s first president, Emmett Bashful, the land set aside for the school was a relatively wild, marshy place with snakes and other wildlife. The first freshmen class, consisting of 158 students, began classes in the fall of 1959 in SUNO’s lone building. Prior to the storm, the campus contained 11 buildings.
Hurricane Katrina brought as much as 11 feet of water to the campus, damaging all the buildings as well as the library’s books and the school’s beloved African art collection. The college is now located in dozens of trailers – 45 for classrooms and offices and 400 for housing faculty, staff and students – about one-half mile north of the original campus in an area now known as North Campus. SUNO never had dormitories before and views the residential trailers as a first step toward on-campus housing. Ukpolo is also traveling the country to identify “friends of SUNO” who could help augment federal and state rebuilding dollars.
HOMEOWNERS INSURANCE COSTS VARY GREATLY
The costs of homeowners insurance can vary by thousands of dollars annually according to a study release by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s office. The study identified six companies that were still willing to write homeowners insurance with windstorm coverage in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina. The state-sponsored Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corp. is one of the companies. LCIP’s rates are set at 10 percent above the top active insurance writers in the market.
A homeowner with a 1,500 square foot wood-framed Mid-City house valued at $140,000 could expect to pay between $1800 and $4000 for homeowners insurance with flood coverage. A homeowner with a 1,300 square food wood-framed home in the Lower 9th Ward valued at $110,000 could expect to pay between $1500 and $3000.
SPORTS OFFICIALS PUSH FOR SUPERBOWL
Now that the Louisiana Superdome has reopened, sports officials are pushing the NFL to award the 2011 Super Bowl to New Orleans. The City’s last Superbowl was in 2002.
While New Orleans has hosted nine previous bowl games, the city is no longer the drawing power it once was.
DEPOSITS RISE AT AREA BANKS
Metropolitan New Orleans banks are experiencing a 40 percent rise in deposits as consumers hold on to insurance checks and FEMA reimbursements. The rise – a natural part of the region’s recovery process - probably won’t last. New Orleans banks are enjoying $11.3 billion in total deposits. Whitney Bank shares are up 40 percent from the past year. National banks with a local market presence including Chase, Regions and Am-South are also enjoying a surge in deposits.
LEVEE SCHOOL TO BE OFFERED FOR BOARD MEMBERS
Future commissioners whom Governor Blanco appoints for the state’s levee boards will attend mandatory training to prepare them to perform at a high level. The school will focus on teaching commissioners, flood control managers, and levee district employees. “We want commissioners who are able to ask the right questions, collect the right information, and make the right decisions,” said New Orleans businessman Bruce Thompson who came up with the concept for the school.
LRA GRANTS FOR NON-ELEVATION MITIGATION NOW AVAILABLE
The Louisiana Recovery Authority is offering a new $7,500 grant for projects that would lessen the potential for damage during future storms. This grant is available for all Louisiana homeowners, including those who do not qualify for Road Home grants for uninsured losses. Homeowners who wish to qualify for non-elevation funds, must complete a checklist to identify projects they want to undertake. Eligible projects include: installing storm shutters or other window protection, installing hurricane straps in the attic or bolting walls to the foundation, elevating air conditioning units, electrical panels, water heaters and floor furnaces, or installing backflow valves. Homeowners must pay for the improvements first and will receive reimbursements after an inspection by the LRA.
EDUCATION IS KEY TO BETTER FUTURE SAYS BILL COSBY
Comedian and civil rights activist Bill Cosby told a gathering of John McDonogh High School students that education is their ticket up and out of poverty and violence that has left many of them with sadness masquerading as anger. Cosby’s appearance was part of the NAACP’s youth listening tour.
NAGIN TO DELIVER LOCAL RECOVERY REPORTS TO LRA FOR FUNDING
Mayor Nagin says he will hasten the flow of federal funding into New Orleans by delivering three already-prepared recovery planning studies to the LRA. The plans that will be submitted include recommendations from the Bring New Orleans Back Commission, the City Council sponsored neighborhood recovery plan produced by Lambert Advisory/SHEDO and a forthcoming Sewerage & Water Board report on the city’s sewerage, draining and water systems recovery.
Mayor Nagin says that if the City must wait months to submit its funding requests much of the available monies could be allocated to other areas. Individuals and organizations supporting the unified planning process expected their document would be the official plan to be submitted. The unified planning process will not be complete until January 2007.
COUNCIL APPROVES RAISES FOR UNCLASSIFIED EMPLOYEES
The New Orleans City Council agreed to give unclassified employees which include many mayoral appointments, court workers and other not covered by civil service a 10 percent raise. This action follows a recent decision to raise wages for classified employees 10 percent. Among the highest paid unclassified employees is City Attorney Penya Moses-Fields who will earn $133,000 a year and mayoral spokesperson Ceeon Quiett at $122,000. Even with the 10 percent raise, some unclassified employees at the low end of the pay scale still earn less than $20,000 per year.
The Council also set a minimum hourly wage of $7.50, an increase of $1.50 for the lowest paid city workers. The Service Employees International Union Local 21LA, which also supports a 10 percent raise for all workers, recently conducted a survey comparing New Orleans city workers with employees in ten comparable Southern cities. The study found that New Orleans workers often earn far below the Southern average.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY SEEKS STAFF RAISES
District Attorney Eddie Jordan is requesting that the New Orleans City Council raise the starting salary of his assistant district attorneys by $12,000 annually to attract and retain lawyers ready to compete in the courtroom with experienced defense attorneys. Joining Jordan in making the request was Jefferson Parish DA Paul Connick and Raphael Goyenache, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission. The current annual salary for assistant district attorneys is $38,000 which includes a recent $5,000 pay raise and $3,000 from a federal grant. Goyeneche explained that New Orleans police officers after their rookie year currently earn more than assistant district attorneys. The City Council will begin hearings on the City’s 2007 budget in early November. Mayor Nagin will present his budget address to the Council on November 1.
HANO APPROVES NEW MIXED INCOME DEVELOPMENTS
By an action of their one-man board of directors, the Housing Authority of New Orleans has confirmed that the B.W. Cooper, St. Bernard and C.J. Peete projects will be rebuilt as mixed-income developments. Plans call for 1,285 market-rate and subsidized homes to be built. Prior to the hurricane, the developments housed 3039 families. HANO has applied to the federal government for $199 million in low-income housing tax credits to underwrite the costs. The 465-unit St. Bernard redevelopment is estimated to cost $94 million. Plans for C.J. Peete and B. W. Cooper rebuilding is estimated to cost $84 million per location.
BEST WESTERN AVALON REOPENS IN NEW ORLEANS EAST
After a multi-million dollar renovation, the 174-room Best Western Avalon hotel and conference center reopened its doors in on 1-10 Service Road near Bullard in New Orleans East. While ten hotels have reopened in eastern New Orleans, the Avalon is the largest operating property. The property is owned by the Valentino family in conjunction with family friend Patrick Egan.
GARBAGE PICK-UP COSTS TO RISE UNDER NEW CONTRACT
Under a new pair of $26.8 million household trash collection contracts, the cost of trash collection will triple. Mayor Nagin’s office has said that the additional costs will be paid from the city’s general operating budget and a low-interest federal loan. Clean neighborhoods are a quality of life issue for many residents.
The contracts do not include trash collection in the CBD or the French Quarter or the costs of disposal in a Jefferson Parish landfill. As more citizens return and these additional expenses are added in, the contracts’ value could climb by millions of dollars. Pick-ups are expected to increase to twice-weekly when the new contract begins. Citizens will soon be able to select a 30, 60 or 95 gallon trash cart that will be emptied by the mechanized arms on the new garbage trucks. Two sanitation workers will aid the robotic process on narrow streets.
LEVEE BOARD CONSIDERS CHAPTER 9 BANKRUPTCY
With a legal judgment pending that could exceed $20 million dollars, the Orleans Levee Board is considering filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection to preserve the agency’s real estate and cash holdings. The legal judgment stems from a 20-year old lawsuit filed on behalf of owners of land inside the 30,000-acre Bohemia Spillway which the agency has controlled since the 1920’s. Board members will give up their flood-control responsibilities at the end of the year to a new regional levee authority that voters approved earlier this year. Among the Levee Board members voting to review bankruptcy as an option was Councilmember Cynthia Hedge Morrell.
FEMA FUNDS COULD FLOW TO CITIES FASTER
Federal coordinator for Gulf Coast rebuilding Donald Powell said that federal agencies are committed to speeding up the approval process for FEMA reimbursements to reach local governments. Under the new procedures, the waiting time should be reduced from an average of six months to as little as 15 days. The amount of money in the pipeline could be as much as $1.7 billion.
NEW HOTEL TO BE BUILT RIVERSIDE OF THE SHOPS AT CANAL PLACE
The Louisiana Bond Commission awarded $200 million in Gulf Opportunity Zone bonds for a 25-story five star 242-room hotel riverside of the Shops At Canal Place. The project is being developed by 3CP Associates LLC, whose members include Darryl Berger.
DISPLACED PUBLIC HOUSING RESIDENTS SEEK QUICK ACTION
While government agencies consider various options regarding the need to provide thousands of affordable housing units for New Orleans working poor, displaced public housing residents are crying out for quick action now more than 13 months since the hurricanes. The Housing Authority of New Orleans had 7,641 units of public housing prior to Hurricane Katrina but only 5,146 were occupied by families. Today the city has 1,042 occupied units. Residents are currently living in Iberville, Fischer, Guste and River Gardens, a mixed-income neighborhood built on the former St. Thomas site. HANO has announced plans to redevelop C.J. Peete, St. Bernard, Lafitte and will probably redevelop B.W. Cooper as well. HANO is interested in creating additional mixed-income housing, which will take several years. The Louisiana Housing Finance Agency has earmarked $30 million for mixed-income projects and an additional $20.7 million to redevelop public housing. Funds from Community Development Block Grants will also be available. In the meantime many displaced public housing residents are unable to find affordable units in the New Orleans area.
MODULAR HOME INDUSTRY WILL CREATE JOBS, HOMES FOR LOUISIANA
The Louisiana Department of Economic Development is viewing construction-related industries and manufacturing as a potential solution to the state’s housing shorting as well as a vehicle to create jobs and stimulate economic growth. Several housing manufacturers - including traditional and modular homes -are thinking about investing in Louisiana. Companies that supply products and materials for homebuilding are also in much demand. Modular homes are quickly built in a factory and shipped in pieces to the owner’s lot. The house is assembled on the site and all finishing work completed, usually in four to six weeks.
GAS LINES DAMAGED CITYWIDE FROM FLOOD RESIDUE
Rapidly corroding cast iron and steel pipes in New Orleans’ underground gas lines have been damaged to such a degree as to jeopardize the future of the gas system. When Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters receded, the Gulf’s salty corrosive water remained in the gas pipes, causing them to greatly deteriorate. A major rebuilding of 60 percent – 8445 miles of pipeline –is necessary to keep the system operational during the coming decades. New Orleans’ 65,000 gas customers will probably have to fund much of the repair costs. Gas rates are likely to increase when Entergy begins the process in 2007.
Entergy has requested funds from Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) controlled by the Louisiana Recovery Authority. The LRA agreed to provide $200 million to Entergy for repairs to the City’s electrical system. No funds have yet been allocated for gas line repairs. Entergy has already requested a 161 percent rate increase to the Public Service Commission because of the reduced number of customers. Gas rate could rise as much as 311 percent. The Louisiana Public Service Commission has calculated that base gas rates could triple if CDBG grant funds do not become available. The Commission has also projected that base electric rates will increase 40 percent. Customers may not see these increases for several years. Entergy will use much of its $250 million insurance settlement to make gas system repairs and should rebuild the system by 2013. New Orleans was among the first cities in the nation to illuminate the city with gas lighting.
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT COULD INCREASE HEALTH CARE FUNDING
New Orleans could receive additional millions from the federal government to rebuild the city’s failed health care system if officials agree to build a system of government-subsidized private insurance to replace charity hospital. Among the federal government’s goals is to build a more cost-effective health care delivery system that reduces reliance on unnecessary emergency room visits and other inefficiencies.
The federal government currently pays 60 percent of Louisiana’s health care costs. A regional coalition of health care stakeholders, the Louisiana Health Care Redesign Collaborative, will probably recommend that Medicaid dollars be funneled into subsidized private insurance policies for thousands of New Orleans residents who lack health insurance. Providing insurance policies to the region’s uninsured population could cost up to $200 million annually, according to consultants reports.
CONSUMERS SHOULD REPORT CONTRACTOR DEFICIENCIES
Federal and state government agencies are preparing a coordinated effort to investigate thousands of projected complaints against fraudulent and unlicensed contractors who could prey on unsuspecting homeowners. Government officials expect complaints to increase when the “Road Home” funds are available in coming months. Contractors could be fined or serve jail terms. Attorney General Charles Foti’s Consumer Protection section has already received 194 cases for investigation. There are 140 on-going investigations and 65 arrest warrants have been issued. Citizens can contact the attorney general’s hotline by calling 1(800)351-4889. To reach the FBI, call 1-800-CALLFBI.
FREE DEBRIS REMOVAL TO END DECEMBER 31
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will cease free debris removal services on December 31. City sanitation officials are urging residents to complete gutting of their homes and businesses as quickly as possible. The corps will stop picking up debris in several neighborhoods in November. They include those in zip codes: 70112, 70113, 70114, 70115, 70116, 70130 and 70131. Residents with a Louisiana driver’s license will still be able to use the city’s landfills and free drop-off sites at 2829 Elysian Fields Avenue; Crowder Road at the 1-10 Service Road; and 2301 Hendee St. in Algiers.
COASTAL MARSHES COULD BE REVIVED WITH SEWAGE
Ten thousand acres of coastal marsh east of New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish could be revitalized by an infusion of tens of millions of gallons of nutrient-rich treated sewage. The sewage is not raw and has been disinfected and checked for toxins. The New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board is leading this $40 million project which would create the largest “wetlands treatment” system of its kind in the world. Preliminary plans call for sewage plant discharge that is currently being pumped into the Mississippi River to be directed into the wetlands by Bayou Bienvenue.
Once a dense cypress forest, this 30,000 acre area had been degenerated by high doses of salt water which caused the marsh to break up. The treated sewage would serve as liquid fertilizer. S&WB officials say the sewage would be safe for humans and wildlife.
UNITED WAY SEEKING FUNDS TO ESTABLISH NEIGHBORHOOD RESOURCE CENTERS
The New Orleans area United Way has begun a $500,000 fundraising effort to place resource centers in churches across the city’s devastated neighborhoods where residents could receive important information on rebuilding or borrow tools including rakes and shovels to use at their homes. The United Way initiative is modeled after the Beacon of Hope Resource Center that Lakewood South resident Denise Thornton started in her home last February with a $50,000 grant from former Hornets owner Ray Woolridge.
APARTMENT RENTS INCREASE ALMOST 100 PERCENT
Rental costs of apartments and houses in Orleans Parish have gone up almost 100 percent as returning residents struggle to find available units. More than 40,000 rental units in Orleans Parish were damaged by Hurricane Katrina. The lack of affordable housing has hurt workers employed in the lower-wage service industry jobs including cashiers, cooks and clerks. Rents for a one-bedroom apartment above Canal Street have increased 49 percent. Rents for a three-bedroom apartment below Canal Street have increased 73 percent. Rents for a two bedroom apartment in the Warehouse District have increased 63 percent.
DEVELOPERS PLAN NUMEROUS PROJECTS IN DOWNTOWN NEW ORLEANS
Local and national investors are looking at building 2500 residential units in the downtown area. Because of increased prices of labor and materials, overall project costs have risen 30 percent. Several of the projects that were originally announced have been delayed or cancelled. Other projects are still moving forward. They include: Crescent City Towers, 350 units; First National Bank of Commerce, 248 units; Ice House, 326 units; Nouveau Carre, 500 units; Riverview at Julia, 90 units; Texaco, 108 units; Tracage, 133 units; Trump International Hotel and Resort Tower, 700 units; Julia and St. Charles; 250 units; and Vantage Towers, 21 units.
EASTERN NEW ORLEANS LANDFILL TO REMAIN CLOSED
Residents of New Orleans East were excited this week by the ruling of Judge Ethel Simms Julien that will keep the controversial Chef Menteur Highway landfill closed.
Waste Management of Louisiana, the landfill’s operator, wanted to collect construction and debris materials on the site. The City of New Orleans argued that Waste Management had not applied for a permanent city permit within the time limits and therefore had no legal right to an order allowing the facility to remain open.
GUSMAN TO ADD PATROLS IN FAUBOURG MARIGNY
Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman has agreed to add patrols in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood to help combat crime. The patrols will be paid for by a $59,000 federal grant. Residents can soon expect to see three or four two-person sheriff’s office cars patrolling the area.
CSO MEMBERS ANSWER RESIDENTS QUESTIONS
The City’s new Community Support Organization, an advisory group working with the City’s Unified New Orleans Plan consultants, answered questions from almost 100 New Orleans residents on issues including shrinking the city’s footprint. CSO Chairperson Dr. Vera Triplett said that the UNOP process is the “next step” not the “first step” in the City’s rebuilding process. Audience members also said they hoped the UNOP would reach out to a more diverse audience.
SENIOR CITIZENS TO RECEIVE ROAD HOME EXEMPTION FROM LRA
The Louisiana Recovery Authority will not penalize senior grant recipients who move out of state or more into a rental home or apartment. Under the state rules, individuals who don’t reinvest in property in Louisiana will have their grants (up to $150,000) docked by 40 percent. Under the new LRA rules, seniors can now use their Road Home grants however they choose. To qualify, at least one person listed on the mortgage must be 65 years or older. The LRA has awarded 372 grants with most going to individuals less than 65 years of age. More than 30,000 people have already registered with the LRA. They expect 123,000 people to qualify for some assistance.
TOURISM OFFICIALS SEEK MORE FLIGHTS TO LURE CONVENTIONS
Airport and tourism officials are working with the airlines to increase the amount of flight service into New Orleans to help attract and maintain conventions. Non-stop service from New Orleans is down 24 percent causing many more people to make connections to get where they are going. Planes leaving New Orleans are flying with a greater percentage of customers which makes it harder for people to secure space on a plane. Several companies who previously committed to hold meetings in New Orleans have relocated them to other cities because of poor air service here.
VOLUNTEERS NEEDED TO HELP GUT HOMES
All Congregations Together, Common Ground, and other non-profit organizations have launched a “Home for the Holidays” campaign to encourage volunteers to work on gutting crews for thousands of flooded homes. Gutting by volunteers can save a homeowner up to $5,000 and can give an emotional start to the rebuilding process. Volunteers who would like to help can register online at www.nolahomefortheholidays.org or call (504) 218-6613.
REDEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY POISED TO CHANGE BLIGHTED NEIGHBORHOODS
Mayor Nagin is working with the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, a quasi public agency, to move forward a massive rebuilding effort that could jump start the rebuilding effort. For many years NORA has had the authority to seize blighted properties and resell them to individuals willing to make the needed repairs. NORA has been operating with a $1.3 million annual budget and expropriated 300 properties last year.
Armed with new board members, NORA will become a depository for a vast inventory of flood-damaged real estate whether through expropriation or from properties sold to the Louisiana Road Home Housing Corp. NORA could create green space, resell the land or repackage it for larger-scale residential or commercial development. New board members - include Rob Couhig, Scott Cowen, Mel Lagarde, Barbara Major and James Singleton – are joining holdover members Karl Connor, James Gray III, Paul West and Wayne Woods.
BASIN STREET SITE ZONED FOR CONDOS
Following the lead of Councilmember James Carter, the New Orleans City Council agreed to rezone a 15 acre tract across from the Municipal Auditorium on Basin Street where developer Tom Bauer would like to construct condominiums, parking and retail. The site, which includes the former Winn Dixie supermarket which Bauer developed five years ago, stretches from Claiborne Avenue to Crozat Street. Much of the site served as a parking lot for Harrah’s Casino when it operated at the Municipal Auditorium. The new zoning will set a height limit of 125 feet on all residential buildings. Bauer had originally planned to build 900 condos in two or three towers as tall as 30 stories with 2500 parking spaces. The scope of the project will have to be reduced to accommodate the new height limit. Bauer had originally projected that the project would cost $150 million. New construction estimates are not yet available.
SCHOOLS SUFFERING FROM LACK OF TEACHERS, FACILITIES, BOOKS
Reinventing the public school system in Orleans Parish has not been a simple task. Most of the facilities were heavily damaged. Teachers and support staff were displaced. New equipment and supplies had to be ordered. Currently more than 24,000 students are attending the 53 public school open across the city including many charter schools, schools operated through the state-run Recovery School District and the Orleans Parish Public Schools.
The state has opened 17 out of the 107 schools they took over last year. The Orleans Parish Public Schools are operating five schools. Because of the slow pace of renovations at many properties, students are sharing campuses while repairs are completed. Other problems include a shortage of textbooks and supplies, crowded classrooms, discipline problems, a shortage of teachers and support personnel, and a new bus system. Administrators continue to make slow progress to resolve the many problems facing our schools. Providing all students a chance to learn is everyone’s goal.
RISE IN BUSINESS INSURANCE GREAT CONCERN TO RECOVERY
Skyrocketing business insurance costs are threatening to dampen the region’s recovery. Premiums have shot up as much as 10 times what they were last year. Deductibles on commercial properties are reaching into the millions. Unlike residential insurance rates which are tightly regulated by the state department of insurance, commercial insurance is extremely vulnerable to wide market swings.
Many insurance brokers are layering multiple policies to get enough coverage for their clients, often using more costly high-risk policies through the state-owned Citizens Property Insurance Company. Experts say that rising insurance costs – along with higher utility bills, increased wages and the lack of affordable housing for employees – have made New Orleans a more difficult place to do business.
MICHOUD TO BOOM DURING NEXT 30 YEARS
NASA’s recent decision to involve Lockheed Martin Corp. in the construction of the next generation of space exploration vehicles will create an economic boom in New Orleans East that could last 30 years. Since NASA began production of the Saturn booster rocket at the Michoud plant in 1961, the plant has generated as many as 5,000 jobs annually. Michoud’s location is part of a winning combination for NASA because of its close proximity to the Houston’s Johnson Space Center, Cape Canaveral, and the Stennis Space Center. The Ares 1 and Ares 5 rockets will also be built at Michoud which occupies an 832-acre site adjacent to the Intracoastal Waterway. Other companies located on the Michoud site include the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Finance Center and the Coast Guard’s Integrated Support Command. Lockheed Martin’s Michoud plant has an annual payroll of about $130 million and spends $22.9 million with Louisiana subcontractors.
HOLY CROSS SCHOOL WILL BUILD IN GENTILLY
The Catholic boy’s school Holy Cross will build a new school on Paris Avenue in Gentilly that will serve boys in grades five through 12. The decision to build in New Orleans was driven in part by a survey of Holy Cross parents who said they favored keeping the school in Orleans Parish and by lower construction costs. The Jefferson Parish School Board had also offered Holy Cross a site in Kenner.
Holy Cross officials say they will pay for the new location through insurance settlements, FEMA money and proceeds from the sales of the current school site in the Holy Cross neighborhood. Holy Cross hopes to complete construction at the new facility by September 2008. The new school will be located at the St. Frances Cabrini church and school site and the adjoining Redeemer-Seton High School campus. Both schools are closed. Councilmembers Cynthia Hedge Morrell and Arnie Fielkow were instrumental in working with Holy Cross in the decision-making process. The relocation of Holy Cross to Gentilly will be a big economic development catalyst for the entire Gentilly neighborhood.
MORE INFORMATION TO BE REQUIRED FROM GRANT APPLICANTS
Individuals and non-profit organizations who will be seeking grants from several funds controlled or administered by the City Council will have to follow new more stringent guidelines under an ordinance authored by Council Vice President Arnie Fielkow. The ordinance was approved by a vote of 6-0. Council President Oliver Thomas was in Baton Rouge when the vote was taken. The new application includes a lengthy questionnaire which seeks more detailed information including whether any taxes are owed, a list of their contractors and subcontractors, a copy of the applicant’s most recent audit, information on their other sources of funding, and a list of any campaign donations they might have made. Councilmember Shelley Midura said the ordinance was “in the spirit that we are moving the city forward with accountability and transparency.” Council Vice President Fielkow commented that the ordinance is “one more piece of public confidence and disclosure.”
STATE SOON TO CERTIFY WATER IN THE LOWER 9TH WARD
Residents desiring to return home to the northern section of the Lower 9th Ward will soon have potable water. The Sewerage & Water board reports the area’s water pressure has reached an adequate, sustainable level and that the water is not harmful for drinking, cooking or bathing. The Sewerage & Water board expects the state Department of Health & Hospitals to “certify” the water within the next two weeks. The affected area is located between North Derbigny Street, Florida Avenue, the Industrial Canal and the St. Bernard Parish line.
ROAD HOME PROGRAM SLOW & DIFFICULT TO NAVIGATE
Although Congress has given the Louisiana Recovery Authority $7.5 billion to cover homeowners’ uninsured losses, the program has awarded less than 1 percent of the funds available. A mere 33,883 applications have been completed, far less than the expected 123,000 homeowners who are expected to receive up to $150,000.
To date only 225 homeowners have received payments with an average payout of $41,582. Eligible applicants who want to sell their homes to the state and leave Louisiana will receive 60 percent of the property’s pre-storm value. Applicants who did not have homeowner’s insurance will be penalized 30 percent. The program is geared to conduct 500 applicant interviews daily and expects to increase their volume to 1,000 applicants per day by month’s end. Applicants are encouraged to bring complete information to their interview.
CENTRAL CITY MINISTERS SAY “ENOUGH!!!”
A group of Central City ministers marched through their neighborhood urging residents to contact the police when they see criminal activity. “We want people to come together, so nobody has to carry any guilt for calling the police,” said Rev. John Raphael, a former New Orleans police officer and 18-year minister of New Hope Baptist Church. Even though the City’s population is down almost at least 50 percent from before the storm, the city recently recorded its 110th homicide for 2006. By contrast, the city of Boston with a population of 580,000 only recorded 75 murders last year, which for them was a 10 year high.
HUNTER’S FIELD RECEIVES $25,000 DONATION
Children from the surrounding St. Bernard/Claiborne neighborhood who participate in the year-round activities at the NORD playground, Hunter’s Field, were overjoyed by the $25,000 donation from Enterprise Rent-A-Car which will fund repairs to facilities and replacement of equipment damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
The donation by Enterprise was the first under a new initiative by City Council Vice President Arnie Fielkow known as “Playground Partnership.” Through Councilman Fielkow’s leadership, a different NORD facility will be cleaned and receive corporate financial support during each Saints home game weekend. Joining Councilman Fieklow at the Hunter’s Field clean-up was Mayor Ray Nagin, Council President Oliver Thomas, Tambourine and Fan leader Jerome Smith and almost 100 neighborhood children.
COUNCIL RECOMMENDS SIZEABLE RAISES FOR FIREFIGHTERS
The City Council recently voted to give New Orleans firefighters a 10 percent across the board raise in addition to the $2.1 million in overdue longevity raises. The 10 percent raise will cost approximately $2.1 million. The Council also gave final approval to a $7.50 minimum wage for all city employees as well as a 10 percent across-the-board raise which will take effect on November 1 for classified employees.
TWO MINORITY FIRMS WIN $25 MILLION GARBAGE CONTRACT
Two African-American trash-haulers, Metro Disposal and Richards Disposal, won a $25 million city-wide contract to provide robot-assisted trash pick-up for most of New Orleans. Although the Nagin administration has stated that garbage rates would not rise, the contract reflects a price increase of nearly 40 percent compared to the previous vendor. Mayor Nagin says new technology will keep the city cleaner and offer more reliable service. Residents will soon begin to choose a new trash can size which the city’s contractors will provide. Citizens can choose a 30, 60 or 95 gallon container. The contact will go into effect on January 2 for 100,000 households. Citizen’s $12 per month sanitation fee will not increase.
ARMY CORPS MUST STUDY ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF LOCK
In a ruling that delighted the residents of the Holy Cross and Lower Ninth Ward neighborhoods, U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers had to assess the environmental impact of widening the Industrial Canal lock before they moved forward with additional work on the $764 million construction project. The existing lock, 75 feet wide, 640 feet long and 31 feet deep, would be replaced be a new lock that would be 110 feet wide, 1,200 feet long and 36 feet deep. A temporary bypass channel would also be dredged during construction. Three million tons of sediment and soil would be disposed of in the process. The corps has admitted that some toxic materials including heavy metals and polychlorinated aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) would be disturbed during the process. In 2003, the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association sued the corps stating that the hazardous waste could be released during the dredging and its disposal could endanger both Lake Pontchartrain and the wetlands along the MR-GO.
The federal National Environmental Policy Act only requires that the corps study the environmental issues surrounding the lock’s construction. The Gulf Restoration Network and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network joined Holy Cross’ suit after the initial filing.
LRA SAYS NEW ORLEANS POPULATION BELOW 200,000
The Louisiana Recovery Authority has pegged New Orleans’ population at 187,525, about 41 percent of the pre-Katrina population. The study had a 11.5 percent margin of error. Mayor Nagin had predicted that New Orleans population would be nearing 300,000 by the end of 2006. The LRA conducted door-to-door surveys through neighborhoods chosen by methodology designed by the U.S. Census Bureau.
MICROSOFT CANCELS THREE MEETINGS IN NEW ORLEANS
Microsoft Corp. recently cancelled three meetings set for New Orleans because of poor airline service into New Orleans. The three meetings would have drawn more than 16,000 attendees. The loss of Microsoft is a big blow to New Orleans tourism-based economy when is being negatively impacted by crime reports and the cost of event cancellation insurance. Some conventions including the 25,000-person National Association of Realtors opted to remain in New Orleans. Airport officials continue to work with the airlines to increase service. Meetings with recently held with executives from Continental, Southwest and American Airlines to lobby for extra flights.
NOPD HIT BY REDUCED NUMBER OF OFFICERS
The New Orleans Police Department needs to recruit additional officers to replace those who did not return after the storm, those out on sick leave or those actively searching for new employment. Currently 1,425 officers are working for the NOPD, down from 1,668 before the storm. Factoring in those on sick leave and those job-searching, the department needs to recruit at least 250 officers. In addition, Governor Blanco has indicated she would like to begin to remove the State Police and National Guard who have been working with the NOPD. The NOPD hopes to begin a recruitment campaign soon.
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE BEGINS ARMSTRONG PARK RENOVATIONS
The National Park Service has begun a $3 million renovation and infrastructure project to bring life to the seven acres in Armstrong Park that has been leased to the federal government as a jazz park. Work includes the installation of underground utilities for all of the facilities as well as renovation to the bottom floor of the two-story Perseverance Hall, which was built in the early 1800’s. Once renovations are complete, the jazz park will begin operation from Perseverance Hall.
SECOND ROUND OF GUTTING LAW REINSPECTIONS BEGINS
The City’s housing officials have begun re-inspections of more than 3000 properties whose owners have been warned to clean-and board up the buildings or have the buildings declared public nuisances. The City will also be supporting non-profit organizations which are providing free house-gutting to low-income residents. Organizations will receive supplies, equipment and meals for volunteers. Property owners who have yet to comply with the city’s request will receive new notices and then a registered or certified letter informing the owners of an administrative hearing on the case. Property owners who make a hardship request could be given additional time to comply. Houses or buildings owned by individuals found in violation of the law could be demolished.
ARMY SECRETARY DISCUSSES HURRICANE PROTECTION WITH CORPS
Secretary of the Army Francis Harvey came to New Orleans recently to view the region’s corps-designed and corps-built hurricane protection system as well as to motivate corps personnel and corps contractors; meet with area civic and business leaders; and track the corps’ progress on building a stronger and safer system of levees and floodwalls. Harvey hopes to improve the corps efficiency.
PRIVATE FIRMS SEEKS TO BUY HARRAH’S ENTERTAINMENT
Two private equity firms, Apollo Management and Texas Pacific Group have placed a $15.05 billion offer for Harrah’s Entertainment. It would be the largest deal ever for a casino operator. Harrah’s operates about 40 casinos nationwide.
COMPANIES SEEKING SUBSIDIES OR WAIVERS MUST WORK WITH MINORITY-OWNED FIRMS
Mayor Nagin has issued a three-year executive order that requires any company that gets public financing, incentives or subsidies to use local businesses for at least 50 percent of its subcontractors. Of those 35 percent must be small businesses that are “economically disadvantaged,” i.e. small companies owned by minorities or women.
ENTERGY NEW ORLEANS COULD MERGE WITH ENTERGY LOUISIANA
Though Entergy New Orleans is expected to receive many millions in block grant funds, New Orleans customers could still be hit with a substantial rate increase partially because fewer customers are utilizing Entergy New Orleans’ services.
Prior to Hurricane Katrina, Entergy New Orleans had almost 175,000 customers. Currently only 85,000 households are in line to shoulder Hurricane Katrina’s burden on Entergy’s system, which has been pegged at $592 million. One suggestion to ease the burden for New Orleans ratepayers is for Entergy New Orleans to merge with Entergy Louisiana, therefore sharing the costs with a larger group. Many members of the New Orleans City Council consider such a merger a long shot. “I have a funny feeling that New Orleans would come up on the short end of the stick,” said Councilmember Cynthia Hedge Morrell, referring to New Orleans only having one vote out of five on the Public Service Commission. “It hasn’t been discussed because the PSC does not want to put the cost of rebuilding the whole Entergy New Orleans system on the rest of the state,” said Councilmember Shelley Midura.
GOVERNOR BLANCO DECLARES THAT LOUISIANA’S CHILDREN NEED HEALTH INSURANCE
As part of an ongoing effort to restructure health care delivery in the New Orleans area, Governor Blanco’s staff is developing a plan that would require every child in Louisiana to have health insurance. Almost 100,000 children under the age of 19 now lack health insurance coverage. The plan would cost $36 million to implement. Parents who make too much money to qualify for government-sponsored coverage would be required to buy private policies. In 2005, 7.6 percent of Louisiana children did not have any type of insurance coverage.
FIRST CRUISE SHIP RETURNS THIS MONTH TO PORT OF NEW ORLEANS
The cruise ship industry returns to the Port of New Orleans in mid-October when the Norwegian Sun sails to the Caribbean. Other ships that will begin calling later this year are the Carnival Fantasy and the Royal Caribbean Grandeur of the Seas. Carnival’s Triumph will begin cruising from the Port of New Orleans again next summer.
Prior to the hurricane, thousands of cruise passengers and their ships spent millions of dollars in New Orleans each year. Tourism officials view the return of cruise ships as another indication that the hospitality industry is rebounding. Despite the hurricanes, New Orleans ranked at 10th in passenger embarkments in 2005. The Port of New Orleans is currently building a $37 million terminal at the Erato Street wharf which will open in mid-October. The Port will also begin development a cruise terminal at Poland Avenue. The Port hopes to host 500,000 – 600,000 cruise ship passengers next year.
RENTAL UNITS MUST BE AVAILABLE FOR WORKING CLASS AND POOR
Wayne Woods, chairman of the Louisiana Housing Finance Agency, is asking developers to ensure that new multifamily housing include space for the working class and the poor.
The LHFA is monitoring developers who are seeking tax credits from the LHFA including those interested in building mixed-income communities.
Congress is providing $56 million a year from 2006 – 2008 for the LHFA to distribute to real estate developers in parishes damaged by the storms. Almost 63 percent of the damage to rental housing along the Louisiana Gulf Coast was in Orleans Parish. A total of 67,000 rental units were damaged. More than 50 percent of New Orleans residents were renters before the storm. The LHFA will announce the federal tax credit recipients in December. New units must be ready for occupancy by December 31, 2008.
MUNICIPALIZATION OF ENTERGY MAY NOT BRING RATE PAYER RELIEF
With Entergy facing bankruptcy and requesting a rate increase that could jump residential electric and gas bills by up to $100 per month, the New Orleans City Council is again reviewing the concept of purchasing the utility. A full system buyout seems unlikely without the deal including transfer to the city of lower-cost power contracts that the parent company, Entergy Corp., is unwilling or unable to part with.
The City Council’s utility consultants have prepared 50 questions that should be addressed as part of any discussion on municipalization. The City Council must make a decision on the first of three proposed rate increases by the end of October. If approved, the three rate increases would mean an additional $45 per month on a typical residential bill. Entergy has asked the Council to add $6 to the monthly residential bill to help create a fund to pay for damage from future hurricanes. The fund is estimated to accumulate $150 million over ten years.
LEVEE BOARDS TO MERGE; ONLY HANDLE FLOOD CONTROL ISSUES
Voters statewide passed an amendment to the state constitution that will change the way levee boards have operated for decades. The new law will consolidate the area levee boards and replace them with flood protection authorities which will be governed by appointees with expertise in engineering, hydrology and other related fields. In addition, the boards will only have responsibility for flood control. Effective January 1, all related real estate and business development projects will be beyond the levee boards’ control. Currently there are more than 20 levee districts statewide, most in this region.
The levee board amendment, one of 13 on yesterday’s ballot, was strongly supported by almost 80 percent of voters statewide. Of the 13 amendments, 11 passed. They include Amendment No. 1 which changed the name of the Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Found to the Coast Protection and Restoration Fund; Amendment No. 5 which would place restrictions on the taking of private property for economic development projects; No. 7 which would authorize the state to invest up to 35 percent of the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly in stocks; and Amendment No.12 which will change the way a vacancy for the office of lieutenant governor is filled.
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THIEVES TARGET BRASS AND COPPER FOR RESALE
Brass and cooper coils, water pipes, railings, banisters and other metals are being stolen by ingenuous thieves who are selling the stolen items some for more than $3.00 per pound. Though violent crime is down in some neighborhoods, metal thefts have increased. Scrap metal dealers says they always demand identification from their customers and keep that information on file.
UNWANTED INSECTS, SNAKES AND RODENTS PART OF POST-KATRINA LANDSCAPE
Abandoned buildings and trash-strewn lots have created ideal breeding grounds for rodents, rats, snakes, termites, mosquitoes, opossums, armadillos and raccoons. As residents return to their flooded homes, they often must fight off rats, spiders, fleas, and spiders. Debris from wood in yards and downed trees has created steady meals for insects. Residents are urged to place rate poison baits in rodent burrows and hang them in nearby storm sewers. City inspectors have begun treating 50-block areas with rodenticide treatments. Residents with complaints regarding rodents, mosquitoes, termites and other vermin can contact the mosquito board by calling 311.
CITY SEEKS INSPIRATION FOR RIVERFRONT REDEVELOPMENT
The City of New Orleans is seeking ideas from some of the nation’s most prominent architects to redevelop a 4.5 mile stretch of east bank riverfront from Jackson Avenue to the Industrial Canal into a “21st century urban landscape that will become a model of design excellence.” Calling New Orleans share of the Mississippi River “potentially the greatest riverfront in America,” New Orleans Building Corp director Sean Cummings will oversee the project.
City leaders have been talking about revitalizing the riverfront for several decades. Cummings’ goal is to extend the opening of the river both upriver and downriver. He envisions an uninterrupted and continuous linear green space or riverfront park along the entire stretch from Jackson to Poland avenues, a world-class performance venue at the Louisiana Street Wharf or another riverfront site, a hotel and expanded cruise ship terminal at the Julia Street Wharf and a garage and cruise ship terminal at the Erato Street Wharf.
CORPS OF ENGINEERS SEEKING PRIVATE SECTOR DESIGN IDEAS
In a departure from traditional government policy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is seeking design ideas from the private sector on the design of critical new flood protection elements for the London Avenue, Orleans Avenue and 17th Street Canals. The corps is seeking ideas from a short list of individual firms or joint ventures qualified to design and build flood-control projects in the canals. That process will begin when the corps requests proposals during the next three to six months. The corps hopes the work can be done with the money - $530 million – already approved by Congress. One of the greatest challenges to overcome will be developing a design and method of construction that does not compromise drainage or interfere with the raising and lowering of floodgates if needed.
MAYOR NAGIN WANTS TO MOVE CITY COUNCIL’S PLANS TO LRA FOR FUNDING
Hundreds of residents from New Orleans’ heavily damaged neighborhoods filled the City Council Chambers to hear the “final presentation” of proposed recovery plans for 46 flooded neighborhoods. Mayor Nagin encouraged the groups to begin breaking ground on recovery projects before the billions in federal aid is spoken for.
SUPERDOME READY FOR RETURN OF SAINTS
The Louisiana Superdome is three-quarters of the way through a $185 million multi-phase renovation that will make the facility higher-tech, more fan-friendly and noticeably brighter. A crowd of more than 68,000 fans will view those improvements when the Saints take on the Atlanta Falcons in a nationally televised game Monday night. The Superdome’s new $32.5 million roof was the largest and most noticeable repair. Hundreds of workers added 10,463 pieces of galvanized decking, 500,000 gallons or polyurethane foam and 20,000 gallons or urethane coating. Other improvements included complete remodeling of 38 concession stands and three kitchens, 13,000 seats replaced throughout terrace, club and plaza levels, 5,000 new club level seats, upgrade of 300- and 400-level suites and lobbies, 4,000 new suite-level seats, renovation and upgrade of existing club level lounges, new scoreboards, video display expansion, new LED ribbon board and 60,000 square feet of new artificial turf.
Funding for the project came from the NFL, the State of Louisiana, FEMA and the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District. Prior to renovation more than 4,000 tons of trash and debris were removed from the building along with 1.6 million square feet of carpeting, 700,000 square feet of sheetrock, 60,000 square feet of artificial turf and 800,000 square feet of ceiling tiles.
LAKE PONTCHARTRAIN BASIN FOUNDATION RESCUES LIGHTHOUSE
The non-profit Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation has worked out a lease arrangement with the Coast Guard that will allow the foundation to restore the 1890’s New Basin Canal Lighthouse, which was heavily damaged by last year’s hurricanes as well as a November thunderstorm. The Foundation is poised to begin a cleaning up the site, removing debris that is not part of the lighthouse and gutting an auxiliary building that is not part of the original historic structure. The $75,000 stabilization phase, which will include shoring, leveling and repositioning, will follow once funds have been raised. Temporary steel beams will be placed under the second floor joist to support the damaged but still-intact floor. Timber braces will be used to support the remaining lighthouse structure. Work will also include general repairs and weatherization to prevent additional damage to the lighthouse while the restoration takes place.
FLOODED NEIGHBORHOODS SEEK BASIC QUALITY OF LIFE REPAIRS
A new report released by City Council planners Lambert Advisory/Shedo LLC says that citizens residing in New Orleans flood-damaged neighborhoods want the ordinary features of civic life – rebuilt streets and sidewalks, new or restored schools and parks, more streetcar lines and light rail, improved streetlights and landscaping, neighborhood retail services and large-scale retail stores, and restored fire and police services and health care. The plans also show that citizens are interested in a number of urban-renewal ideas that reflect the unique sentiments of each area.
The planners have been meeting with citizens in 46 neighborhoods for several months. A budget of approximately $2 billion will be needed to fund “early action” and “mid-term” priorities. Lambert/Shedo says it is important for neighborhoods to push for “early action” by the LRA on many infrastructure repairs and aggressively seek public and private grants that fall outside the LRA’s control. The planners’ results will be submitted to the City Planning Commission, the City Council and Mayor Nagin for review. Planner working on the “unified” planning effort could also integrate many of the recommendations into their document, which will give close attention to broad infrastructure needs such as transit and water services that affect many neighborhoods.
LA SWIFT MAKES CHANGES IN STOPS BETWEEN B.R. AND N.O.
The LA Swift transportation service that shuttles workers, job-seekers and displaced residents between Baton Rouge and New Orleans will drop one stop on its run and reduce service at two other stops. The stop on the outskirts of Baton Rouge at 18139 Highland Road has been dropped. The bus will also alternate stops between a location in Sorrento at 7140 La 22 and a Chevron Super Stop in LaPlace at 4325 U.S. 51. The service was launched October 31 to help displaced residents staying in Baton Rouge to get back to the New Orleans area to fix their homes, find jobs or go to work. FEMA has been paying the cost of the service.
TRAILER DEADLINE EXTENDED BY FEMA; SOME FAMILIES STILL WAITING
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has agreed to allow New Orleans residents to live in FEMA trailers beyond the original 18-month deadline. FEMA officials have conceded that it is unlikely the city’s refurbished housing stock would be sufficient to make the trailers unnecessary. Exact figures on available housing are elusive, although the pace of reconstruction should quicken this fall as billions of dollars flow to homeowners through the state’s Road Home program.
The Brookings Institute reports that FEMA has spent $7.5 billion since Katrina and Rita on trailers and manufactured homes, of which 115,000 are now occupied on the storm-scarred Gulf Coast. Almost 700,000 people have received rental assistance, at a cost of $4.1 billion. Flood victims in the New Orleans area occupy almost 60,000 trailers. Several thousand more households are still awaiting a trailer.
CITY COUNCIL’S UTILITY ADVISERS DISPUTE ENTERGY’S PROPOSED INCREASE
The City Council’s utility advisers have recommended a smaller rate increase than Entergy requested based on uncovering $88 million in items Entergy incorrectly charged customers including incomes taxes it didn’t pay and expenses tied to stock options in seeking an increase in electric rates. Advisers are recommending that Entergy receive an 18 percent increase as opposed to the 22.2 percent increase Entergy requested. The advisers also recommended the company be allowed to raise gas rates 11 percent as opposed to the 18 percent requested.
TOURO-BOULIGNY RESIDENTS TO VOTE ON PRIVATE SECURITY
Residents of the Touro-Bouligny will decide whether to enact an ad valorem tax of up to 16.2 mills on all taxable property in the neighborhood to be used for security patrols, primarily by a private security company. The area to be patrolled is bounded by Jena, St. Charles, Constance and Louisiana. In recent years, many other neighborhoods who have been worried about crime have voted to institute similar programs. The election to decide if the fees will be instituted is on Sept. 30.
TREES ALONG LONDON AVENUE CANAL WILL BE REMOVED AS FLOOD PROTECTION MEASURE
More than 300 trees in backyards that abut the London Avenue canal will be cut down next month as part of the Army Corps of Engineers’ safety measures. Most of the trees are on the backyard fringes of 264 properties within six feet of the levee toe, which the corps says must be maintained as a safety zone.
COUNCIL – LED BY THOMAS - WANTS TO LIMIT DONATIONS FROM POLITICAL DONORS
Council President Oliver Thomas presented a resolution that was unanimously supported by the Council which asks the Louisiana Legislature to consider prohibiting campaign contributions from anyone holding a professional services contract with state or local government. Council President Thomas envisions that prohibition would be in effective statewide. If approved the measure could revolutionize the way political campaigns are financed in Louisiana. Traditionally, architects, engineers, attorneys, accountants and others who have or hope to get contracts with government agencies have been frequent and reliable donors to Louisiana’s political campaigns.
FEMA REJECTS PAYING FOR MANY S&WB REPAIRS; REPAIR FUNDS COULD RUN OUT
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has rejected paying for almost 100 repairs projects submitted by the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board, which in many cases paid for the repairs upfront. Unless FEMA reconsiders these actions, the S&WB could run short of funds to pay contractors to efficiently repair its wrecked infrastructure, including the heavily damaged lower ninth ward. The S&WB has applied for $301 million in FEMA reimbursements to repair its systems. FEMA has funded about 17 percent ($50 million) of the requests, not including $264 million worth of projects assigned to the Army Corps of Engineers. FEMA says they are requesting many requests because they were not directly caused by Katrina, but by older equipment in need or maintenance or replacement prior to the storm.
MARITIME INDUSTRY SUPPORT MR-GO REMAINING OPEN; NAGIN ADMINISTRATION SUPPORTS CLOSURE
Maritime industry companies who do business along the Industrial Canal and France Road are urging the federal government to again dredge the 76-mile Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MR-GO) to accommodate deep-draft vessels. The MR-GO is widely blamed for worsening Hurricane Katrina’s damage to St. Bernard Parish, New Orleans East and the Lower Ninth Ward. Shipping interests says the MR-GO could be made safer by building navigable gates to block storm surges.
Mayor Ray Nagin’s administration joined the state and St. Bernard Parish in asking for the MR-GO to be closed to deep-draft vessels. Ships have made little use of the MR-GO since Katrina reduced its minimum depth from 40 feet to about 22 feet. A New Orleans dredging company estimates it would cost $6.3 million to restore the channel to 28 feet deep. Returning the channel to its pre-Katrina depth would cost about $27 million. When the MR-GO was developed almost 45 years ago, it was promoted as a centerpiece in New Orleans’ dream to be the “Gateway to the Americas” -- a hub for international shipping traffic that would propel the region onto the global stage.
HANO WANTS TO HIRE CITY COUNCIL PLANNERS TO STUDY CLOSED PUBLIC HOUSDING DEVELOPMENTS
The Housing Authority of New Orleans wants to hire the City Council’s planners, Lambert Advisory/Shedo LLC, to study four of the city’s public housing developments that are still closed – C.J. Peete, B.W. Cooper, Lafitte and St. Bernard. HANO has recommended a $498,000 “cooperative endeavor agreement” that Mayor Nagin must sign after the City Council approved the document. HANO has said they want to work with the city on the redevelopment of public housing.
The agreement states that “HANO has determined that it would be in the agency’s best interest to join the city’s Neighborhoods Rebuilding Plan process in order to best define the plan for, structure, tenure and income mix, and housing typology to be developed on HANO redevelopment properties, as well as the best way to accommodate low-and moderate-income households served by HANO.” Lambert/Shedo would provide HANO with “pre-and post-storm assessments” of the conditions of these properties and also conduct resident surveys and public meetings.
COUNCIL COMMITTEE SUPPORTS INSPECTOR GENERAL PLAN
At the request of Councilmember Shelley Midura, the City Council’s Governmental Affairs Committee is recommending that an office of inspector general be established. The Council will vote on the proposal in October. Councilmember Midura also plans to move forward to establish an ethics review board.
In 1995 the voters of New Orleans approved a change to the City’s charter which called for the creation of a seven-member ethics board and authorized an office of inspector general. In 1996, the Council adopted a code of ethics for city workers and contractors, created the board and approved appointees recommended by then Mayor Marc Morial. Under the proposal, the inspector general’s office would operate with money generated by a .25 percent surcharge on any city government contract for $10,000 or more. In addition the office could accept contributions, grants and revenue from other sources.
ONE-THIRD OF STUDENTS RETURNED TO NO SCHOOLS; OTHERS EXPECTED SOON
Only a little more than one-third of the students in the Orleans Parish school system prior to Hurricane Katrina are currently attending schools in New Orleans. Student enrollment is expected to increase within the next month as schools still being renovated are completed. Today 21,610 are in attending New Orleans schools, approximately 83 percent of all those who have enrolled. The lack of available housing is prohibiting some families from returning home.
ABSENTEE VOTING BEGINS FOR LOCAL, STATEWIDE RACES
Absentee voting has begun for statewide and local races including for secretary of state, insurance commissioner and 13 proposed changes in the state Constitution. Orleans Parish voters who reside in the 97th House District may also cast ballots. Absentee voting is available in the parish registrar of voters offices from 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. through Saturday, Sept. 23. Displaced voters can request mail-in absentee ballots, drive to their home-parish registrar of voters offices this week or drive to their home-parish police place on election day.
THOUSANDS OF RETURNING RESIDENTS STILL NEED HOUSE-GUTTING
Non-profit organizations such as ACORN that are offering free house-gutting services are continuing to receive thousands of requests for assistance. ACORN currently has a waiting list of almost 2,000 homes, but is still taking applications. The City of New Orleans is encouraging homeowners to make a plan to gut and board up their damaged residences. Citizens who fail to make repairs will face consequences including fines and/or seizure of their properties. Houses on a list to be gutted are in compliance with the city’s repair requests. Homeowners are encouraged to apply to more than one organization for the free house-gutting services. The pace of gutting depends largely on the availability of volunteers. Currently, volunteers are in short supply because of summer heat and a reluctance of some to come to New Orleans during hurricane season. Approximately 200,000 houses were damaged in the flooding that followed the hurricane.
Organizations which are still taking applications for house gutting include ACORN, Catholic Charities helping Hands, East Bank UMC, Hands On, Operation Blessing, Operation Nehemiah, Phoenix of New Orleans, RHINO, School of Urban Mission, Operation NOAH Rebuild, Uptown United Methodist Recovery, Westbank United Methodist Recovery, and the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana. Non-profit groups have already gutted approximately 7,000 homes. An additional 7,000 homes are on waiting lists.
SEVERAL LOCAL THEATRES STRUGGLING TO REOPEN
Several of New Orleans old-line music houses – the Saenger, the Orpheum, the Municipal Auditorium and the Mahalia Jackson Theatre of the Performing Arts – remain closed while they struggle to make repairs. The Saenger suffered roof and flooding damage with estimated repair costs of $12 million. The Orpheum plans to reopen in December 2007 after making up to $2.5 million in repairs due to roof damage and flooding. The State Palace already reopened once since Katrina after $400,000 in repairs and will soon begin operation in November. The Municipal Auditorium needs $4.3 million and repairs. No date has been set for a reopening. The Mahalia Jackson Theatre in Armstrong Park also needs $3.6 million in repairs. Reopening the Municipal Auditorium and the Mahalia Jackson Theatre are a priority, say city leaders, because they contribute to the City’s quality of life.
CRIME PREVENTION ROUNDTABLE DRAWS 500 ATTENDEES
More than 500 attendees including students from O. Perry Walker High School and Southern University of New Orleans heard from Governor Kathleen Blanco, Attorney General Charles Foti, former Houston Mayor and federal drug czar Lee Brown and other key stakeholders on strategies to turn New Orleans criminal justice system around. The Roundtable was chaired by Councilman James Carter, with assistance from Council President Oliver Thomas and Council Vice President Arnie Fielkow. Other speakers include Police Chief Warren Riley, US Attorney Jim Letten, Criminal Court Judge Calvin Johnson, DA Eddie Jordan, and Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman.
Speakers cited many factors that contribute to New Orleans’ crime problem including the city’s poverty, poor public schools, and a history of political corruption. “Factor in the revolving door (at criminal court where arrestees often make bond quickly and commit other crimes), an AK-47 and crack cocaine, and you’ve got New Orleans today,” said Jim Bernazzani, special agent in charge of the New Orleans office of the FBI. Attendees heard about best practices from the Vera Institute and spoke out in six break-out sessions. A follow-up meeting will be held in January at Gallier Hall.
THOUSANDS OF AREA TREES VICTIMS OF HURRICANE KATRINA
Hurricane Katrina devastated thousands of area oak, magnolia, pine, ash, and cypress trees and that devastation continues as utilities, government contractors and others damage or cut down trees in a effort to clear grounds or restore utility services. It is estimated that New Orleans alone lost more than 50,000 trees on public property and even more on private land.
Trees are a critical element of the area’s recovery. Not only are trees a source of shade and beauty, they also absorb or divert wind and form a last defense against storm winds and debris. They key to hurricane-resistant landscaping is to use native trees and plants because of their natural ability to survive storms. More than 1900 dead trees are still standing on public property. Contractors for the Corps of Engineers have already collected about 20 million cubic yards of tree debris, with much more still ahead.
MOST RENTERS LEFT OUT OF FUNDING RESOURCES FOR REBUILDING
Individuals seeking reasonably-priced rental housing in New Orleans and landlords seeking government-backed funds to rebuild storm-damaged rental properties are having a difficult time. Rents have risen an average of 39 percent since Hurricane Katrina and the Housing Authority of New Orleans may demolish rather than repair thousands of units. The Louisiana Recovery Authority has allocated $7.5 billion to assist homeowners and only $869 million to help landlords. LRA officials says that at least 30,000 rental units will be rehabbed through this program, which is expected to offer no-interest 10-year mortgages of up to $75,000 per unit to landlords who agree to rent at or below the market rate. No direct subsidies to tenants are now being planned.
Some critics say that many more units than 30,000 are needed to make a difference. The Brookings Institute reports that about 40 percent of New Orleans’ 48,000 apartments and rental housing were heavily damaged or destroyed during the storm. Others think there may have been as many as 84,000 rental units occupied by low and middle income families. “I’ll confess to being frustrated,” said Dr. Norman Francis, LRA chairman. Most of the people who need to come back aren’t homeowners at this point but renters.”
INSURANCE COMPANIES SLOW TO PAY BUSINESS INTERRUPTION CLAIMS
Many small businesses are still fighting with their insurance companies to receive payments on business interruption insurance claims, which account for half of the commercial losses from Katrina. It is estimated that commercial losses will reach $20.8 billion dollars. Flooding does not trigger business interruption coverage. Therefore, thousands of small businesses which were displaced by flooding probably will not be eligible for business interruption claims.
RAISES LIKELY FOR ALL CITY EMPLOYEES
Following a recent decision by the New Orleans City Council to extend a 10 percent pay raise to all firefighters and emergency medical service workers – not just veteran police officers and recruits - Mayor Nagin’s administration now supports a 10 percent raise for all city workers and wants to establish a $7.50 minimum wage for city employees. City Council Budget Committee Chair Cynthia Hedge Morrell has been on the record in support of an across-the-board salary increase for all city workers.
PRESIDENT CLINTON ANNOUNCES $7.5 MILLION FOR AREA REBUILDING
Several area non-profit organizations which are involved in the region’s rebuilding are receiving portions of a $7.5 million grant former President Bill Clinton announced recently. Among the recipients are the United Negro College Fund, the National Housing Partnership Foundation, the National Council of Negro Women, the Louisiana Human Resources Development Institute, and Music Rising New Schools for New Orleans. Clinton also announced that the region would be joining the Clinton Climate Initiative, a project of the former president’s personal foundation.
INDUSTRIAL CANAL SEDIMENT BOUND FOR COMMERCIAL LANDFILL
Sediment from the Industrial Canal will now be deposited in a commercial landfill built for industrial waste, according to the Corps of Engineers. The dredging -which will save the region’s shipping industry at least $1 million per year - will deepen the canal bottom so that deep-draft ships can enter carrying full loads. During Hurricane Katrina, a half-mile long, 125-foot wide section of the canal was partially filled in, forcing deep-draft ships entering the canal from the Mississippi River to carry less than a full load to avoid getting stuck, or to use other port facilities.
ENTERGY EXEC DAN PACKER SAYS RATES WILL PROBABLY RISE
Entergy New Orleans President Dan Packer says utility rates will probably rise because there are a smaller number of customers in New Orleans and Entergy must create a reserve to pay for damage in the event of future storms. Entergy is seeking $592 million in Community Development Block Grants to repair damaged facilities. Entergy told the LRA that rates would not increase if the utility received $498 million. But that grant amount is unlikely because other utilities such as Entergy Louisiana have submitted grant applications.
Entergy has indicated they would like a $39 per month rate increase as well as a $6 per month additional charge to create a storm reserve fund which would only be tapped during named tropical storms or hurricanes. The City Council makes all decisions regarding electric and gas rates for Orleans Parish. Currently, Entergy has only 85,000 ratepayers in Orleans Parish, down from 190,000 customers.
ORLEANS AND JEFFERSON PARISH COUNCIL TO MEET ON SHARED GOALS
The New Orleans and Jefferson Parish Councils will probably meet later this fall in Jefferson Parish on items of mutual interest. New Orleans City Council President Oliver Thomas and Jefferson Parish Council President John Young are coordinating the meeting which may be held on November 8. The agenda for the meeting has not yet been released. The meeting will probably be televised on cable in Orleans and Jefferson parishes.
DILLARD UNIVERSITY PREPARES TO RE-OPEN GENTILLY CAMPUS
Although the college suffered $348 million in hurricane damage and loss of income, Dillard University’s main campus on Gentilly Boulevard is prepared to reopen. Classes will start Sept 25. Approximately 1,000 students are expected for the fall semester, a drop of nearly 55 percent from before the storm.
Dillard President Marvalene Hughes expects registration figures to be back to pre-Katrina levels within five years. Hughes is currently promoting programs for which the university is well known including education and nursing. She is also raising funds around the country from alumni, church and philanthropic groups including the American Jewish Committee. The university previously reduced its workforce by almost two-thirds. Hughes became Dillard’s first female president just a few months prior to the hurricane.
CORPS SAYS DRAINAGE PUMPS OPERATING SMOOTHLY
The thirty-four new drainage pumps recently rebuilt by the Army Corps of Engineers are now operating without the violent vibration that shut them down during a trial run earlier this summer. “If there was a storm coming tomorrow and we had to close those gates, we’d be pumping water out of that canal,” said Corps official Col. Jeffrey Bedey. The Corps had the motors in all 34 new pumps retrofitted to reducing shaking. The pumps were designed to remove rainwater runoff out of New Orleans and part of East Jefferson if the gates are closed to block a storm surge in Lake Pontchartrain.
CITY COUNCIL APPROVES CENTRAL CITY CONDOS
Following the lead of District B Councilmember Stacy Head, the New Orleans City Council approved a $100 million 530-unit condominium development in Central City that will be known as Felicity Places or the Residences on Felicity. The site includes most of the block bounded by Baronne, Carondelet, Felicity and Euterpe as well as the majority of two other blocks. Developer Elie Khoury estimates that the average 948 square foot condo will sell for $170,000 to $270,000. The project will include three buildings ranging from six to 12 stories plus 632 off-street parking spaces.
MOVIE PARTNERSHIP WILL BRING $200 MILLION IN PRODUCTION
A new partnership between LIFT Films of New Orleans and Element Films of Los Angeles will invest $200 million in New Orleans to produce at least eight new movies. LIFT Films is a new venture formed by the Louisiana Institute of Film Technology and Bart Productions, a film and television production company headed by New Orleans lawyer Morris Bart. Element will select the projects and LIFT will hire local crews to work on them. Each film will have a production budget of at least $10 million. The first film will be “College,” a comedy about three high school seniors who have a wild weekend while visiting a local university as prospective freshmen. It will begin pre-production in New Orleans this fall.
$185 MILLION SUPERDOME RENOVATIONS ESSENTIALLY COMPLETE
The 31-year old Louisiana Superdome will open to an international audience on September 25 when the Saints meet the Atlanta Falcons. In addition to the lush green turf, black leather seats in the club section, new video displays, glitzy 42-inch flat-screen television in the luxury suites, fans will also enjoy a special pre-game show with U2 and Green Day, performing together publicly for the first time, along with the Goo Goo Dolls. Hurricane Katrina caused tens of millions of dollars in wind and water damage to the Dome’s roof and interior, and displaced the Saints for the 2005 season.
PUBLIC HOUSING RESIDENTS STILL WAITING TO COME HOME
Public housing advocates are becoming more and more disappointed that the Housing Authority of New Orleans has not made additional units available for former residents to return home. Hurricane Katrina and its related levee failures destroyed six of the city’s 10 original housing complexes. The city’s public housing stock included 5,100 units prior to Katrina. There are less than 1000 public housing units currently available in New Orleans. Housing vouchers and other government aid is being offered to help families locate alternative housing.
LAKE BORGNE WETLANDS COULD BE RESTORED UNDER BREAUX ACT
A 7-mile stretch of wetlands and shoreline on Lake Borgne between Chef Menteur Pass and the Rigolets could be restored with funding from the federal Breaux Act. The strategically vital land bridge helps block hurricane storm surge that enters Lake Borgne from traveling into Lake Pontchartrain. Though the wetlands were damaged by the hurricane, university researchers have credited them with reducing the height of Katrina’s storm surge before it entered the lake. Three million cubic yards of sediment would be used to fill in 410 acres of open water in the broken marshes. The project also calls for planting vegetation along seven miles of the lake’s shoreline as a protective measure.
MLK ELEMENTARY TO OPEN IN CENTRAL CITY
The 600 students who registered to attend the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School for Science and Technology will attend classes at Edgar P. Harney School in Central City until the school’s original campus in the Lower 9th Ward is repaired. The state is seeking a contractor who can finish repairs on the badly damaged 9th Ward building by January 15. Currently 53 public schools are operating in New Orleans.
CHEVRON NEW DEEP-WATER FIND COULD SIGNAL UPTURN IN OIL AND GAS INDUSTRY IN NEW ORLEANS
Chevron’s recent discovery of a deepwater field hundreds of miles south of New Orleans which could contain up to 15 billion barrels of oil could kick-off an upturn in the state’s oil and gas fortunes. The state’s oil and gas industry has never recovered from the mid-1980s when the bottom fell out of the market. But Chevron’s new deep Gulf find will provide new jobs for platform workers and service industry personnel on shore and extend the cycle of oil and gas production off Louisiana’s coast for another 10 to 20 years.
The oil industry has been an important component in Louisiana’s economic forecast for more than 100 years. In 1921 then Gov. John Parker created a severance tax on oil which allowed the state to keep the rest of the state’s taxes artificially low for decades until the bust of the 1980s. When OPEC accelerated production in the early 1980’s, the effect on Louisiana’s oil and gas industry was devastating. Louisiana lost 170,000 jobs between 1983 and 1989. Seven percent of the population moved away. By fiscal year 2004-2005 oil and gas revenues accounted for only 13.1 percent of the state’s budget. The oil and gas section was the only regional industry that added jobs after last year’s hurricane. It is estimated that 1,000 new jobs will be created when the new deepwater drilling is in full force.
LAKE PONCHATRAIN BASIN FOUNDATION SEEKS TO RESCUE HISTORIC WEST END LIGHTHOUSE
The non-profit Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation has been trying for almost one year to receive permission from the Coast Guard and the Orleans Levee District to the New Canal Lighthouse. Built in the 1890’s, the lighthouse was an icon for generations of New Orleanians who fished, swam, sailed and watched the sunset nearby. The Coast Guard utilized the building as a guard station for almost 40 years but had relocated their offices prior to the hurricane. Heavily damaged by the storm, the lighthouse collapsed in November.
The Coast Guard has prepared a document which would transfer ownership of the lighthouse to the Orleans Levee District. The Levee Board has not yet signed the document. If signed, the Coast Guard could quickly turn the lighthouse over to the Foundation under the guidelines of the National Historical Lighthouse Preservation Act. The Foundation is prepared to purchase a $23,000 annual general liability insurance policy and begin a fundraising campaign to restore the lighthouse.
HARRAH’S NEW HOTEL WILL ANCHOR FULTON STREET PLAZA
When Harrah’s new 450-room hotel opens later this month, it will serve as the anchor for Harrah’s Fulton Street Plaza, a pedestrian-friendly shortcut between the Casino and the Morial Convention Center. By jumpstarting the transformation of this once-sleepy street into a new entertainment corridor, Harrah’s hopes visitors will use the route to move between their conventions, the casino and beyond into the French Quarter.
The 27-story hotel is the first new lodging property to open since the hurricane. Harrah’s will change its name to Harrah’s New Orleans Casino and Hotel when the hotel opens. Harrah’s hopes to draw high-end gamblers who travel to Las Vegas and Atlantic City and stay in Harrah’s hotels. Harrah’s has been partnering with about 20 other local hotels to provide rooms for their guests.
ATTORNEY GENERAL FOTI JOINS LAWSUIT TO CLOSE MR-GO
The State of Louisiana joined a lawsuit originally filed with Councilmember Cynthia Willard Lewis as a lead plaintiff that seeks to close the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet. St. Bernard Parish also recently joined the suit. The MR-GO acts like a funnel into the Industrial Canal and is considered a major cause of the flooding that caused death and devastation in New Orleans East, the Lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish.
The suit asks the federal court to appoint an independent “panel of distinguished experts to come up with a remedy for the continuing dangerous conditions of the MR-GO.” In June, the Corps began a congressionally mandated MR-GO closure study which is supposed to outline engineering options for closing the channel and detail economic ramifications of keeping it open at varying depths. It is scheduled to be complete in December. For decades St. Bernard Parish officials have warned that the MR-GO put their community at risk by eroding the wetlands that served as a natural buffer against storms. The lawsuit states that the Corps acknowledged the danger almost 20 years ago.
CRESCENT CITY TOWER DEVELOPERS REJECT TAX INCREMENT FINANCING DEAL
A group of developers who had planned to invest $136 million to convert the asbestos filled 45-story Plaza Tower office building into the Crescent City Tower luxury condominiums told the City Council that the proposed tax increment financing mechanism no longer made economic sense. Lead by New Yorker Glen Rushton, the development team sought to divert approximately half of the building’s post-conversion property tax revenue to help pay for removing asbestos and lead-based paint. The cost of those repairs as well as gutting the building and removing the old façade is estimated at $27 million. Developers hoped the TIF would have covered $13 million of that cost. But because the TIF rules are unclear, said the developers, too many tax-recipient agencies would have been excluded from the TIF district, which would have diluted the developer’s tax benefits.
A TIF diverts specified tax revenue away from a city or other government unit to pay for specific projects. By doing so, a financially strapped government agency can help underwrite infrastructure or other improvement that it cannot pay for directly at the time the project begins. The city benefits on the long term when revenue caused by the economic development initiative reaches the city’s treasury.
CITY OF NEW ORLEANS CRIME SUMMIT WILL CREATE FOUNDATION FOR ONGOING COMMUNITY DIALOGUE
The continuing escalation in crime that has plagued metro New Orleans since Katrina is impacting every citizens because crime is happening everywhere – Uptown, Downtown, Central City, New Orleans East, Algiers, the Warehouse District, Marrero, and Jefferson Highway. Last weekend’s crime spree included suspected drug-related shootings, domestic violence and other shootings for which police have no suspected motive. Although New Orleans population is about half of pre-Katrina levels, the number of homicides in New Orleans are running at the same rate as before the storm.
Like many other institutions in New Orleans, the Criminal Justice system was hard-hit by Katrina in both facilities and manpower and is still in the early stages of coming back. Citizens who want to learn more about the problems and solutions facing efforts to build a safer New Orleans are invited to attend the City of New Orleans Crime Summit on Saturday, September 16 at the Hilton Hotel. District Councilmember James Carter is chairing the Crime Summit with assistance from Council Chair Oliver Thomas and Council Vice Chair Arnie Fielkow.
Hosted by the New Orleans City Council and Mayor Ray Nagin, the Crime Summit will feature keynote speaker former Houston mayor and US Drug Czar the Honorable Lee Brown. Mr. Brown will discuss federal government programs and policies that could help New Orleans address our crime problem. National crime prevention experts from the National Crime Prevention Council and the Vera Institute of Justice will be on hand to describe model programs and best practices that have demonstrated success in reducing crime in other cities of similar size and demographic make-up. Other invited speakers include Governor Kathleen Blanco, Senator Mary Landrieu, Senator David Vitter, Superintendent of Police Warren Riley, US Attorney Jim Letten, District Attorney Eddie Jordan, Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman, Criminal Court Chief Judge Ray Bigelow, Juvenile Court Chief Judge David Bell, and former Louisiana Attorney General Richard Ieyoub. Southern University of New Orleans, a partner in the Crime Summit, will be presenting scholarly reports on Economics and Crime and Race, Class and Crime as well as assisting with roundtable discussions.
The City of New Orleans Crime Summit is free and open to the public. Lunch and handouts will be provided. Advance registration is necessary. Register online at neworleanscitycouncil.com. Call 658-1030 for information. The City of New Orleans Crime Summit is underwritten in part by the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation.
SAINTS COULD HAVE SOLD-OUT SEASON SAYS BENSON
Saints owner Tom Benson says that season tickets and luxury suites are selling exceedingly well this year and are on the verge of selling out the entire season-ticket package for the first time in the team’s 40-year history. With less than three weeks until the team’s season opener against the Atlanta Falcons, there are only about 3,000 ticket packages remaining and 35 suites. “This is unprecedented,” said Benson. The Superdome has a seating capacity of 68,354 this year.
NEW ORLEANS LACK PSYCHIATRIC SERVICES
Many New Orleanians are suffering from emotional problems since the hurricanes. Yet those who need psychiatric services have few options to turn to post-Katrina. The number of licensed psychiatrists in the region prior to the storm was 208. Currently there are 42 psychiatrists practicing medicine in the region and only 17 are seeing Medicaid patients.
There were 487 psychiatric inpatient beds available in metro New Orleans prior to Katrina. As of August 20, 2006 there were only 190 beds. Because so few psychiatric inpatient beds are available in local hospitals, police officers are often forced to take mentally ill patients to the city’s overcrowded emergency rooms. Prior to Katrina, a psychiatric patient would have been taken to Charity Hospital where a special psychiatric team could have evaluated the individual and perhaps keep the person overnight. Today there are no such teams available and no beds for overnight stays. “We had a large mentally ill population before Katrina. There wasn’t much for them before, and now there is nothing,” said Cecile Tebo, coordinator of the New Orleans Police Department’s crisis unit. At Ochsner Medical Center the number of emergency room patients with psychiatric problems has climbed 400 percent since the storm.
CITIZENS SHOULD BE GUTTING HOUSES NOW
New Orleans residents who have not yet gutted their houses should make plans to move forward in the next few weeks. The City Council previously passed on ordinance that set a date of August 28 for all citizens (except those residing in the Lower Ninth Ward or those with hardship cases) to have gutted their homes. There are more than 20 agencies which are providing free or low cost gutting. Many of those groups have long waiting lists. But signing up with one of the agencies puts a homeowner in compliance with the ordinance.
The City Council recently amended the ordinance to give citizens several additional weeks to comply. The ordinance calls for the City to begin inspections and start mailing notices to owners that their buildings violate city rules. The notice would give property owners 30 days to remediate mold and clean, gut and secure their homes. If after 30 days the property still violates the rules, a second notice would be mailed and posted on the property informing the owner of the date and place of an administrative hearing. It would also warn the property owner that the city could enter the property, gut and remediate it, then issue a lien on the property for reimbursement. The City’s Department of Safety and Permits will be handling the inspections.
VITTER URGES CORPS TO CLOSE MR-GO
U.S. Senator David Vitter is stepping up pressure on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to close the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet and address the MR-GO’s environmental legacy – the loss of hundreds of miles of marsh and wetlands which caused the flooding and loss of hundreds of lives in St. Bernard and Orleans Parish during Hurricane Katrina. Vitter and several environmental groups feel that the Corps seems to be sidestepping a Congressional mandate to come up with a comprehensive plan to close or modify the channel and address related storm protection.
“It’s not simply stopping dredging, stopping shipping,” explained Vitter. “It requires affirmative remedial actions to address the erosion the MR-GO caused.” An estimated 27,000 acres of wetlands have been lost since the channel was carved through St. Bernard Parish in 1965. Its original 650-foot width has expanded to 2,000 feet in some areas. Marsh-killing salt water from the Gulf journeys up the channel and affects wetlands for many miles. Previously dredged to about 40 feet deep, the MR-GO silted in after Katrina to about 23 feet in some areas. The channel has been closed to shipping traffic since the storm.
LAKEVIEW MODULAR HOME AVAILABLE FOR VIEWING
Metro New Orleans residents had the opportunity to view a two-story three-bedroom modular home that was erected in a Lakeview neighborhood in only seven weeks. The home was constructed by New Era Homes. Modular homes are built in a factory by sections and assembled onsite. The company estimates that a home similar to the one erected at 5915 West End Blvd would sell for $110 to $140 per square foot, depending on finishes.
ONCE MAJESTIC CITY PARK RECOVERING SLOWLY
New Orleans famed 1,300 acre City Park, one of the largest urban green spaces in America, is recovering slowly from the ravages of Hurricane Katrina. Park damage is estimated at $43 million. FEMA has authorized only $2.6 million for repairs and the park has received just $250,000.
The park lost thousands of trees and many of its facilities remain closed. City Park relies on user fees from facilities like its tennis complex, golf courses, Storyland, Botanical Gardens and Pavilion of the Two Sisters to fund its operations. With many of the facilities closed and in need of repairs, City Park was forced to lay off almost 200 employees leaving an inadequate crew for maintenance, administration and programming. City Park’s neighbors as well as park advocates across the country say City Park should have been targeted early as a public works project with the potential to spur redevelopment in its bordering communities including Mid-City and Gentilly.
HISTORY SET THE SCENE FOR NEW ORLEANS DISASTER
The devastation brought on by Hurricane Katrina was not just the fault of the levees built by the Army Corps of Engineers but also by decisions that were made up and down the Mississippi River and in the Gulf of Mexico during the last 100 years, according to historian John M. Barry. The Mississippi River created about 35,000 square miles of land from Cape Girardeau, Mo. to the mouth of the river by depositing sediment into what had once been ocean. Up until 50 years ago, the land buffer kept New Orleans reasonably safe.
Three factors that benefited the national but increased New Orleans vulnerability changed the geological equation:
1.Beginning in Minneapolis and moving south, the Corps lined hundreds of miles of the Mississippi with riprap or concrete mats to prevent the river bank from collapsing. While this action kept commerce moving, it prohibited sediment from reaching New Orleans that could have lined our banks.
2.To keep the channel open at all times for shipping, the federal government maintains jetties extending more than 2 miles into the Gulf of Mexico which moves the soil into deep water. Without this new sediment, much of New Orleans continued to sink below sea level.
3.Offshore oil and gas wells – which account for more than 30 percent of U.S. domestic energy production – needed pipelines and canals to be built through the coastal marshes. Every inch of the 8,000 miles of channels that have been built helps salt water eat away at the land.
During the last 50 years, 2000 square miles of Louisiana barrier islands, coastal marsh and solid land – once New Orleans’ main defense against the full force of hurricanes by soaking up many feet of storm surges -- melted into the sea. As inland ports expanded to better serve the Midwest, New Orleans became more vulnerable. It is possible to protect New Orleans against great storms, Barry says. Levees must be built that can withstand overtopping. Storm surge barriers like those in the Netherlands must also be constructed. But most important and most expensive will be the restoration of Louisiana’s coastline. The sediment that still comes down the Mississippi could be redirected to build new barriers. Restoration of the coastline is estimated to cost $14.1 billion, over a 25 to 30 year period. The U.S. government currently spends $6 billion each month in Iraq. “The most important step in rebuilding New Orleans is assuring residents and investors that the City will be safe,” said Barry. The most important part of that is committing to build Category 5 hurricane protection, Barry concluded, not just for New Orleans, but for the national economy.
DISTANCE COULD DETERMINE WHICH EVACUEES WILL RETURN
The farther an evacuee has moved from New Orleans, the less likely that person is to return. The Federal Emergency Management Agency believes that most of the displaced Hurricane Katrina evacuees who have the best chance of returning already have. They may not be living in their pre-Katrina houses yet, but could have relocated in Baton Rouge or closer to New Orleans where they can think about a permanent residence.
TEACHERS STILL NEEDED FOR RECOVERY DISTRICT SCHOOLS
Although schools are scheduled to open within a week, the state-run Recovery School District still needs to fill a third of its teaching slots and complete construction at some locations. The District is still short 177 teachers. Ninth graders are scheduled to start on Sept. 8, tenth graders on Sept. 11; eleventh graders on Sept. 12 and seniors on Sept. 13. The first day for all grades is Sept. 14. Students in three of the New Orleans campuses will attend class miles away from other schools for at least two weeks.
NEW ORLEANIANS IN HOUSTON COULD LOSE RENTAL AID
Almost 3,000 New Orleans families who evacuated to Houston could soon lose their FEMA rental assistance. FEMA says they are working with community and faith-based organizations in Houston to ensure the disaster victims who FEMA has deemed ineligible will get help through other sources. Representatives of ACORN say that other aid might not be available. FEMA has been paying for hotel rooms and apartments for many thousand of Katrina’s victims through their emergency sheltering program. Those being cut off either cannot produce identification, show they are the only one in the household receiving aid from FEMA or cannot prove they lost their homes in the storm.
NAGIN VISITS NEW YORK TO BOOST ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Mayor Nagin and business leaders visited New York City this week to look for underwriters for next year’s Mardi Gras festivities, inform developers about available tax credits and encourage the film industry to shoot more movies, cable and television programs in New Orleans. Several business leaders joined Mayor Nagin in New York. A delegation will also be traveling to China later this month to look at import opportunities with Chinese manufacturers.
LOCKHEED MARTIN TO ASSIT WITH NEW SPACECRAFT
Lockheed Martin will hire 200 new employees to help build the outer shell and propellant tanks for the proposed 21st-century manned space capsule. This new vehicle will be used to replace the space shuttle fleet, take astronauts to the moon and perhaps to Mars. It will be perched atop a rocket and will be reusable. The vehicle should be ready for a test flight in 2014.
LA-SPCA HOLDS GROUNDBREAKING FOR NEW WESTBANK FACILITY
City Councilmember James Carter joined LA-SPCA director Laura Maloney and others at the groundbreaking for the first phase of the LA-SPCA’s new Algiers facilities which will be located on L.B. Landry Ave. by Mardi Gras Blvd. The Animal Control Center and administrative offices will occupy phase one. The LA-SPCA’s Capital Campaign, under the direction of Cleland Powell, has already raised $5 million. Among the underwriters is Allan Katz who donated funds to create a Center for Feral Cats that will be named for his cat Alexander. The LA-SPCA is a not-for-profit organization which is contracted to provide animal control services for the City of New Orleans.
HOUSTONIANS FRUSTRATED BY INCREASED CRIME
Almost 2,000 West Houston residents urged Houston’s mayor and police chief to send New Orleans evacuees home in an effort to stem the tide of rising crime in the Houston area. Houston officials have agreed to open a new police division on the west side of the city and add 140 officers to the streets, increase investigative strength, target gang activity and enforce traffic laws.
SUPERDOME ROOF PROBLEMS CAUSED BY CONTRACTOR
The Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District filed suit this week again the companies that were involved in recommending, supplying materials for and installing the special membrane cover on the Louisiana Superdome. Although the Superdome’s roof was supposed to be capable of withstanding 200 mph winds, the roof came apart under Katrina’s winds which began “a long nightmare” for thousands of storm evacuees who were trapped inside.
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STORM SURVIVORS FIND INNER STRENGTH
Although a new survey of more than 1000 hurricane survivors from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama found a higher rate of mental illness after last year’s storm, it also detected fewer suicidal tendencies even among those in distress, which researchers attribute to a newfound sense of purpose, religious faith and renewed ties to family brought to the surface by the disaster.
RESIDENTS AWAIT OUTCOME OF PLANNING PROCESS
Some residents who have been participating in the City Council- sponsored planning process are unsure about how much of their vision will make it from paper to reality. More than 10,000 residents from the city’s 49 neighborhoods where flood waters rose more than two feet have been working for several months with Lambert Advisory/Shedo LLC, professional planners and architects hired by the City Council. The residents have crafted neighborhood plans which are being integrated into planning district plans. Lambert/Shedo will make a final presentation of their overall plans in the coming weeks.
Mayor Nagin, the City Council and the Greater New Orleans Foundation recently signed an agreement that calls for the creation of a unified neighborhood recovery planning process. The so-called “unified plan” will consider a wide range of infrastructure needs and other projects, from parks to rejuvenated schools. Work will be funded mostly by a $3.5 million Rockefeller Foundation. The unified plan will be directed by the newly formed New Orleans Community Support Foundation and should be complete within a few months.
HOUSE DEMOCRATS PLEDGE TO HELP NEW ORLEANS
A group of 25 House Democrats pledged that when Congress returns into session to quickly introduce legislation that will streamline the insurance claims process, make more affordable housing available, restore coastal wetlands and give states a bigger share of royalties on oil and gas produced off their coastlines.
CAB MEDALLIONS TO BE RECALLED
The city’s Taxicab Bureau will recall almost 500 taxicab medallions – officially called “certificates of public necessity and convenience,” or CPNCs, from those individuals who have not renewed their licenses. There were 1,608 medallions in circulation prior to the hurricane. The city says they are cutting back on the number of legal taxis to help those still in business make ends meet in an increasingly tough market.
CITY COUNCIL COMMEMORATES WITH PRAYER, WREATH-LAYING, AND DEDICATION OF MONUMENT TO VICTIMS
The New Orleans City Council commemorated the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina with a solemn remembrance of the people who suffered through that tragic event. Councilmembers laid wreaths at important sites in their districts – Shelley Midura at the 17th Street Canal breach, Cynthia Willard Lewis at the Industrial Canal by the breach, Cynthia Morrell at the London Avenue Canal by the breach, James Carter by the St. Roch playground/trailer park, Arnie Fielkow at the Superdome where he recognized first responders, and Oliver Thomas at his brother Renaldo’s home. Renaldo died shortly after the hurricane. Stacy Head observed the anniversary quietly at home with her family.
Hundreds of New Orleanians including family members of the deceased joined Councilmembers for the dedication of the Katrina Memorial Monument at the Mississippi River Heritage Park, 1100 Convention Center Blvd. The program included prayers by Pastor Charles Southall, Pastor Fred Luter and Rabbi Ed Cohen and uplifting music by Rev. Lois Dejean and company and Paul Soniat. As the memorial wreath was placed in front of the monument, Council President Thomas invited attendees to speak about their deceased loved one when they laid their flowers down. More than 50 family members of the deceased made touching statements.
The monument was underwritten by ECC, an international firm which has been working in New Orleans for the Army Corps of Engineers. The In Loving Memory Photo Exhibit was on display at the memorial service. The exhibit features photographs and brief descriptions of almost 100 individuals who perished. The exhibit has been moved to the main Post Office on Loyola Avenue and will eventually be housed at the main branch of New Orleans Public Library. Individuals can still submit photographs and brief essays to be included in the exhibit. Please mail or drop off all photos and essays to the New Orleans City Council, 1300 Perdido St., New Orleans, Louisiana 70113. Call 658-1000 for more information. The City Council would like to thank the New Orleans Post Office for their assistance in this project.
SOCIAL NEEDS TARGETED BY UNITED WAY
According to a new survey of evacuees commissioned by Leadership 18, a coalition of some of the nation’s best known charitable organizations, the city’s social service infrastructure must focus on helping residents find affordable homes and other crucial services needed to break the cycle of urban poverty. Evacuees stated that to bring normalcy back to their lives, they need permanent affordable housing and services including job training, quality child care, transportation and health care.
In the interviews with New Orleans evacuees conducted June 23 at Covenant House, the survey found that 69 percent of the respondents were unemployed, 83 percent were still living in temporary housing and that 79 percent were planning to return.
PRESIDENT BUSH SAYS HE WILL STAND BY NEW ORLEANS
President George Bush said that he and the federal government will stand by the Gulf Coast region as it struggles to emerge from the darkest year in its history, with no end in sight. He reaffirmed his commitment to provide funds for New Orleans’ rebuilding and said he takes “full responsibility” for the federal government’s slow response to the hurricanes. Bush said the responsibility for New Orleans recovery lies as much within the city’s devastated neighborhoods as in Washington.
SMALL BUSINESSES STRUGGLE TO STAY AFLOAT
Many of New Orleans’ small businesses are struggling to say afloat one year after Hurricane Katrina struck. Hundreds of businesses are still waiting on insurance funds. Others are utilizing credit cards, bank lines of credit or dipping into their personal funds in an attempt to remain operational. A number of local, state and federal programs have been created to help businesses recover. Bridge loans totaling $40 million have been distributed to 739 businesses through the state and a third phase of $55 million in grants will be announced soon.
The Louisiana Recovery Authority has put together $300 million in loan programs for businesses. They include Disaster Bridge Loans, the Small Firm Loan & Grant Program, the Long Term Recovery Loan Program, and the Tourism and Marketing Program. Two additional programs – the Recovery Workforce Training Program and the High Education Research Commercialization and Educational Enhancement Program – should be approved soon. The federal government is offering loans through the Small Business Administration. Many entrepreneurs who have sought SBA loans say the process requires volumes of paperwork and hours of work. There is also a requirement that applicants pledge their personal homes as collateral. The SBA has approved $6 billion in loans for Louisiana businesses but only $1.26 billion has been given to businesses as of Aug 18. A support network for small businesses, Second Wind, has been formed by Laura Drumm. Small businesses can only hang on and reinvent themselves only for so long. Helping small businesses rebuild must become a priority.
CITY’S FINANCIAL PICTURE IMPROVES
With stronger-than-anticipated tax collections and the expected approval of a second $120 million federal community disaster loan, the city’s financial picture is far less dire than previously anticipated. The City also expects to receive $52 million in special loans under the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act. Moody’s Investors Service recently assigned a “stable outlook” rating of the city’s tax-backed debt.
FEDERALLY AUTHORIZED CORPS UPGRADES MOVING SLOWLY
Crucial improvements needed to upgrade the area’s levee, floodwall and drainage system closer to federal requirements are barely passed the planning stages. The Corps has already spent $352 million dollars to repair levees and floodwalls but has made little progress of determining the increased level of protection Congress has asked the Corp to provide to protect New Orleans against the effects of a “100-year hurricane” by 2010. Last April, the Corps committed to the 100-year standard as part of an agreement with FEMA which allowed the National Flood Insurance Program to issue more lenient recommendations for rebuilding homes and businesses within levees. Without that agreement, property owners in certain neighborhoods who have had to raise their homes seven to ten feet above ground level, which would have been burdensome for many homeowners, especially the elderly and the infirm.
Ivor van Heerden, deputy director of LSU’s Hurricane Center, says that the west and east banks of New Orleans currently have only Category 2 hurricane protection and that larger storms would overtop the levees with flooding from the overtopping. Because they are not armored yet, a Category 3 storm could “chew up” the MR-GO levees all over again. The government plans to place rock or other material on the interior side of the levees to prevent them from washing away. Another concern is that levees that did not fail during Katrina and thus have not been upgraded may not be able to withstand a hurricane of similar strength again. For New Orleans to move to the next step in hurricane protection, the Corps must develop better protection from a catastrophic storm which could include higher levees and gates which would block storm surge from entering Lake Pontchartrain, wetlands restoration, and rebuilding barrier islands and interior ridges.
Corps proposed improvements already committed for New Orleans by 2010 include: construction of inverted T walls -already underway at the 17th St. Canal breach- and completion of temporary gates and pumps with a goal of 7,300 cubic feet per second capacity by the beginning of the 2007 hurricane season and replacement with a permanent pump station by the end of fiscal year 2010; completion of temporary gate and pumps at the Orleans Avenue Canal Gate which will be replaced with a permanent pump station by 2010; completion of a temporary gate and pumps at the London Avenue Canal Gate with gates to be replaced with a permanent pump station by 2010; levee walls to be raised to authorized height by September 2007 at the Industrial Canal with Seabrook gate at lake entrance to be built by 2010; levees to be raised to authorized height by Step 2997 at the Lake Pontchartrain levee with 2 to 8 feet increased levee heights expected to meet 100-year flood requirements by 2010; levees to be raised to authorized height by September 2007 on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway with levee heights expected to be increased 2 feet to 8 feet to meet 100-year flood requirements by 2010; design work to begin on one or more structures to stop surges from entering the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway from Lake Borne, possibly including both gates and new levee; and some levees to be raised to meet the 100-year standard by 2010 on the MR-GO.
RESIDENTS ARE REBUILDING ON THEIR OWN
Residents in scores of neighborhoods all across the City are actively involved in the rebuilding process even though some of their neighbors’ homes remain untouched.
The City of New Orleans has issued 56,339 electrical or work permits. City officials estimate that 50 percent of homeowners are repairing flood-damaged property. There are currently 215,091 residences in New Orleans.
LOWER NINTH WARD MEMORIAL PARK DEDICATED
The new Lower Ninth Ward Memorial Park was dedicated by Councilmember Cynthia Willard Lewis and others to the memory of all those who perished in the area on Sunday, August 27. The Memorial Park, located on the neutral ground at Claiborne Avenue and Tennessee St, consists of a large granite memorial donated by the MR-GO Litigation Group, benches and landscaping provided by Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse, two forty-foot high American and New Orleans flags that frame the site, and the outline of a Lower Ninth Ward home where no one is home. The home was designed by Kevin Benjamin of Stull and Lee architects from Boston. Stull and Lee are coordinating the Council’s neighborhood recovery plans for the Lower Ninth Ward and Holy Cross. Walton Construction donated all construction services for the site.
Governor Kathleen Blanco, Mayor Ray Nagin, Council President Oliver Thomas, Councilmember Cynthia Hedge Morrell, State Senator Ann Duplessis, State Senator Diana Bajoie, State Senator Ed Murray, State Rep. Charmaine Marchand, State Rep. Karen Carter and other elected officials were on hand for the ceremonies. The flags were raised with the help of neighborhood leaders and the Lowe’s Team. Citizens laid roses at the base of the monument. Many were holding photographs of their deceased loved ones. “The residents of the Lower Ninth Ward who perished must be remembered,” said Councilmember Willard-Lewis. “I appreciate the vision of the Lower Ninth Ward Neighborhood Council and the hard work of Walton Construction to make this event a reality.”
On Monday, August 28 Councilmember Willard Lewis held a Candlelight Vigil in eastern New Orleans on the levee in the 9600 block of Hayne Blvd. A candle was lit to honor each of the 1600 New Orleanians who died.
HOMEOWNERS HAVE UNTIL SEPT 2007 TO SUE INSURANCE CARRIERS
The Louisiana Supreme Court issued an opinion that will give Louisiana homeowners an additional twelve months to file suit against their insurance companies for damage from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Supreme Court ruled that two law enacted by the Louisiana Legislature that extended the time period to file claims were constitutional. The ruling means that homeowners, renters, condo owners, drivers with auto insurance and others with non-federal flood insurance policies have until Sept 1, 2007 to get their suits filed.
REGION’S RECOVERY MOVING SLOWLY
The metropolitan area is making slow progress toward recovery. Some schools and businesses are reopening; thousands of residents have applied for the Road Home program; thousands of building permits have been issued; and hundreds of traffic signals have been repaired. On the other hand, affordable housing is difficult to find, the city’s medical system is barely operational and many businesses are relocating outside Orleans Parish. The metro area’s population prior to the storm was 1.29 million and is currently 1.065 million, down 18 percent. Ninety-nine percent of the levee system has been restored to pre-Katrina levels but only 33 percent of the system meets the originally authorized height. None of the system has been improved to the 100-year food protection or to the “catastrophic” storm protection mark.
The region’s workforce has dropped 30 percent to 444,153 workers. Metro area unemployment is down to 4.2 percent. Less than 50 percent of the restaurants and food outlets operating before the storm have reopened. Residential real estate sales are up 24 percent since Katrina struck. Cargo tonnage at the Port of New Orleans has increased 42 percent. Passenger volume at Louis Armstrong International Airport is down 19 percent from before Katrina.
The population in Orleans Parish is down 46 percent. Only 70 percent of metro area hotels and motels are open with available rooms down 25 percent. Fewer general acute care hospitals are opening and available hospital beds are down more than 50 percent. More than 70,000 New Orleans families requested FEMA trailers and 61,458 trailers are currently occupied. Only 101,000 New Orleans households are receiving electric services, down 52 percent. With only 56 of 117 schools open, 22,000 students are attending public schools in Orleans Parish, down 66 percent. Catholic school student enrollment has also dropped 18 percent. College enrollment is also still down as many out-of-state parents worry about post-storm conditions.
On a brighter note, sales tax income is on the rebound, topping $10 million in monthly collections, or 75 percent of pre-storm levels. The New Orleans Public Library has been able to bring back more than one-third of its employees.
CITY COUNCIL APPROVES ELEVATION GUIDELINES
The New Orleans City Council approved FEMA’s new advisory base flood elevation guidelines and in doing so will force most homeowners who want to substantially renovate or construct new houses in New Orleans after Sept 15 to build at least three feet above group or much higher in some places. Exceptions were made for properties in the French Quarter and other national historic districts and those listed with the Historic District Landmarks Commission. The Council’s action strengthened New Orleans claim to $58 million in federal dollars to assist homeowners in rebuilding through the state’s Road Home Program.
CITY COUNCIL APPROVES RAISES FOR ALL FIREMEN & EMS
The City Council voted to give raises to all city firefighters and emergency medical services workers. The city’s Civil Service Commission must approve the raises before they can take effect. Mayor Nagin recently approved a 10 percent raise to all police officers and a larger raise to fire recruits, but no increase to veteran firefighters. Nagin explained that raises for recruits were necessary to help with recruitment and retention.
RESIDENTS SHOULD GUT HOMES NOW!
Homeowners will have more time to clean, gut and board up their flood-damaged homes under a new ordinance that gives citizens additional time to take care of their property. The new ordinance outlines the procedure in greater detail that will be followed in enforcing the deadline and ensuring the legal protections for homeowners.
The procedure calls for the City to begin the inspection process and mail notices to owners if their buildings are in violation of various provisions of the City’s rules. The notice will give the owner 30 days to bring the property into full compliance by undertaking mold remediation, cleaning, gutting, properly securing the premises and removing all public nuisances and/or blight violations. A second inspection will take place after 30 days. If the home is still in violation, a second notice will be mailed and posted on the property which will inform the owner of a hearing date and place. If the owner fails to make the required improvements prior to the hearing, the city can complete the work and place a lien on the property. Owners may request hardship exemptions if they can prove they have made arrangements for demolition or remediation or if they are waiting for assistance from a non-profit organization. Nineteen community groups and agencies are offering free or low-cost gutting services to those who qualify. Some groups have a waiting list.
IRS EXTENDS FILING DEADLINE
The Internal Revenue Service has set a new deadline – October 16, 2006 for businesses to file their 2004 and 2005 tax returns. The Louisiana Dept. of Revenue is considering extending their deadline as well. Many taxpayers lost the paperwork they would need to file returns in the storm.
COMMERCE SECRETARY TOUTS PACE OF RECOVERY
US Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutirrez and Donald Powell, President Bush’s Gulf Coast Recovery czar, told an audience of 100 business leaders that independent businesses can improve the rebuilding effort by taking advantage of tax credits, bonds and numerous other rebuilding incentives. Powell said that rebuilding education and health care were among the most important aspects of New Orleans’ recovery.
COUNCIL HOLDS BUSINESS ROUNDTABLE
Under the direction of Councilmember Stacy Head, the City Council and Mayor Ray Nagin held a Business Roundtable at Gallier Hall. The event included a presentation by demographer Greg Rigamer on New Orleans’ progress since Katrina. Councilmembers also spoke about progress made in their districts. The program was underwritten by Capital One, Home Depot and Chaffe McCall.
RTA LAYS OFF 146 WORKERS
The Regional Transit Authority laid off almost 150 workers – mostly bus and streetcar drivers – in an effort to bring spending in line with a significantly smaller post-Katrina ridership, which has in turn reduced collections at the fare box. Current ridership is about 20,000 on weekdays and less than 10,000 on weekends. Pre-Katrina totals were 125,000 on weekdays and 35,000 on weekends. The RTA operates 28 bus routes, two streetcar lines and its paratransit service for disabled riders. Prior to the storm, the agency operated 46 bus routes and a third streetcar route. As population returns, RTA will consider adding service if routes prove profitable. The RTA employed 1,357 people before the storm.
KATRINA KREWE DISBANDS
The non-profit organization, the Katrina Krewe, which organized thousands of volunteers to clean up countless miles of roadways throughout the city since the storm, is ceasing operations, according to founder Becky Zaheri. Zaheri created the Katrina Krewe last fall after she returned to the City as a way for her and her friends to clean up a few neighborhoods. In short time, she was organizing 800 volunteers in a single day for massive clean-ups. She hopes that citizens now will take it upon themselves to keep their neighborhoods clean.
FRENCH MARKET TO UNDERGO $5 MILLION FACELIFT
New Orleans renowned open-air market will undergo a $5 million facelift that will include new tenant spaces; renovated and modernized sheds for both the Farmers Market and Flea Market; roof and gutter replacement; newly installed metal awnings and canvas drops; and new public restrooms in both markets. The market has nearly 200 tenants who sell food, clothing, specialty items and art. The market currently operates from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Thursday to Monday.
NEW ORLEANS COST OF LIVING INCREASES
The cost of living in New Orleans has increased and is likely to stay elevated for some time. Rents in the metro area have risen approximately 39 percent. The sale price of area non-flooded homes has risen 26 percent. Homeowners insurance is up a minimum of 12 percent. The cost of electricity has risen 20 percent. The price of gasoline has increased 17 percent. The prices of many grocery items has also increased more in New Orleans than in other cities including a 20 percent increase on the price of hot dogs and a 24 percent increase on toilet paper.
While everyone is facing higher costs, not everyone is earning more money since the storm. Service sector jobs are paying as much as 30 percent more. Labor rates have also jumped for construction workers. The city’s largely rental-based housing stock reflected the fact that New Orleans was a low-wage, service economy before Katrina. A new type of economy will have to emerge producing higher-paying jobs in order for people to be able to afford the more expensive housing. “The model we had before doesn’t work,” said Council President Oliver Thomas. “If we’re not going to strategically tackle work force development, we’re going to be in a worse situation than we were before the storm.”
UTILITY BILLS TO INCREASE
Residents of Orleans Parish will likely face increased electric and gas bills even if Entegy Corp receives federal aid for the storm damage the company suffered. Bills increases could range from 17 cents to $100.29 per month. Entergy is one of four of the state’s utilities which have requested part of a $1 billion federal allocation for infrastructure needs. By law any storm costs can be passed on to the state’s ratepayers. Almost 75,000 households are receiving services from Entergy. The LRA’s Infrastructure Committee will meet Sept 6 to determine how to distribute the remaining Community Development Block Grant funds.
DOWNTOWN CONDO PROJECTS ADVANCE
Developer Tom Bauer has received the support of the City Planning Commission to build the area’s largest high-rise condo development near the French Quarter. The project will include 900 condos featuring two or three towers as tall as 30 stories and 361 feet each. Also included would be 2,500 parking spaces, 240 square feet of commercial space for businesses and a 100,000 square-foot museum or theater. The City Council approved creating a tax-increment financing district, or TIF, for the proposed $136 million Crescent City Towers condominium project which will be located in the former Plaza Tower building on Howard Avenue. The TIF will divert about half of the building’s post-conversion property tax revenue to cover the cost of ridding the 1960’s structure of asbestos, lead-based paint, PCBs and mold.
NEW HEALTH CARE SYSTEM RECOMMENDED
Michael Leavitt, U.S. Human Services Secretary, said that New Orleans needs a brand new top-to-bottom health care system. The city’s health care network including hospitals, clinics, and personnel, was torn apart during the hurricanes. The new system is being designed by a task force of city, state and private health experts. They have until October 20 to submit their plans to Leavitt. The new system will be based on prevention and will include a network of primary-care clinics throughout the city where most problems can be diagnosed and treated before they escalate and need more expensive in-patient medical treatment.
LEVEES.ORG SAYS CORPS OF ENGINEERS FARED POORLY
The grass roots organization Levees.Org recently praised retiring Lt. Gen. Carl Strock for admitting the corps’ central role in the flooding of New Orleans. “In the last 12 months, the corps has created a stronger system than they created in the prior 40 years, says the report. “However, the process is still non-transparent.” Levees.Org founder Sandy Rosenthal said she cannot verify that the corps is involving independent experts in overall system design nor is she sure that the corps has robust, concurrent peer review of design specifications.
ENTERGY BILLS SKYROCKET
Entergy customers are already paying nearly one third more for the electric power than they were paying last year and Entergy’s proposed rate increase could raise the rate an additional 20 percent. Because of an upcoming change in the way the city will pay for its share of Grand Gulf 1, Entergy New Orleans customers won’t be getting any rate relief for at least four months. Entergy estimates that there are approximately 52 percent fewer electrical customers than before the storm and further suggests a current population of 219,390.
ROAD HOME PROGRAMS OPENS NEW ORLEANS OFFICE
Governor Kathleen Blanco has opened a New Orleans office for the Road Home Program at 1555 Poydras St. Other centers operate in Kenner, Slidell, Belle Chasse, Chalmette, Houma, Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, Earth and Grand Lake.
LAFITTE NEIGHBORHOOD TO BE REDEVELOPED
The Lafitte Housing Development and surrounding Treme neighborhoods will be redeveloped in a partnership with the Housing Authority of New Orleans, Providence Community Housing and the Enterprise Community Partners. Providence is the development arm of the Archdiocese of New Orleans and Enterprise is a social investment corporation.
Working with residents’ input, plans call for a neighborhood plan to be crafted that includes a mix of public housing, rental units and homes for sale along with libraries and community centers. Several months ago federal housing officials vowed to reopen 1,000 public housing units by the end of summer and to demolish four storm-damaged public housing complexes within three years. So far 800 units have been reopened. HANO also announced that they have committed $500,000 to the city’s resident-driven neighborhood rebuilding plan and that work will begin again next month in the Desire neighborhood. HANO is also working with the city to install modular housing on scattered sites throughout the city to encourage residents to return home sooner.
DDD POLICE DETAILS BEGIN AGAIN
Police details funded by the Downtown Development District have begun again on the streets of the Central Business District. Since the DDD was formed in the mid 1970’s, one of the agency’s primary missions has been to increase police protection from Claiborne Avenue to the Mississippi River, and from Iberville Street to the Pontchartrain Expressway. The detail currently includes 4 officers per day. The DDD’s goal is to make the new detail program more flexible, focused and accountable than the old unit. The DDD also operates a public safety rangers program to be “a visible sign of safety.”
RESIDENTS NEED PERSONAL EVACUATION PLAN
Although Ernesto spared the New Orleans area, we have now entered the traditional period that is usually the most active part of the hurricane season. With memories still fresh of the tremendous suffering of people who rode out Katrina, officials say that all residents should have a personal evacuation plan. Residents with vehicles should become familiar with the contraflow routes and the evacuation timetable - 30 hours before the storm kicks in for Orleans Parish residents. Citizens without the personal resources to leave New Orleans should have determined which government program they will turn to for assistance. Citizens – especially the elderly or those with medical needs – who will be depending on state-sponsored buses to evacuate should register with their city or parish governments.
Residents who will be relying on public transportation should head to three main gathering centers no later than 50 hours before tropical storm-force winds of a Category 3 storm, or any stronger hurricane are predicted to reach Louisiana’s coast. As many as 5,000 of New Orleans’ most frail residents would be transported by bus from the Convention Center to the Union Passenger Terminal where they would board Amtrak trains to Baton Rouge and Hammond. From there, they would ride state-provided buses to shelters also designated by the state. Residents who plan on using the city-assisted evacuation program should identify themselves by calling the 311 telephone hotline. Residents can also request specialized transportation, possibly an ambulance or police car, to get them from their home to a neighborhood gathering site. Only about 700 residents have signed up to date.
The City will also open two processing centers for tourists in the Central Business District whenever a Category 3 or greater storm approaches. Visitors would need to show proof of an outbound airline ticket to get a ride on buses provided by the state which would take them to Louis Armstrong International Airport. The City expects that all hotels will close.
WOMEN ADVERSELY AFFECTED BY HURRICANES
According to a new labor market study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, economic opportunities for women living in New Orleans post-Katrina, especially African-American women, is negligible. Few single-mother families have been able to return because of the acute shortage of affordable housing. To bring women back, better job opportunities must exist along with child care and schools for children.
Research shows that even before the storm, women were living at the bottom and earned significantly less than men in the city with the same level of education and less than their counterparts nationwide. Since the storm, men are benefiting more from the rebuilding efforts. Women made up 56 percent of the workforce before the storm and now make up only 46 percent of workers. The metropolitan area’s number of single-mother families has dropped from 51,000 to 17,000. Food stamp utilization for single mothers has quadrupled. The study also pointed out that black women are not being employed in professional and managerial position in New Orleans. The highest-paying job categories for African-American women include pharmacist, college professor/educator and postal worker. Median earnings among the highest-paid jobs for men range from $38,700 to $130,000, compared with $30,000 to $63,000 for women.
MENTAL HEALTH PROGRAM FUNDED BY FEMA
Louisiana residents traumatized by the hurricane will soon be able to receive mental health counseling through a $34 million grant the Federal Emergency Management Agency will funnel through the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals for use by the “Louisiana Spirit” organization. The funds will pay for an existing hotline (800) 273-8255 where people can call for help. Louisiana Spirit has already served 802,000 residents through phone or face-to-face encounters or e-mails.
EPA GIVES NEW ORLEANS CLEAN BILL OF HEALTH
After completing a series of thorough studies, officials from the Environmental Protection Agency have determined that most of New Orleans and the surrounding communities are free from excessive contamination. Except for a handful of toxic hot spots around the Murphy Oil spill in St. Bernard Parish, the contamination found was no different than that of many cities across America. No decision has been made regarding the former Press Park public housing complex near the old Agriculture Street landfill. Several months ago the EPA said that a carcinogen had been found at levels almost 50 times the health screening level.
Lead contamination remains a problem in 14 neighborhoods across the city. Lead, a potent neurotoxin most likely to affect children, impairs learning and in heavy doses can lead to severe sickness or death. The EPA took more than 1,800 soil samples in the region and analyzed them for almost 200 different compounds.
FEMA CONTINUES TO AWARD CONTRACTS TO OUT-OF-STATE FIRMS
The Federal Emergency Management Agency recently awarded travel trailer contracts that were supposed to benefit small local firms to a joint venture with headquarters in California and Texas. FEMA has awarded $6 billion in hurricane-related contracts since August 29, 2005. Only 13 percent has been awarded to local firms.
LOWER NINTH WARD RESIDENTS STILL WAITING FOR WATER CERTIFICATION
Residents in some sections of the Lower Ninth Ward are working with the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board to get the water certified so that they can begin the rebuilding process. The affected area lies from North Derbigny Street to Florida Avenue between the Industrial Canal and the St. Bernard Parish line. It is the sole remaining section of New Orleans without potable water. Without water certification, FEMA will not provide trailers, citing safety hazards.
Compounding the problem is the continued lack of electricity and phone service in the area. The S&WB has already patched more than 17,000 leaks, the majority of which occurred when hurricane winds and the force of floodwaters tore tree roots and other subterranean infrastructure from the ground, ripping up drinking-water pipes in the process. The power of the storm was the most potent in Lower 9, tearing dozens of homes off their foundations and moving them down the street.
UNCF LAUNCHES NATIONAL DRIVE TO HELP SCHOOLS & STUDENTS
The United Negro College Fund has launched a national fundraising drive to help rebuild historically black colleges damaged by the hurricanes including Dillard University, Xavier University and Southern University at New Orleans. The drive is scheduled to last through March, 2007.
STATE TO PROVIDE 150,000 SHELTER BEDS
The State of Louisiana has agreed to provide 150,000 shelter beds for evacuees. Almost 100,000 spaces are already identified. The number of in-state shelters that will be operated is still to be determined. Federal and state officials have been working with local governments to help evacuate people who don’t have their own transportation, including lining up contracts with bus companies that could evacuate 88,000 people from New Orleans. Amtrak could carry about 15,000 residents and airplanes operating from New Orleans and Lake Charles could carry 45,000 evacuees. Hammond and Baton Rouge would be debarkation points.
CHEF MENTEUR LANDFILL CLOSES
If Waste Management wants to operate the now-closed Chef Menteur landfill, they must go through the normal planning process to get a permit. Mayor Nagin issued a cease-and-desist order following a ruling by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier. The landfill is now closed.
FEMA KEYS OPEN MORE THAN ONE TRAILER
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has determined that keys given to some trailer tenants might open up to 50 front doors. The agency may have to replace as many as 118,000 locks. FEMA officials say they have made changing the locks a priority.
CITY OFFICES MOVE TO AMOCO BUILDING
The offices of the Recorder of Mortgages, the Register of Conveyances and the Notarial Archives have relocated from the Morial Convention Center to the Amoco Bldg, 1340 Poydras Street. Office hours are 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. The three offices moved to the Morial Convention Center after flood waters damaged their facilities.
ARMY CORPS LAGGING BEHIND ON KEY PROJECTS
Because of the scale and complexity of decision-making, problem-solving and documentation involved with spending almost one billion dollars to raise sinking levees and complete hurricane and flood protection plans, the Army Corps of Engineers has failed to begin construction on any of the projects. “We are poised to do $6 billion worth of work in an environment no one has ever been in before, and we have a lot of good people working unbelievably hard to make it happen,” said Dan Hitchings, the corps’ civilian overseer of post-Katrina repairs and upgrades. The Corps’ goal is to complete all the projects within eleven months.
The Corps hopes to complete the following work by September 1, 2007: repair existing system damaged by Katrina (almost complete); raise sinking levees to design height; and accelerate completion of unfinished hurricane protection systems including New Orleans to Venice, West Bank and vicinity, Lake Pontchartrain and vicinity, and Larose to Golden Meadow. The Corps also is scheduled to accelerate completion of Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Controls Projects in Orleans and Jefferson parishes. The total budget for these projects is $2.6 billion.
Congress has also authorized another $3.66 billion for additional repairs which should be completed in 2010. They include permanent pump stations at outfall canals, navigable floodgates at the Inner Harbor Navigational Canal, selective armoring of levees and floodwalls, storm-proofing flood stations, jump-start eco-system restoration, floodwall replacement, a study of the MR-GO and a 100-year flood protection plan.
MARDI GRAS ENTREPRENEUR PLANS ALGIERS DEVELOPMENT
Float builder and entrepreneur Blaine Kern is proposing the redevelopment of a seven-block area along the riverfront between Brooklyn Avenue and the Mississippi River levee in Algiers to include large residential and commercial buildings, a hotel, and possibly a cruise ship terminal. Kern has teamed up with the J.S. Karlton Co., a Connecticut firm which is part-owner of the Place St. Charles office building. Kern already owns six of the seven blocks in the redevelopment site. Kern would like to build more than 300 apartments with 500 parking spaces and 13,000 square feet of retail space.
At least one Algiers community group, the Old Algiers Main Street Corp., is concerned about the height of buildings close to the Mississippi River Bridge. They are trying to revitalize Newton Street, which runs from the river to the Algiers Navy base, where it becomes Gen. Meyer Ave. The City Planning Commission will hear Kern’s proposal on August 22.
MAYOR NAGIN WILL SEEK CLOSURE OF LANDFILL
Mayor Ray Nagin stated that he will deliver a cease-and-desist order to Waste Management of Louisiana when its temporary zoning waiver expires on August 14. The zoning waiver has allowed Waste Management to operate a controversial construction and demolition landfill in New Orleans East. The order will bar the company from accepting additional waste.
OUT-OF-STATE FUGITIVES FLOCKING TO NEW ORLEANS
The availability of construction jobs, easy cash wages and a misconception that storm-battered New Orleans is an easy place to hide out, has encouraged droves of out-of-state fugitives to come to New Orleans. More than 200 fugitives have been arrested between January and June 2006, up from 377 total arrests in 2004. Court statistics show that fugitives are flooding the docket at more than twice the pre-Katrina rate.
Based on the estimates that the city’s population is about half of its pre-storm levels, the annualized rate of fugitive arrests stands at 216 per 100,000 people, compared to 81 in 2004. The city’s reputation as a hideout goes all the way back to the legendary pirate Jean Lafitte.
ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS RETHINKING FLOODING SOLUTIONS
Much of New Orleans East and St. Bernard Parish flooded during Hurricane Katrina because of the funnel effect created when the waters of Lake Borne, the Intracoastal Waterway and the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet met at the Orleans/St. Bernard Parish line. To prevent future storm surges from accessing the funnel, the Army Corps has been planning to build floodgates near the junction of the MR-GO and the Intracoastal Waterway, just across the Industrial Canal at Lake Pontchartrain. But St. Bernard Parish officials argued that while the gate would protect the core of the city, it would heavily damage the outlying residential areas.
The Army Corps is considering moving its “first line of defense” against future storms beyond the junction of the two channels. St. Bernard Parish officials say that creating a curved levee farther away from the junction would offer more protection to St. Bernard and eastern New Orleans. Opened in 1963, the MR-GO has caused the direct destruction of 27,000 acres of wetlands, according to corps reports. Saltwater from the Gulf travels up the channel and, by killing vegetation, erodes freshwater swamps and brackish marshes that once served as a natural storm buffer for St. Bernard. The loss of those wetlands, particularly along the Lake Borne shoreline, allowed water to converge at the funnel unchecked. Congress gave the Army Corps $350 million in June, 2006 to seal off the Industrial Canal and an additional $3.3 million to come up with a plan to “deauthorize” the MR-GO to deep-draft ships. The Army Corps report will cover a range of options from keeping the channel at its current depth to plugging it completely.
SEN. OBAMA ADDRESSES XAVIER UNIVERSITY GRADUATES
U.S. Senator Barack Obama told a graduating class of 500 seniors – the largest graduating class in the school’s history – that they should reach out to help those immersed in poverty, violence, illness or despair. “Katrina may be the most devastating test you face in your life,” said Obama. “Use your passion to commit yourself to something larger than yourself.
Obama also praised Xavier president Dr. Norman Francis as someone to emulate. Dr. Francis shined shoes to earn money to help his parents before becoming the first African-American accepted to Loyola University School of Law. Xavier University underwent $45 million in repairs since the hurricane and reopened five months after the storm.
BATON ROUGE RIVER CENTER TO HOUSE FUTURE STORM VICTIMS
Families currently residing in FEMA trailers and others will be directed to the Baton Rouge River Center for shelter if another storm strikes, according to Michael Chertoff, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary. Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden originally stated that the River Center was not suitable as a shelter, but will now follow the federal government’s request. More than 6,000 evacuees stayed in the River Center after Huricane Katrina. Currently 1,800 individuals and families are residing in FEMA trailers in the Baton Rouge area.
SUBURBAN STYLE RECOVERY PLAN UNVEILED FOR NEW ORLEANS EAST
More than 1,000 New Orleans East residents showed their support for a proposed neighborhood revitalization plan that will include an open-air, pedestrian friendly town center, bike paths, low density rental housing, landscape buffers, a family entertainment district, restrictions on dense apartment complexes, mixed use properties at major intersections, and a revitalized Lincoln Beach. Man-made islands will be established on the Lake Pontchartrain side of the levee to help protect against storm surges.
The plan, prepared by St. Martin Brown & Associates, is part of the City Council sponsored and funded recovery planning process which is underway in the 49 flooded neighborhoods. Plans from all the neighborhoods will be incorporated into a master recovery plan that will be presented to the City Planning Commission and then the City Council. The plan will then be used to access federal, state and private dollars available for hurricane-rebuilding projects.
The plan recommends three stages of projects: early steps include infrastructure improvements such as repairing levees, major streets and drainage, replacing street signs and opening school and health care facilities. Midterm steps include repairing sidewalks and curbs, demolishing blighted properties, and revitalizing retail businesses. Long-term plans call for creating an entertainment district and neighborhood parks, and improving the 7,000-acre New Orleans Regional Business Park. The planners are also recommending that a Main Street initiative be undertaken for Chef Menteur Highway. The Village de l’Est plan calls for the business corridors on Alcee Fortier Boulevard and along Chef Menteur by Alcee Fortier be redeveloped as an inviting, organized business district with pedestrian bridges and a 300-unit elderly housing complex.
PARENTS ABLE TO SELECT PUBLIC SCHOOLS FOR THEIR CHILDREN
In post-Katrina New Orleans, parents have the opportunity to select from a wide variety of public, charter and private schools. Schools have begun aggressive marketing campaigns to encourage enrollment which in turn helps pay for the school’s operating expenses. Seven public schools are already open in New Orleans and 49 more are scheduled to open by September. As many as 24,000 students are projected to attend a combination of charters, traditional district schools and other campuses operated by a state-run Recovery School District which took over most of the local schools last November. Nearly a dozen charter schools are open for the first time.
FINGERPRINTS AND PHOTOGRAHS TAKEN OF ROAD HOME APPLICANTS
Applicants who want to receive a grant from the Road Home program must be willing to submit to two anti-fraud measures -an electronic fingerprint and a photograph, according to the company hired by the state to counsel homeowners and calculate what kind of rebuilding or buyout grants residents should receive. State officials say the procedure is designed to ensure that money goes to deserving people.
CHILD VICTIMS OF KATRINA CAN RECOVER
Children whose lives and families were shattered by Hurricane Katrina can regain their equilibrium if they can settle into comfortable routines and surroundings, make and maintain connections with family members and friends and get professional help if they need it. LSU professor of pediatrics and psychiatry Dr. Joy Osofsky said there are several tips for identifying resilient children: they seek support when they need it, they have adaptable temperaments, they can read the environment, they set goals and reach them, and they have self-esteem. Maintaining a positive attitude and remaining hopeful are important tools in helping build resilience in children.
FAIR GROUNDS RAISES STAKES FOR 2006 SEASON
Purses for the 2006-07 racing season at the New Orleans Fair Grounds will exceed a record-breaking $7.7 million. A record 10 graded stakes races will be run. The $600,000 Louisiana Derby, the track’s showcase race, will be run on March 10.
FREE HOUSE GUTTING AVAILABLE THROUGH NON-PROFITS
Almost two dozen community organizations are providing free house-gutting assistance. A complete list of organizations is posted on the City’s website. Many of the organizations have waiting lists of one to six months. Although an Aug 29 deadline is in force for property owners to begin cleaning and gutting their homes, the city will not take any action against homeowners who have shown an intention to fix up their homes. The City Council also authorized hardship exemptions for much of the Lower 9th Ward. Mayor Nagin’s administration will begin enforcing the gutting ordinance and all applicable public nuisance ordinances in City Council Districts A & B and then move on to Districts C, D and E.
Among the non-profit organizations offering gutting services include Acorn, Catholic Charities, Common Ground, Hands On, Nazarene Disaster Response, Operation Blessing, Operation Nehemiah, Phoenix of New Orleans, Relief Spark, Samaritan’s Purse, the School of Urban Mission and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief/Operation Noah.
TOO FEW SHELTER BEDS AVAILABLE FOR HOMELESS
Hundreds of homeless men, women and children are sleeping in makeshift shelters, abandoned houses or in their cars because of the lack of shelter space or affordable housing for the working poor. Finding adequate child care services are also a problem for returning families. Many of the shelters that operated prior to the storm have not reopened. Other shelters such as the Ozaman Inn turn away 30 to 50 men each evening due to lack of space. UNITY, the lead agency for about 60 local groups which work on behalf of the homeless, recently started a Welcome Home program that includes putting more outreach workers on the streets, housing search and housing placement.
ARMY CORPS RAZING LAKEVIEW HOMES CLOSE TO BREACH
In an effort to improve levee protection to residents of Lakeview and surrounding neighborhoods, the Army Corps has begun demolishing homes along the 17th Street Canal. Homeowners will be compensated at post-Katrina prices. The corps will provide temporary relocation assistance for the property owners. All of the homes on the canal side of Bellaire Drive from 40th Street to Hay Place will be raised. The standing structures must be demolished primarily for safety issues.
NATIONAL SURVEY SAYS NEW ORLEANS NOT FORGOTTEN
Although the national and international media has turned their attention on many other stories during recent months, a new survey says that Americans have not forgotten those who are still struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and realize that the vast majority of the victims have not gotten the help they need.
The survey, released by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation says that most Americans still possess al deep reservoir of empathy and a willingness to help. The telephone survey reached 1,217 adults across the national. Twenty percent said they still think about the disaster ‘very often” with another forty percent said the disaster was on their minds “somewhat often.” More than half of the respondents felt that major work still must be done to get New Orleans running again, and that the federal government has not done enough to help state and local government.
NEW ORLEANS CITY COUNCIL ADDS HURRICANE KATRINA MEMORIAL PHOTO COLLECTION TO ACTIVITES WHICH WILL COMMEMORATE AUGUST 29TH OBSERVANCE
The New Orleans City Council today announced that they are asking families of the victims who perished during Hurricane Katrina to submit a small photo of the deceased that would be displayed during the commemoration period and be permanently housed at the New Orleans Public Library.
In Loving Memory: The Hurricane Katrina Memorial Photo Collection is just one of a series of activities the City Council will present for the community to observe August 29th. “Our citizens are still mourning the loss of family, friends, and home,” said the Council President Oliver Thomas. “These activities are designed to assist the community in remembering this day with proper perspective.” The Photo Collection is being produced in cooperation with WWL Radio, the New Orleans Post Office and the New Orleans Public Library.
The Council’s other activities will begin on Friday, August 25, with a morning briefing at Gallier Hall “New Orleans One Year Forward: The City Council’s View.” Chaired by Councilmember Stacy Head, this event will include a presentation by New Orleans demographer Greg Rigamer highlighting the progress New Orleans has made during the last year. Representatives of various industry segments including the port, oil and gas, banking, real estate, tourism, and preservation will respond. The Council’s five district council members will report the progress in their neighborhoods. “New Orleans is moving forward,” said Councilmember Head. We must show the world that progress being made,” she concluded. The event is co-sponsored by the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce and underwritten by Capital One. It begins at 8:30 a.m.
On Saturday, August 26, from 2 p.m. – 5 p.m., the City Council is inviting the youth of New Orleans to participate in “the Children’s Village of Healing – Nuturing What Eyes Have Seen and Ears Have Heard” at Duncan Plaza, across from City Hall. Children will express their feelings through arts – painting, poetry, dance and creative writing. Artist Dixie Moore will lead the children through a Katrina mural project. Author Laverne Dunn will lead a creative writing workshop. Many community organizations that serve children will be providing informational materials and children’s activities. They include Children’s Hospital, Agenda for Children, the Parenting Center, the Children’s Museum, Total Community Action, Healthy Start, the Umoja Committee, the New Orleans Public Schools Homeless Education Program, the Children’s Defense Fund, the state Department of Social Services Office of Family Support, O. Perry Walker, the Ashe Cultural Center and the Greater New Orleans Chapter of the Louisiana Association for the Education of Young Children. The afternoon’s activities are being coordinated with the city’s public, private, charter and parochial schools. “Art is an excellent way for our children to express their feelings as part of the healing process,” said Councilmember Cynthia Hedge Morrell, a former school principal. The Patrick F. Taylor Foundation is underwriting this event.
The City Council will also sponsor an essay competition, “My Katrina Hero” for middle school and high school students. First, second and third place winners will receive savings bonds donated by BellSouth. “Our children must have hope that there is a brighter future ahead for us all,” said Council Vice President Arnie Fielkow, chair of the essay competition. The National Council of Jewish Women is assisting with the judging of the essays.
Also on Saturday, August 26, at 8:30 p.m. at Algiers Point, Councilman James Carter will sponsor “A Candlelight Ceremony for Katrina Victims” at which a candle will be lit for each person who died. “In moving forward, we must remember all those who perished with respect and solemnity,” said Councilmember Carter. “Their passing shall not have been in vain,” he continued. Several hundred AmeriCorps volunteers from neighboring states are assisting on this project. Wal-Mart is among the underwriters for this project. On Sunday, August 27, at 1 p.m., Councilmember Cynthia Willard Lewis and the Lower Ninth Ward Neighborhood Council will present “A Memorial Tribute to the Victims of Hurricane Katrina.” Members of the LNWNC will hold a memorial dedication at Claiborne Avenue and Tennessee Street. “The citizens of the Lower Ninth Ward need a landmark visible to the entire community,” said Councilmember Cynthia Willard Lewis. On this Sunday we will grieve together and allow the healing to begin,” she concluded. Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse and the MR-GO Litigation Group are among the underwriters of this memorial.
On Tuesday, August 29, at 9:38 a.m. each Councilmember will lay a wreath in one the most devastated neighborhoods in his or her district. At 10:30 a.m. the City Council will dedicate a granite monument, “A Place of Remembrance,” at the Mississippi River Heritage Park in the 1100 block of Convention Center Boulevard. ECC, an international company working in New Orleans for the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, has underwritten the monument. Council President Oliver Thomas chairs this event. “We must never forget the tremendous loss of life and continued suffering of our families,” said Council President Oliver Thomas. “We urge all New Orleanians to reflect with us on this very solemn day,” said Councilmember Shelley Midura.
TOLL ENFORCEMENT UPGRADED
The Crescent City Connection has recently upgraded their toll-collection system to keep a closer watch on non-paying customers. The agency will begin issuing an escalating scale of fees against truant motorists and even prevent renewal of their driver’s license and registration. The new initiative will affect cash-paying customers who do not pay the toll as well as toll-tag users who do not have adequate funds in their account.
ALGIERS CHARTER SCHOOLS DRAW LARGE CROWDS
More than 3,000 students arrived in Algiers Charter Schools’ classrooms for the start of the 2006 fall school year. Almost 75 percent of the students who registered during the summer for the Algiers schools, attended the first day. Additional students are still expected to show up for classes. The early start of the school year will allow more time for students to prepare for the standardized testing in March, 2007.
AUDUBON INSTITUE RESTORING TREES AND GROUNDS
The Audubon Institute has hired Davey Resource Group, based in Kent, Ohio, to help them restore the grounds and trees at Audubon Park. The hurricanes destroyed nearly 900 trees including oak, cypress, magnolia, and palm. A team of urban foresters will examine each tree to determine the extent of damage. Audubon Park had 5,000 trees before the storm. Hurricane Katrina destroyed more than 20 percent of them.
RE-OPENING OF CHEF MENTEUR PASS BRIDGE DELAYED
The re-opening of the Chef Menteur Pass Bridge which has been closed since the hurricane, has been delayed due to electrical problems. A voltage surge damaged the bridge’s motor, underwater cables and controls.
JUVENILE ARRESTS DOWN
The number of juvenile arrests made during the first six months of 2006 fell 96 percent from last year. Between January and June, 2006, 169 juveniles were arrested in contrast to 5,000 juvenile arrests the previous year. Chief Juvenile Court Judge David Bell says much of the downturn can be attributed to the implementation of best practices learned from other cities with similar juvenile crime problems. The court’s goal is to provide a support system for youth by keeping the children with their families and in school, rather than placing them in detention. Juvenile Court currently has 1,800 open cases, 1,600 dating from before the hurricane.
AREA SCHOOLS OFFER PARENTS MANY OPPORTUNITIES
Dozens of schools set up booths at the New Orleans Arena recently to promote themselves to more than 100 parents seeking schools for their children for the fall semester. Officials estimate that approximately 50 percent of the 2005 student enrollment will return to New Orleans schools this fall. Almost 27,000 students are expected to enroll in 56 public schools, compared with about 60,000 students in 128 schools before the storm.
Three groups of public schools are available: those managed by the Orleans Parish School Board, state-run schools operated by the new Recovery school district and new charter schools operated by independent groups. Some schools begin opening this week. Other will not open until early September.
CHOOSE CONTRACTORS CAREFULLY TO AVOID PROBLEMS
Complaints against builders and home-improvement contractors have reached epidemic proportions as fraudulent, unscrupulous and unlicensed contractors prey on owners of damaged homes.
Since Katrina, the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors has issued 463 citations to contractors for shoddy work and failure to obtain the appropriate state license, up from 237 citations last year. Nearly $500,000 in fines has been levied this year, up from between $100,000 and $200,000 in the years preceding Katrina.
When choosing a contractor, the state’s licensing board recommends that citizens ask to see a builder’s home improvement registration or builder’s license and verify those documents by calling (800) 256-1392. Other recommendations include: get three bids from separate builders; get at least three locals references and look at work the contractor has performed on other projects; get a written contact including a payment schedule; give the builder no more than 10 percent down or $1000, whichever is less; and don’t let payments get ahead of completed work.
Finally, home owners should be skeptical about door-to-door solicitations, high-pressure tactics, and demands for cash – including offers to drive the consumer to the bank.
LOCAL MUSICIANS STRUGGLE TO RETURN HOME
Many New Orleans musicians are struggling to find their way home from cities they evacuated to after Katrina. And yet the New Orleans music scene continues to grow each week, especially during special events like the Jazz Festival and Satchmo Summer Fest.
Some New Orleans musicians including Aaron, Cyril and Charles Neville, Henry Butler, and James Singleton are residing outside Louisiana. Others such as Irma Thomas, Fats Domino, and Charmaine Neville have made temporary homes in surrounding parishes. Still others like Kermit Ruffins, Irvin Mayfield, Fredy Omar and Ellis Marsalis are living and working in New Orleans.
Allen Toussaint, whose Gentilly home and studio flooded during Katrina, recently finished a highly successful collaboration with famed British rocker Elvis Costello. The Rebirth Brass Band – with members currently living as far away as Atlanta, New York and Dallas – are beginning a Texas tour.
Some New Orleans clubs are dark because of the slow paced of renovations to damaged venues, a lack of available musicians and smaller audiences, especially this summer. Yet other clubs including the Maple Leaf, Snug Harbor and the new Ray’s Boom Boom Room are drawing steady crowds.
Many agencies and funds are providing services to musicians. They include the Tipitina’s Foundation Artist Relief Fund, the New Orleans Musician’s Clinic, the Katrina Piano Fund, the New Orleans Musicians Hurricane Relief Fund, the New Orleans Musician’s Relief Fund, Music Rising, Musicares and St. Anna’s Episcopal Church.
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT WILL HELP EXPAND HURRICANE SHELTERS
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has committed to provide almost 100,000 shelter beds for this hurricane season. Governor Blanco has said that Louisiana would need 150,000 shelter beds if a Category 4 or 5 hurricane struck.
The federal government will be working with the American Red Cross to find “innovative solutions” that could include staffing assistance from out of state. Still at issue is how many shelters will open across Louisiana.
RTA REINSTATES FARES
The Regional Transit Authority has begun collecting fares on buses and streetcars for the first time since the hurricanes. The basic fare is $1.25. Riders need exact change.
The federal government began funding transit operations shortly after the storms. Bringing back fares is part of a broader RTA strategy to downsize the public transit system to fit New Orleans’ smaller post-Katrina population.
The RTA board recently laid off more than 200 employees, which leaves a current workforce of 700 workers to operate 28 bus routes, two streetcar lines and door-to- door service for disabled riders.
Prior to the hurricane, the RTA had 1,357 employees and ran 46 bus routes and three streetcar lines. Monthly ridership pre-Katrina was 3.4 million. In June 2006, 674,000 citizens rode public transit.
The RTA will continue to offer 40-cent fares for senior citizens and customers with disabilities who choose to use buses or streetcars. Children younger than three ride free.
SANDRA WILSON NAMED REGISTRAR OF VOTERS
Sandra L. Wilson, a long-time educator and aide to Secretary of State Al Ater, has been named Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters, succeeding Louis Keller Sr., who recently retired. Wilson was sworn in on August 4.
Wilson has pledged to make the registrar’s office run professionally and in a non-partisan fashion. The City Council unanimously approved Wilson’s selection.
ELECTRIC WAIVER TO CONTINUE THROUGH DECEMBER
The City Council voted this week to continue an emergency procedure that waives the requirement for city inspections of electrical work at most residential buildings in New Orleans. The procedure suspends the rule that all electrical connections must be checked by a city inspector before Entergy can turn on the power.
REGISTRAR’S OFFICE SEEKS INNACTIVE ORLEANS PARISH VOTERS
The Registrar of Voters office recently ran an advertisement in the Times Picayune to reach voters with incomplete registration addresses. Some addresses may be incomplete because a voter has moved but not notified the registrar’s office or that his or her voter registration card is incomplete.
Voters whose names were listed in the advertisement have until October 9 to update their records in the Registrar’s office to be entitled to vote in the November 7th Primary Election or they must fill out an address confirmation card at the polls on Election Day to be allowed to vote on Tuesday, November 7, 2006. For more information please call the Orleans Registrar of Voters office at 504-658-8300, Monday through Friday, between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
ROAD HOME PROGRAM BEGINS PROCESSING APPLICANTS
The first group of more than 100,000 residents who have pre-registered for the Road Home program began the review process this week. It could take as long as five to seven months to handle every applicant. Counselors who work for ICF International, the company managing the process for the state, ask residents to provide substantial paperwork and help them decide which of the available options – repairing, rebuilding or selling their homes – is best for them. Each case is handled individually.
Grants of up to $150,000 will be available. The Road Home program will use three methods to determine the home’s pre-Katrina value, a key factor – along with insurance proceeds – in calculating the grant amount. Instead of averaging the three values, the award will be based on the result that is most generous to the homeowner.
Homeowners who have already repaired their homes cash be reimbursed for money spent beyond their insurance proceeds. If the total payout fell short of the home’s pre-Katrina value, homeowners who received SBA disaster loans to complete repairs are also eligible, with the grant being applied to the loan balance and reducing the homeowner’s loan debt.
To preregister, call 1(888)ROAD2LA or online at www.road2LA.org. An appointment will be set and homeowners will be told what documents to bring.
HOMEOWNERS PROPERTY RIGHTS MUST BE RESPECTED
With the August 29 deadline for New Orleans residents to gut and board up flooded homes rapidly approaching, several City Council members voiced their concerns that the City should respect homeowners’ property rights and give special consideration to poor, elderly and displaced residents who have been unable to get their Katrina-flooded homes cleaned, gutted and boarded. But those concerns must be balanced with the desire to remove blighted and hazardous buildings that threaten to retard recovery in whole neighborhoods.
City Attorney Penya Moses-Fields and other city officials presented an education and enforcement program, the Good Neighbor Plan to the Council. They said the City would not take any action against homeowners who have shown an intention to gut their homes, such as by signing a contract or getting on the waiting list for a free gutting service. Any agencies or groups willing to gut houses for free should call 504-658-4200 to be added to the city’s web site, www.cityofno.com. Some community groups who are already gutting homes have long waiting lists.
DEVELOPERS WITHDRAW PROPOSAL FOR FRENCH QUARTER HOTEL
New Orleans real estate developers Wayne and David Ducote withdrew their proposal to build a 101-room, $20 million “boutique” hotel after realizing that the City Council would not support their initiative. The Ducote’s project would have been the first hotel to be built in the French Quarter in more than 35 years. Preservationists across the City opposed the project.
CITY & LRA COMPROMISE ON ADVISORY BUILDING ELEVATIONS
The City of New Orleans and the Louisiana Recovery Authority have forged a compromise on the new advisory base flood elevations. The mayor’s office has requested that the Council approve an ordinance that would require all new structures and those being substantially rebuilt at least 3 feet off the ground. The proposed law will exclude buildings in 12 locally protected historic districts and the Vieux Carre.
FIREWORKS, MASQUERADE GALA & COMEDY HOUR REMOVED FROM CITY SPONSORED EVENTS FOR AUGUST 29 COMMEMORATION
Several special events that Mayor Nagin’s administration had announced would take place as part of the commemoration of August 29 have been eliminated from the day’s activities. They include a fireworks display, a masquerade gala, and a comedy show.
The City Council is still moving forward with their program of activities that begin Friday, August 25 and continue through Tuesday, August 29.
MAYOR’S OFFICE ANNOUNCES “GOOD NEIGHBOR PLAN”
Mayor Nagin’s administration announced “The Good Neighbor Plan” which aims to educate owners of blighted homes on their options and the assistance available to them. A task force of city officials and neighborhood, nonprofit and faith-based groups will post notices on buildings that appear to be in need of remediation, reminding owners of the approaching Aug 29 deadline.
Homeowners can gut, remediate and board up their buildings; renovate or rebuild; or demolish. If an owner does not take action, the building will be declared a public nuisance.
COUNCIL SUPPORTS RIVERFRONT REDEVELOPMENT FOR NON-MARITIME USES
The New Orleans City Council has approved a plan that will allow parts of the east bank riverfront between Jackson Avenue and the Industrial Canal to be redeveloped for non-maritime uses. The Council’s endorsement is part of a cooperative endeavor agreement between the city and the Port of New Orleans.
NON-PROFITS AND DEVELOPERS WILL REHAB 2,000 PROPERTIES
Mayor Nagin recently selected 22 non-profit organizations and for-profit developers to rehabilitate almost 2,000 dilapidated residential properties seized by the city for non-payment of taxes.
Owners are being sent letters saying they have 60 days to “redeem” the properties by paying all past-due taxes and liens before they are sold or handed over to the developers.
FLOODWATERS STILL IMPACTING GAS LINES
Floodwaters still remaining in the city’s gas lines are stopping gas from reaching customers in many parts of the city causing sporadic, but inconvenient outages.
The recent spate of outages may be a result of more people returning to the city and businesses using more gas, which in turn carries the remaining water through the lines. Entergy crews removed more than 4 million gallons of water from 800 miles of pipes, and continually siphoned water out of 3,000 spots in the city. Homeowners should call 1- (800) ENTERGY when they have an outage.
FREE LOWER 9TH WARD MEDICAL CLINIC TO OPEN
Two nurses who are long-time residents of the Lower 9th Ward - Pat Berryhill and Alice Craft-Kerney - are opening a free health clinic in Berryhill’s former home at 5228 St. Claude Avenue. Built and paid for by private donors and volunteer groups, the clinic includes five exam rooms and will be the neighborhood’s only medical service provider.
Many health care professionals like Berryhill and Craft-Kerney say that New Orleans is in the midst of a health care crisis. Low income residents are struggling to locate doctors. For the poor, preventive health care is almost impossible to find.
Common Ground worked with Berryhill and Craft-Kerney to complete the project. Donors included Home Depot and a Portland, Oregon group, Leaders Creating Change Through Contribution.
WASTE MANAGEMENT SUES OVER LANDFILL
Waste Management, which is contracted by the City of New Orleans to collect residential waste, and also has a permit to operate a controversial eastern New Orleans landfill, sued the state Department of Environmental Quality seeking to prevent DEQ from revoking its permit on August 14.
The landfill is adjacent to the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge and near the Village de l’Est neighborhood. Hundreds of neighbors, environmentalists and community activists have protested against the landfill. Councilmember Cynthia Willard-Lewis also opposes the landfill.
LACK OF CHILD-CARE SERVICES IMPEDE REBUILDING
Good quality daycare is critical to any successful economy, said UNO Chancellor Dr. Tim Ryan. The lack of child care centers operating since the hurricane could impede the city’s economic rebirth, according to a new study by Save the Children, an advocacy group.
The study recommends restoring neighborhood child-care centers, as well as neighborhood schools to simplify schedules and transportation for many of New Orleans’ already fragile families.
According to the study New Orleans still lacks any coordinated plan for returning child care to neighborhoods that need it most. The study says that 33 of 61 neighborhoods lost all their licensed day-care centers, while another 19 neighborhoods lost at least some day-care slots. The number of child care facilities currently open is down 80 percent from 2005. Today only 52 centers are open. Before the storm, 266 licensed centers operated offering 1,912 slots.
BENSON HOOPS RETURNING TO DRYADES YMCA
City Council President Oliver Thomas and Vice President Arnie Fielkow were on hand for the announcement of the return of Midnight Basketball to the Dryades YMCA in Central City. The program will be funded again by Saints owner Tom Benson who believes that part of rebuilding the city begins with taking guns from the hands of youths and replacing them with basketballs.
The program is offered free for teens and young adults, ages 17 to 21. Games will be held each Saturday beginning at 10 p.m.
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CONTRACTOR FAILS TO COMPLETE WORK AFTER RECEIVING PAYMENT
A Florida contractor, Biodefense America, hired by Kimberly Williamson Butler to clean up the evidence room of the city’s flooded criminal courthouse ran off with a $200,000 advance payment although they performed little of the work required under their $8 million contract. Biodefense America was not the lowest bidder for the work.
PROPOSED DOWNTOWN JAZZ PARK COULD BENEFIT HYATT HOTEL & CITY
If New Orleans proposed downtown Jazz Park follows in the footsteps of Chicago’s popular Millennium Park, the City and Hyatt Hotels would both be beneficiaries.
The 24 ½ acre Millennium Park in the heart of Chicago’s downtown has become an instant Chicago attraction since opening two years ago. It has drawn international attention for its acclaimed art work, bolstered economic development and a residential real estate explosion.
The $716 million New Orleans proposal, dubbed the Hyatt Jazz District, calls for a drastic overhaul of a 20-acre site in downtown New Orleans that includes the Duncan Plaza area, City Hall and the Civil District Court building.
An eighteen-month construction schedule is anticipated, once the developers break ground.
JUDGE WANTS TO RELEASE SOME INMATES STILL AWAITING TRIAL SINCE HURRICANE KATRINA
New Orleans Criminal Court Judge Arthur Hunter says he will begin releasing poor defendants awaiting trial on a case-by-case basis August 29, the one-year anniversary of the hurricane.
Judge Hunter says that New Orleans’ criminal justice system is in a state of emergency. Criminal District Court has a backlog of 6,000 cases and growing. The public defender’s office has lost almost all of its attorneys. Hundreds of indigent defendants remain jailed without court-appointed representation.
RTA RECEIVES $180,000 RESTITUTION PAYMENT FROM FORMER CONSULTANT
Former RTA consultant Glen Haydel made a first restitution payment of $180,000 on a debt of $540,000 he owes to the RTA. As part of an agreement with federal prosecutors, Haydel admitted stealing $540,000 from the RTA. Today’s payment was one of three installments Haydel will make to return the funds.
When Haydel entered his guilty plea May 24 in federal court, Judge Stanwood Duval agreed he would not prosecute Haydel on additional charges of wire fraud and money laundering.
COMMUNITY VISION TO STEER REDEVELOPMENT OF WALNUT SQUARE SITE
The 284-unit Walnut Square apartments in New Orleans East have been demolished and will be replaced by a use compatible with area residents. The national Housing Partnership Foundation owns the complex through its supporting organization, Walnut Affordable Housing Inc. Hurricane Katrina’s wind and flooding damaged the complex extensively, which led to the tear down.
The future use of the 12 acres will not be determined until a master plan for the entire area east of the Industrial Canal is completed.
ARMY CORPS CLAIMS THEY CANNOT BE HELD LIABLE FOR DAMAGE CAUSED BY FLOODING
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit that blames the agency for flooding that destroyed homes in eastern New Orleans, the Lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish.
The lawsuit charges that Corps’ negligence since 1958 in the construction, design, operation and maintenance of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet eroded wetlands, which has slowed storms down, and turned the ship channel into a superhighway that funneled Katrina’s powerful tidal surges toward them, breaking levees along the way.
FLOOD GATES CLOSURE WOULD CAUSE FLOODING
If tropical rains such as those caused by last year’s hurricane reoccurred, the closing of flood gates in the Lake Pontchartrain area would cause flooding in vast parts of New Orleans and East Jefferson. The Army Corps of Engineers issued a report that showed that flooding could reach from just a few inches to several feet.
Corps officials say that based on storms from the past 46 years, the gates who have been closed only three times.
NEW ORLEANS CITY COUNCIL ANNOUNCES EVENTS TO COMMEMORATE KATRINA ANNIVERSARY
The New Orleans City Council today announced a series of events they will present for the community to observe the August 29th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. “Our citizens are still mourning the loss of family, friends, and home,” said the Council President Oliver Thomas. “These events are designed to assist the community in remembering this day with proper perspective.”
The Council’s events will begin on Friday, August 25, with a morning briefing at Gallier Hall “New Orleans One Year Forward: The City Council’s View.” Chaired by Councilmember Stacy Head, this event will include a presentation by New Orleans demographer Greg Rigamer highlighting the progress New Orleans has made during the last year.
Representatives of various industry segments including the port, oil and gas, banking, real estate, tourism, and preservation will respond. The Council’s five district council members will report the progress in their neighborhoods. “New Orleans is moving forward,” said Councilmember Head. We must show the world that progress being made,” she concluded.
On Saturday, August 26, from 9 a.m. – 12 noon, the City Council is inviting the youth of New Orleans to participate in “The Art of Healing,” where young people will present their feelings through art – whether it be painting, poetry, dance or theatre. The activity is being coordinated with the city’s public, private, charter and parochial schools. “Art is an excellent way for our children to express their feelings as part of the healing process,” said Councilmember Cynthia Hedge Morrell, a former school principal.
The City Council will also sponsor an essay competition, “Finding Hope Beyond Katrina” for middle school and high school students. First, second and third place winners will receive savings bonds. “Our children must have hope that there is a brighter future ahead for us all,” said Council Vice President Arnie Fielkow, chair of the essay competition.
Also on Saturday, August 26, at 8:30 p.m. at Algiers Point, Councilman James Carter will sponsor “A Candlelight Ceremony for Katrina Victims” at which a candle will be lit for each person who died. “In moving forward, we must remember all those who perished with respect and solemnity,” said Councilmember Carter. “Their passing shall not have been in vain,” he continued.
On Sunday, August 27, at 1 p.m., Councilmember Cynthia Willard Lewis and the Lower Ninth Ward Neighborhood Council will present “A Memorial Tribute to the Victims of Hurricane Katrina.” Members of the LNWNC will hold a memorial dedication at Claiborne Avenue and Tennessee Street. “The citizens of the Lower Ninth Ward need a landmark visible to the entire community,” said Councilmember Cynthia Willard Lewis. On this Sunday we will grieve together and allow the healing to begin,” she concluded.
On Tuesday, August 29, at 9:38 a.m. each Councilmember will lay a wreath in one the most devastated neighborhoods in his or her district. At 10:30 a.m. the City Council will dedicate a granite monument, “A Place of Remembrance,” at the Mississippi River Heritage Park in the 1100 block of Convention Center Boulevard. ECC, an international company that has been working in New Orleans with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, has underwritten the monument.
“We must never forget the tremendous loss of life and continued suffering of our families,” said Council President Oliver Thomas. “We urge all New Orleanians to reflect with us on this very solemn day,” said Councilmember Shelley Midura.
All City Council sponsored events are free and open to the public. For more information call 658- 1000.
Mayor Nagin is working with New Orleans-born trumpeter Wynton Marsalis on three days of events beginning Sunday, Aug 27 with the Kazanjian Jewels for Charity silent auction from noon until midnight at Harrah’s Casino. Other Aug 27 events include a gospel concert at the Morial Convention Center from 3 p.m. – 5 p.m. and the Ambassadors of Swing talent search from 9 p.m. – 11 p.m. at Harrah’s Casino Theatre.
On Monday, Aug 28, the Kazanjian Jewels for Charity silent auction will continue from noon until midnight at Harrah’s Casino. Other events include “Cooking With Music,” an educational program for children featuring Emeril Lagasse and Wynton Marsalis; the Exclusive Food Experience art various New Orleans restaurants and a comedy night at Harrah’s Casino theater.
On Tuesday, Aug 29, activities begin with a prayer breakfast at 8:30 a.m. at Asia Baptist Church, 1400 Sere Street, followed by a ringing of the bells to signify the first levee breach at 9:38 a.m. at City Hall; an ecumenical prayer service at noon at the Morial Convention Center auditorium; the One New Orleans jazz funeral procession led by Lt. Gen Russel L. Honore and honoring first responders at 2 p.m. from the Convention Center to the Superdome; a pre-concert community event begins at 3:30 p.m. at the Louisiana Superdome and a televised concerned from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. at the New Orleans Arena. A masquerade gala begins at 8 p.m. at Harrah’s followed by fireworks at 9:30 p.m. The Kazanjian Jewels for Charity silent auction runs again from 12 Noon until Midnight.
COUNCIL TO ADHERE MORE CLOSELY TO RULES
At the July 20, 2006 meeting, the New Orleans City Council adopted a resolution (R-06-310) that expressed the Council’s collective desire to execute the operations of the Council, including the manner in which Council meetings are conducted, in a more efficient manner. The resolution stated that “One of the ways in which the conduct of Council meetings can be made more efficient is by adhering more strictly to existing Council rules.”
It continued, “Regulation 4 of the Council’s Rules and Regulations, relative to time limits for speakers, is one area in which more strict adherence would result in a more efficient and effective Council meeting.”
The Council concluded that “On any matter either before the full Council or committee thereof, no more than three persons on each side of the question shall be heard and each speaker shall be limited to five minutes; provided, however, the number of speakers and the time allotted may be extended by a majority vote of the Councilmembers present.”
The resolution was read in full, the roll was called and the adoption thereof and resulted as follows:
YEAS: Carter, Fielkow, Head, Midura, Thomas, Willard-Lewis
The resolution was adopted.
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COUNCILMEMBERS SEEK SOLUTIONS TO “HURRICANE CRIME”; STATE POLICE AND NATIONAL GUARD TO ASSIST
The New Orleans City Council led by Council President Oliver Thomas along with Mayor Ray Nagin asked for support and cooperation from federal and state law enforcement agencies and the citizens of New Orleans to fight what Councilmember Thomas called ‘Hurricane Crime.”
Governor Kathleen Blanco quickly responded by agreeing to deploy a detachment of at least one hundred Louisiana National Guard soldiers and sixty State Police Troopers. The State Police will be patrolling the French Quarter and other areas visited by tourists. The Louisiana National Guard will be patrolling the devastated neighborhoods where many New Orleans residents have yet to return. These additional law enforcement resources will free up the New Orleans police to concentrate on the repopulated neighborhoods.
“This is a unified effort involving government, the community, law enforcement and neighborhood groups,” said the Council. The request for additional law enforcement support was made because of a steadily rising increase in crime which culminated Saturday in the shocking murder of five teenagers in Central City.
Councilmembers are exploring various solutions to the crime problem which could include enhanced recruitment of police officers, additional overtime, a mandatory curfew for youth, enhanced recreational opportunities for young people and adults including nighttime basketball and other proactive and preventive activities, greater coordination by law enforcement agencies, resolving economic deprivation, implementing the weed and seed strategy, strengthening Crimestoppers, utilizing schools for daytime and evening learning, and working with our neighborhoods and the faith-based community to report criminals and criminal behavior more quickly.
“New Orleans is a great city. We deserve Category 5 protection for all our neighborhoods,” said the Council. The City Council will be coordinating a Crime Summit in early July to address how to combat “Hurricane Crime.”
More than fifty murders have occurred in New Orleans since January 1, 2006. About two-thirds have taken place since April 1. One of every four victims has died in Central City.
NEW MEDICAL COMPLEX PLANNED FOR TULANE AVENUE CORRIDOR
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs along with Louisiana State University have formed a partnership to build a $1.2 billion research and training facility that will also treat uninsured patients who were previously served at Charity Hospital.
The facilities - which would include buildings for inpatient and outpatient care as well as a parking garage - could take five years to complete. Linking the components will be a corridor that will house shared services such as housekeeping, dietary, radiology and laboratory service. The complex will be located on a thirty-seven acre tract bounded by South Claiborne Avenue, Tulane Avenue, South Galvez Street and Canal Street.
While about $625 million - the federal share of the project – has already been appropriated, the estimated $630 million in state funds needed to build a 350-bed teaching hospital for LSU have yet to be approved.
The future of the old Charity Hospital facility is still unknown. University Hospital is expected to reopen with as many as 200 beds by fall.
FREE HEALTH CARE CLINIC OPENS IN EAST NEW ORLEANS
Residents of New Orleans East are now served by a free health clinic, Operation Blessing, in partnership with the International Medical Alliance. The 12-by-16 mobile home clinic includes a collection of modular buildings with eight exam rooms, a pharmacy and a room for minor surgery. Other services include mental health counseling plus a dental center with three exam rooms and an X-ray room. The clinic's waiting room holds thirty patients.
Approximately seventy patients visit the clinic each day. More than 3,000 patients have been treated at the clinic since it opened in April. Most visits have been for chronic medical problems including high blood pressure, diabetes, glaucoma and asthma.
The clinic, located at 5500 Read Blvd., operates from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Operation Blessing, a faith-based organization in Virginia Beach, Va., has spent almost $1million to set-up and run the clinic.
MANY HOMEOWNERS STILL LACK BELLSOUTH TELEPHONE SERVICES
More than nine months after Hurricane Katrina struck, thousands of citizens in dozens of neighborhoods across New Orleans are still waiting for the return of traditional telephone service from BellSouth.
BellSouth claims to have restored service to 86.6 percent of Orleans Parish but still hasn't penetrated the hard-hit areas of eastern New Orleans, St. Bernard Parish and patches of Lakeview and Mid-City.
Many residents and business owners have had to make due by creating makeshift telecommunications systems with cell phones, voicemail and even satellite links. BellSouth is replacing all of the underground copper wiring with fiber optic cable and elevating equipment in places that flooded. The company also has to replace equipment that was ruined after weeks without electrical power. BellSouth estimates its restoration cost more than $700 million, not including lost revenue.
BellSouth also has launched a wireless broadband service for people in areas where land-line service isn't available. BellSouth residential customers can call 1-(888)757-6500 for status reports on repairs. Business customers can call 1-(866)620-6000.
LRA TO INVITE KEY COMMUNITY LEADERS TO WORKSHOPS
The Louisiana Recovery Authority will hold a series of planning workshops during July for almost 1000 residents viewed as influential in their communities. The workshops will seek ideas on how the region should change in the coming decades, starting with how the area should protect itself from storms.
The broad planning effort is designed to craft a vision for 2050 and identify myriad steps needed to make the vision a reality. Planners say that while many residents are more concerned with immediate rebuilding challenges, it is critical to look 20 years into the future or longer.
The regional workshops will delve into economic development, land-use and transportation issues, but only after participants choose one of the four coastal restoration and storm protection strategies, ranging from maintaining the status quo to allowing a major diversion of the Mississippi River waters to rebuild marsh sediment.
Information gleaned from the meetings will be used to craft a regional vision document which will be reviewed by the Louisiana Recovery Authority. The workshops will focus on how the economies of New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Houma and St. Tammany Parish depend on each other.
The New Orleans workshop will be held July 20. It will not be open to the public. Key stakeholders will be invited by the LRA Support Foundation, a group that provides financial backing for the planning.
NEW ORLEANS EAST RESIDENT RETURNING IN SELF-SUSTAINING AREAS
High-income residents are quickly returning to New Orleans East neighborhoods where property values are high and where homeowners exceed renters. Nine months after lingering flood waters and hurricane force winds wrecked the area, thousands of people and businesses are repopulating eastern New Orleans.
More than 4,5000 homes and businesses (13% of pre-Katrina levels) are receiving electrical service. Assuming an average of three people per residence, more than 13,000 people are estimated to be residing in New Orleans East. Businesses represent about 140 of the 4,5000 customers.
More than 22,000 building permits have been issued for residences and businesses in eastern New Orleans, said planner Joseph St. Martin.
HUD AGREES TO REOPEN 1,000 PUBLIC HOUSING UNITS BY EARLY FALL
Federal public housing officials have announced they will re-open 1,000 public housing units in New Orleans within the next 60 days. "We want people to come home," said Scott Keller, deputy chief of staff for HUD secretary Alphonso Jackson.
Keller also announced that HUD will demolish four complexes that were heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina - C.J. Pete in Central City; B.W. Cooper off Earhart Boulevard; Lafitte near Treme; and St. Bernard, on St. Bernard Avenue. "We want to redevelop these old, obsolete and just dangerous properties," Keller explained.
Prior to Hurricane Katrina there were approximately 7,000 public housing units in New Orleans of which 5,146 were occupied. Currently only 1,100 public housing units are open.
VOTERS TO DECIDE FATE OF SEVEN ASSESSORS ON NOV 7
On November 7, voters will have the opportunity to decide whether New Orleans should have seven assessors or one. The Louisiana Legislature passed a bill last week that called for the election.
The Legislature also approved a new law that would merge the court systems in New Orleans. The new law requires that Orleans Parish Civil and Criminal Courts, their two clerks of court and the Orleans Parish Civil and Criminal Sheriff would be merged. Other changes include abolishing the offices of recorder or mortgages, custodian of notarial archives and register of conveyances. These changes will go into effect in 2009 and 2010.
ALL AREA SCHOOLS TO OPEN BY EARLY SEPTEMBER
The State of Louisiana has pledged to have nearly sixty New Orleans schools open by August, including those run by the Orleans Parish School Board and by charter groups. After Hurricane Katrina, the state took over control of 107 struggling city schools. Currently twenty-five schools are open in Orleans Parish serving about 12,500 students.
The Algiers Charter Schools Association will begin fall classes on August 7, with winter break December 20-Jan1, LEAP/GEE testing in March, Spring Break in April and classes ending May 10, 2007. The New Orleans Public Schools will begin August 15 and end May 18, 2007. The state-run recovery school district will begin classes on September 7 and end classes on June 14, 2007.
RTA CONSULTANTS RECOMMEND COST-CUTTING PLAN; BOARD MEMBERS DISAGREE
RTA board members failed to approve recommendations from consultants about a cost-cutting plan that called for scaling back already-limited bus service and laying off hundreds of workers.
Consultants made their recommendations because a federal subsidy that has kept the city's patchwork system of buses and streetcars operating could end June 30. RTA has provided free rides since transit service began again in October. RTA will begin collecting $1.25 fares on July 1.
Board members were hesitant to reduce the number of bus routes from 28 to 24 as proposed by the consultants. They also did not want to support recommendations to slash the RTA workforce from 790 to 360. Before the hurricane about 1,340 people worked for the RTA. More than 500 did not return after the storm.
Revenue projections for the twelve months beginning July 1 are for only $31.2 million from sales and hotel taxes, $5.2 million from fares and $7.2 million in federal grant money.
NO CONSENSUS ON FRENCH QUARTER HOTEL PROJECT
The New Orleans City Planning Commission was unable to reach a decision on the future of a 101-room, $20 million "boutique hotel" proposed for the 100 block of Iberville Street by developers Wayne and David Ducote. If approved by the City Council, it would be the first officially authorized new hotel in the French Quarter since 1969 when the city banned new or expanded hotels there as a way to save old buildings and keep the Quarter from becoming entirely tourism-oriented.
The Planning Commission's vote was 3-2, one vote short of the number needed for an official position. The issue will go on to the City Council without a recommendation.
DEVELOPERS PLAN NEW HIGH-RISE APARTMENTS AND CONDOS
With the arrival of federal rebuilding dollars and a short supply of available housing, many downtown developers are proposing high-rise residential complexes, an efficient way to create a large number of units quickly.
Almost 2,200 new apartment and condo units have been proposed in nine different projects which will double the number of residential units available downtown. The vast majority of these projects were announced since the hurricanes. Some projects involve the conversion of existing office buildings into residential complexes or new construction on what are now parking lots.
GEN. MIZE & APOGEN TECHNOLOGIES TO LEAD FEDERAL CITY PROJECT
Maj. Gen. David Mize, chair of the Mayor's Military Advisory Committee, will coordinate the transformation of the Naval Support Activity's Algiers site into a federal campus for military and government agencies. Gen. Mize is a senior vice president with Apogen Technologies, which was recently hired by the Algiers Development District Board. Mize played a leading role in the city's efforts to overturn the Defense Department's recommendation last year to close the Naval Support Activity. The city and state will build the new federal city at no cost to the government.
INSURANCE COMMISSIONER PROTECTS PROPERTY OWNERS
Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon has amended a provision that freezes insurance coverage to pre-Katrina levels so that companies can adjust policies to better reflect hurricane-related changes to home values.
The change will make it possible for insurance companies to lower the value of policies on homes that were heavily damaged and devalued by Katrina. It will also help insurance companies avoid overpaying for any hurricane damage in the current storm season while giving owners of badly damaged homes a break on their premiums.
SOME NEW ORLEANS RESTAURANTS STRUGGLE TO REOPEN
Some New Orleans restaurants, an important sector within the city's tourism economy, are struggling to reopen because of persistent staff shortages and the need to repair storm -damaged properties. Many restaurants which have opened, especially high end establishments, have more customers than staff to serve them.
In January 2006, fewer than twenty-five percent of the retail food establishments that operated in Orleans Parish before Katrina had been certified to reopen by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.
Those restaurants that have been able to hire enough staff to reopen have benefited from a strong desire by local residents - many of whom are evacuees whose homes have inoperable kitchens - for a fine dining experience. Restaurants with a strong local following report business is better than ever.
During this traditionally slow summer season, many New Orleans restaurants are adjusting their menus and pricing, and utilizing unique marketing ideas to draw customers.
Area restaurants are patiently waiting for the return of tourism. Several large conventions are booked for this summer along with ten conventions in October and November which could draw in excess of 80,000 conventioneers. More than 125,000 conventioneers are expected to come to New Orleans for thirty-three conventions between January and May, 2007.
LRA RELEASES ACTION PLAN FOR BUSINESSES
The Louisiana Recovery Authority has unveiled a $170.5 million economic development action plan that will help business struggling after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The plan is focused on helping small business, including a $38 million loan and grant program and $9.5 million for technical assistance. There is also a $95 million loan program for companies with between two and fifty employees. These loans would be geared toward companies not eligible for bank or SBA loans.
The action plan would also provide $28 million for marketing Louisiana to tourists.
FLOOD GATES WILL CLOSE WHEN STORM SURGE REACHES FIVE FEET
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced they will close the flood gates at the 17th Street and London Avenue canals when a storm surge reaches five feet at any part. The Corps initially hoped that the "safe water elevation" level would be six or seven feet and still hope the level could be raised once soil analyses and hydrologic calculations are finished later this summer.
The lower the safe-water level - the maximum height engineers believe the deficient floodwalls can handle - the greater the chance that canals will have to be closed against surges generated by tropical systems in the Gulf of Mexico.
CITY COUNCIL VOTES TO SPEED UP REPAIRS TO DAMAGED CITY BUILDINGS
The New Orleans City Council agreed to transfer dollars from one city department's capital budget to another to fund much needed repairs to City Hall, the Municipal Auditorium, and Municipal and Traffic Courts. Repairs to these buildings have been stalled while the City has been waiting for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Deputy CAO Cynthia Sylvain Lear said that the City would like to use the municipal auditorium as an emergency shelter for people living in FEMA trailers when tropical storms approach the City. The auditorium would not be used as a shelter during a city-wide evacuation.
CONGRESS AUTHORIZES CORPS OF ENGINEERS TO STUDY MR-GO
Congress has given $3 million to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study whether the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet should be closed to ships. The study's decision is likely to pit commercial interests against the environment and public safety.
Longer than the Panama Canal, the 76- mile MR-GO was built in the 1960s as a shortcut between the heavily industrialized eastern New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists say the MR-GO has turned into a monster by eating at the freshwater marsh and swamp forests that once thrived southeast of New Orleans. As the channel widened, it became a conduit for storm surge and acquired the name "hurricane highway."
Residents of St. Bernard parish claim the MR-GO is the reason that the parish was wiped out by Katrina. Only four structures in the parish did not sustain damage. "The MR-GO has caused us more devastation than we care to think about," said Larry Ingargiola, St. Bernard Parish emergency preparedness director. "Closing it has been the No. 1 project on our agenda every year," he continued.
NEW ORLEANS PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT SCHOOLS BEGIN SELECTIVE ADMISSION PROGRAM
The four schools operating under the Orleans Parish School Board have begun accepting applications for a selective admission program that will begin with the 2006 fall semester. The OPSB currently operates Ben Franklin Elementary, McMain High School, McDonogh High School and Bethune Elementary.
The new standards will consider a wide variety of factors including student attendance and parental involvement.
The State of Louisiana will operate more than 30 recovery district schools during the fall semester. All will be open-access, and none will have any selective criteria.
Enrollment at many of the city's charter schools is already strong, even though the location of some schools is not yet firm. New charter schools which will also be opening this fall include the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School for Science & Technology; the International School for Louisiana, a Spanish and French emersion school; the Knowledge of Power Program which will run a school with a creative arts emphasis on the site of McDonogh 15, 721 St. Philip; The KIPP: Believe School; The Priestly School whose focus is construction and architecture careers; the Warren Easton Charter School; and the Lafayette Academy, operated by the grass-roots Choice Foundation working with Mosaica Education.
The Edward Hynes Charter School and the Moton Charter School are still seeking campuses. The Treme Charter School Association will operate three campus at locations still to be determined.
INSURANCE COMPANIES DELAY HOMEOWNER'S REBUILDING EFFORTS
While insurance industry officials are pointing positively to their record of having settled more than 90 percent of Hurricane Katrina claims, consumer advocates say many property owners are being ripped off by insurers who settle claims for only a fraction of the actual damages.
Insurance modeling firm ISO estimates Louisiana had $24.3 billion in insured losses. The State Department of Insurance says $12.5 billion has been paid out through April, 2006.
Without enough money from their insurance proceeds to rebuild, many homeowners are left with two choices: give up and leave, or rebuild by hand, using personal savings to cover the costs of labor and materials.
Two out of three homes in New Orleans had flood insurance, thirteen times more than the national average of five percent.
Property-and-casualty insurers are posting record profits despite the unprecedented losses due to Hurricane Katrina. The industry declared a $43 billion profit in 2005, almost twelve percent more than the previous year and a fifteen-year record high.
LOUISIANA TO RECEIVE EXTRA FUNDS FOR HOUSING AND LEVEES
Louisiana will receive an additional $4.2 billion for housing and $3.7 billion for levee improvements as part of an emergency supplemental spending bill approved by Congress.
Under the state's Road Home program, the $4.2 billion will be available through Community Development Block Grants. It will be coupled with $6.2 billion already approved by Congress to pay homeowners up to $150,000 for uninsured and uncompensated damages, to repair or rebuild their homes.
Homeowners who sell their homes or leave the state would receive sixty percent of their pre-storm value, minus all insurance and FEMA payments. Construction or replacement of rental housing will also be a funding priority.
Levee spending priorities include $170 million for armoring critical areas in New Orleans and $495.3 million to raise levee highlights for the Lake Pontchartrain and West Bank levee projects.
The legislation also provides $550 million to replace the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in New Orleans, $400 million for a pilot program for private agencies to construct "Katrina cottages" instead of utilizing trailers for emergency housing; and $650 million for farms and fisheries. Colleges that suffered hurricane damage will receive an additional $50 million in grants.
1,300 ACRE CITY PARK STUGGLES TO REBUILD
With damages estimated at $43 million and little public sector aid in site, City Park is turning to private seed money and mostly volunteer labor to help the park stay open. The massive flooding from Hurricane Katrina and winds from Hurricane Rita heavily damaged many of the revenue-generating attractions that keep the park alive.
City Park receives no money from the city and has gotten $65,000 in federal reimbursement. Officials are praying that a $2.4 million allocation from the state comes through this year.
Corporations and volunteers have come to City's Park aid including the Hampton Inn, Academy Sports, the Kellogg Foundation, the New Orleans Saints, Allstate Insurance, Nike, and New York City's Central Park.
Several of City Park's revenue generating attractions have reopened including Storyland and the golf driving range.
TULANE UNIVERSITY STUDY REPORTS RISE IN ILLEGAL HISPANIC WORKER
A new study by Tulane University and the University of California, Berkley, reports that almost twenty-five percent of construction workers rebuilding New Orleans are illegal immigrants who are getting lower pay, less medical care and less safety equipment than legal workers.
Tulane also reported that these workers are making an average of $6.50 an hour less than legal workers and had more trouble collecting their wages. Traditionally, the number of Hispanic workers in New Orleans has been relatively small. The study was an effort to document working conditions and to measure the influx of Hispanic workers who now are estimated to make up forty-five percent of the reconstruction labor force. The study found that at least two-thirds of the laborers arrived in New Orleans after the hurricanes struck.
Tulane professor Phuong N. Pham estimates than between 10,000 and 14,000 Hispanic workers now reside in New Orleans. Few of the illegal workers say they plan to stay in New Orleans permanently. The report recommends that even workers without documents should be allowed to work legally in disaster zones and should receive the same protections as American workers.
BREAKS IN PIPES CAUSE WATER LOSS; LEAKS DIFFICULT TO LOCATE
Millions of gallons of drinking water are leaking into the ground each day due to breaks in New Orleans' fragile water system that was seriously damaged by Hurricane Katrina. More than two-thirds of the total amount of water being pumped into the pipes each day - almost 85 million gallons - is seeping away.
With few residents around to report the running water, much of the problem stems from the difficulty in locating leaks. Hurricane Katrina's winds uprooted thousands of trees and dislodged countless underground water pipes. S &WB employees have repaired more than 17,000 leaks since August 29. Residents who suspect a leak should call (504) 52-WATER or log onto the S&WB website, www.swbno.org.
CENSUS BUREAU REPORTS AREA'S CHANGING DEMOGRAPHICS
The U.S. Census Bureau reported that the New Orleans area is whiter, older and more affluent since Hurricane Katrina. Offering pre- and post- Katrina benchmarks, new population estimates for July 1, 2005 and January 1, 2006 show that the storm's human toll was concentrated in the New Orleans area.
The Census Bureau claims that 73% of current residents are white, versus 59% pre-Katrina. While many white residents resettled close to home, many African-American residents - such as residents of New Orleans East and Gentilly - have been unable to return to their homes.
The median age post Katrina is 41.6 years in comparison to 37.7 years pre-Katrina. Children three-years and older enrolled in metro area schools fell from 312,899 to 170,269. Families with school-age children were hesitant to return to New Orleans because many schools had not reopened. The mean household income has risen from $55,326 to $64,122 due in part to fewer renters and public housing resident living in New Orleans.
The population of Orleans Parish was estimated to be 437,186 on July 1, 2005 and 158,353 on January 1, 2006, a sixty-four percent reduction.
HURRICANES CONTINUE TO TAKE TOLL ON ELDERLY VETERANS
Elderly veterans who for decades remembered the tragedies of World War II, say that living through the hurricanes has been even harder. While some veterans lost their homes, many more lost their daily routines and much of their access to health care and medicines.
The majority of the almost 1600 people who died because of Hurricane Katrina were elderly. That number is expected to rise further as state health officials include out-of-state victims and local residents who have died from Katrina-related illnesses.
AREA HOSPITALS OFFER LIMITED BEDS AND SERVICES
A lack of beds coupled with shortages of doctors, nurses and technicians have created a health care crisis in the metro New Orleans area. In-patients can expect longer stays now that many post-discharge programs such as home health care are depleted or non-existent.
Some health care professionals are hesitant to return to New Orleans. Uninsured citizens - who previously received services at the now-closed Charity Hospital - now fill local emergency rooms. The number of medical education programs has been greatly reduced.
MORE HOMEOWNERS ARE PURCHASING FLOOD INSURANCE
The number of homeowners who have purchased flood insurance has skyrocketed because of Hurricane Katrina. Area insurance agents have been bombarded by customers living outside the flood plain to purchase policies. Homes that meet the current elevations standards and were not substantially damaged by Katrina can easily be covered the federally subsidized flood insurance policies.
The federal government does not require owners to carry flood insurances for homes located in FEMA's B, C and X zones. Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon recommends that every Louisiana resident purchase flood insurance to guard against a variety of possible water threats including tidal surges, flash floods and overflowing rivers.
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ROAD HOME GRANTS APPROVED BY HUD CHIEF
HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson agreed that HUD Community Development Block Grants could be used to fund Louisiana's multi-billion dollar housing recovery plan. The plan will offer grants of up to $150,000 to homeowners for buyouts, reconstruction or repairs to homes damaged by the hurricanes. Governor Blanco expects to receive $4.6 billion from HUD to fund the project.
Congress must still approve the $4.6 billion when they return to work after the Memorial Day break.
$750 MILLION PROJECT WILL BRING NATIONAL JAZZ CENTER & PARK TO HYATT/CITY HALL SITE
Governor Kathleen Blanco and city leaders announced a plan by New Orleans Hyatt Regency Hotel owner Laurence Geller to construct a $750 million mixed use development that will revolve around a rebuilt Hyatt Regency Hotel and a national jazz center and park.
The complex will include such renovations and additions as an amphitheater, parks, a bridge, a new civil district courthouse, relocating City Hall to Dominion Tower, new Council Chambers and a mayor's office, a National Jazz Center, a rebuilt Hyatt Hotel, a renovated parking garage and new residential buildings.
Proposed demolitions include the former Louisiana Supreme Court, the Louisiana state office building, City Hall, Civil District Court, the New Orleans Centre, portions of the existing Hyatt Regency hotel and various low-rise buildings. The Canal Street streetcar will extend its route to include the complex.
Geller created the Hyatt District Rebirth Advisory Board with Bill Hines, Wynton Marsalis, Irvin Mayfield, Wade Ragas, Bill Oakland, Ray Manning and nationally known architect Thom Mayne, who will lead the design effort. Geller spent more than $2 million the create the advisory board and fund the planning.
CITY COUNCIL DEFINES MANDATORY EVACUATION
The City Council unanimously passed an ordinance which defines mandatory and voluntary evacuation and when each should be called, and explains a special new category called “forced” evacuation.
According to the new law, when an advisory or voluntary evacuation is ordered, “residents are advised to leave the area and relocate to safer locations for their own safety. Personal discretion is allowed but not advised.” If a mandatory evacuation is called, citizens “may be ordered to depart when a disaster or emergency has been declared and danger is imminent,” with lives threatened.
In a forced evacuation, government officials may direct and compel all persons in designated evacuation areas to relocate to safer locations. Col. Terry Ebbert, the city’s director of Homeland Security, said they sought the ordinance because the state asked each parish to pass uniform laws defining terms of evacuations.
REPAIRS TO PUMPING STATIONS MOVING SLOWLY
Repairs to the city’s 23 main pumping stations and 12 underpass stations are moving more slowly that many citizens would like. Sewerage and Water Board officials emphasize that the city’s drainage capacity is only down 16 percent since the hurricane, but of the 23 staffed pump stations, only nine are ready to operate at their pre-hurricane capacity.
Many of the contracts that were scheduled to be awarded for repairs have not yet been bid. Much of the work centers around repairs to the pump motors and replacement or refurbishing of bearings that keep the motors turning.
The Sewerage and Water Board has begun stocking its staffed stations with provisions and equipment to help employees survive in case of severe flooding. Rescue boats have also been acquired.
LAKEVIEW RESIDENTS OFFERED BUYOUT BY CORPS
The Army Corps of Engineers announced that they would buy out 17 Lakeview property owners closest to the levee breach at the 17th Street Canal. While property owners would only be reimbursed for the current value of their ruined property, the Corps will provide additional money to make sure residents can buy comparable homes in comparable neighborhoods even if the market value of those homes far exceeds the pre-Katrina value of their Bellaire Drive properties.
The properties will be used to build a coffer dam that will allow for removal or rip rap, rocks and the enormous sandbags that were dumped into the breach to try and plug it. After construction is complete, the land will be turned over to the Orleans Levee Board. A park could eventually be erected at the site.
SEARCH CONTINUES FOR MISSING HURRICANE KATRINA VICTIMS
Search crews led by FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, and others have continued to find missing victims of Hurricane Katrina. The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals recently raised the state’s death toll from Katrina to 1,557, up by 281. More than 80 percent of the missing are from New Orleans and 66 percent are African-Americans.
New Orleans firefighters have also been working to find the missing persons as part of Southeast Louisiana Task Force One, a team of 16 firefighters, most of whom volunteer to work one of their days off as part of the FEMA-paid crew.
A state agency operated by the medical examiner’s office, the Louisiana Family Assistance Center, continues to seek information on individuals still not located since the storm. To report people missing since the storm, contact the Louisiana Family Assistance Center at (866) 326-9393.
EPA CLEAN-UP EFFORTS ON-GOING
Although the federal government has not found any catastrophic contamination in the fallout of Hurricane Katrina, the Environmental Protection Agency has dozens of staffers still working in New Orleans extracting refrigerant from ruined appliances, properly disposing of electronic components and inspecting vials and beakers in abandoned high school chemistry laboratories.
Working out of a technical college campus in Metairie, the EPA monitors the Murphy Oil spill clean-up in St. Bernard Parish, operates a hazardous household waste sorting station in eastern New Orleans and continues to educate homeowners regarding separating different kinds of debris. Almost 1600 EPA employees and contractors have worked in the disaster area since the storm.
CITIZENS URGED TO PREPARE FOR STORM EVAUCATION
In a recent national of coastal residents conducted by Mason-Dixon, many citizens remain unprepared for hurricane season. While more than 90 percent of poll respondents said they would evacuate if ordered; more than 50 percent do not have a family plan and 68 percent have not prepared a hurricane survival kit.
In addition to collecting hurricane supplies including water, canned or non-perishable food, batteries, a portable radio, a signal flare, rain gear and a fire extinguisher, residents should also protect their belongings and financial papers. Protecting documents such as birth certificates, adoption papers, marriage certificates, passports or green cards, wills, car titles, mortgage information, insurance and loan agreements, and bank and savings account information will be invaluable, especially if claims must be filed. An evacuation binder with complete information should be readily accessible if evacuation becomes necessary.
Many families are completing a home inventory including photographs or video as well as a list of contents. Having adequate cash on hand is another wise consideration.
Communication is essential. Citizens should program emergency contact numbers into cell phones. Compiling a list of e-mail addresses for friends and family and sending daily messages is also important.
STATE TO OPERATE SHELTERS FOR ORLEANS RESIDENTS
Although specific locations have not yet been released, the state has agreed to operate several public shelters around the state as a last resort for evacuees. The state has already identified shelters that can handle 55,000 people. Almost 45,000 people sought shelter last year from the hurricane. Almost 150,000 residents left the state before the storm hit.
The state will staff shelter information points along the evacuation route that will be noted on the state’s evacuation guide. Individuals wishing to stay in a state-run shelter should bring enough clothes for each person for three or four days, stored in a plastic bag to keep dry; basic snacks, a small cooler of water or drinks with ice along with a portable ice chest; pillows and blankets; a portable radio and extra batteries; flashlights and extra batteries and bulbs; a first aid kit; toiletries and an evacuation packet containing personal and financial materials and phone numbers.
ADDITIONAL NEW PUMPS WILL HELP DRAIN CANALS
The Army Corps of Engineers has secured additional pumps to help drain the 17th Street and London Avenue canals if sheet piles must be used to block a storm surge before new floodgates are operational this hurricane season. With the new pumps, corps officials claim there will be 1,000 cubic feet per second of pumping capacity at each canal in case the sheet pile closures must be put into place against an early summer storm.
These extra pumps will be in place until the new floodgates become operational sometime in July, 2006. With the new floodgates, pumping capacity should grow to 2,800 cubic feet per second.
AREA HOSPITALS PREPARE FOR HURRICANE SEASON
Many New Orleans area hospitals are preparing for hurricane season by beefing up their command centers, improving communications systems, and arranging for additional food supplies and purchasing portable air conditioners.
New strategies to stay in touch include using portable satellite phones hard-wired into the building, or prepaid cellular phones with area codes outside the immediate area. Diesel-powered generators will keep electricity operating. Several hospitals such as Children’s built a well or in the case of Ochsner Foundation Hospital, built a second well. Staffing of security guards at several hospitals has increased and more of the guards carry weapons to better provide protect patients and staff.
NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATIONS CRAFTING REBUILDING PLANS
Neighborhood associations across the city are crafting rebuilding plans for their areas working with volunteer and paid architects and planners, universities and the New Orleans City Council’s neighborhood planning consultants.
The City Council’s consultants are working in coordination with the Louisiana Recovery Authority to compile the recommendations from each devastated neighborhood into a city-wide neighborhood revitalization plan which will be submitted to the City Planning Commission, the City Council and then on the LRA and Congress for funding.
“Our architects and planners are excited to be working at the grass-roots level with 50 neighborhoods each making recommendations to help their areas come back,” said Paul Lambert of Lambert Advisory LLC. “Some neighborhoods have barely begun planning; others have almost completed their work. We will respect the work that has been done in each neighborhood and build upon the hopes and dreams of residents,” said Shelia Danzey, SHEDO LLC. For more information on the planning process call 588-9063.
RTA WILL REDUCE SERVICE JULY 1 WHEN FEDERAL FUNDS EXPIRE
The Regional Transit Authority is preparing to eliminate routes and layoff hundreds of employees when their federal subsidy ends on June 30. Although no final determination has been made, the transit system could serve only the Central Business District with limited service to Gentilly, Algiers and other near-by areas.
Consultants project that income from the hotel-motel tax, sales tax and fares could be approximately $30 million, down more than two-thirds from before the hurricane. RTA is still expecting their annual federal subsidy but have not received it.
Unless the city is able to get a funding extension from FEMA, the RTA board will adopt an operating budget that reflects a significantly reduced transit system. Under the worst-case scenario, service would be limited to 17 bus and one streetcar route with week-day service only. There would be no service to Lakeview or eastern New Orleans. Agency staff would be cut to 150 from the current 800, which was already down by more than 500 employees who did not return after the storm.
RTA has collected almost $11 million in insurance claims and hopes that FEMA will pay for new buses and streetcars.
CITY COUNCIL APPROVES FREE HIGH-SPEED WIRELESS ACCESS
The New Orleans City Council gave approval to EarthLink Inc. to provide free high-speed wireless internet access initially in the CBD, Uptown, Algiers, the French Quarter and parts of Treme and the Marigny Triangle. Eventually the service could be city-wide. EarthLink’s service should be up and running by September 12 and will continue indefinitely while the city rebuilds.
Wi-Fi access is being viewed by city officials as an asset for residents and business owners, especially those without traditional cable or phone service. EarthLink’s service will begin operating at a speed of up to 300 kilobits per second, almost five times faster than dial-up service but much slower than most DSL providers.
EarthLink will profit from the venture by selling higher-speed service of 1 megabit per second to customers for $22 per month. EarthLink is investing $3 million to $4 million to install a 15 square mile network. EarthLink’s contract with the city is non-exclusive. EarthLink will pay the city $25,000 per year for the first 15 square miles with an additional fee of $500 for each square mile.
SUPERDOME WILL BE “FOOTBALL READY” FOR SEPTEMBER OPENER
Officials at the Louisiana Superdome say that good weather and efficient coordination between project supervisors have set the rebuilding project ahead of schedule. The Superdome suffered $124.6 million in damage from Hurricane Katrina. Twenty contractors with 450 employees are currently working on-site. That number expected to double later this summer.
Damage to the Superdome was so extensive that 3.8 million gallons of water had to be extracted from the Dome and its garages; Almost 10 acres of roof surface received a temporary coating; 4,000 tons of trash and debris was removed; 1.6 million square feet of carpeting was replaced; 650,000 square feet of sheetrock was replaced; 500,000 square feet of ceiling was removed; 100 percent of the artificial turf was replaced; and 70,000 seats were cleaned and dried.
The Superdome is expected to re-open on September 25 when the Saints meet the Atlanta Falcons in a nationally televised “Monday Night Football.” Superdome repair costs are estimated at $134.6 million. FEMA is expected to pay 90 percent of the costs with the remainder coming from Community Development Block Grants controlled by Governor Blanco.
CHURCHILL DOWNS REAFFIRMS COMMITMENT TO NEW ORLEANS
In response to a motion authored by Councilmember-At-Large Eddie Sapir requesting that Churchill Downs provide a status report to the City Council on the status of their ongoing renovation efforts and their obligation to the horsemen, Thomas Meeker, president of Churchill Downs, committed to the New Orleans City Council today that Churchill Downs will complete $4 million in improvements to the Fair Grounds’ backstretch facilities as was required by the New Orleans City Council and the Louisiana Racing Commission. “The City Council wanted to ensure that the commitment made to the horsemen by Churchill Downs will be fulfilled prior to the implementation of slot operations at the facility,” explained Councilmember Sapir. “We are going to do everything we are required to do consistent with our obligation to the City of New Orleans and the Louisiana Racing Commission,” Meeker said.
Meeker also told the City Council that Churchill Downs will probably not begin the operation of slot machines until 2007. “Because of the hurricanes, our slots plan slipped a year,” Meeker explained.
“Our focus is rehabilitating the track and getting ready for the upcoming racing season, which begins November 23,” said Meeker. “Our racing facilities in New Orleans suffered extensive hurricane damage. Our employees were displaced and we had to help them come back. We want to affirm that Churchill Downs will do whatever necessary to bring back our workforce, create jobs, and stimulate the economy,” Meeker continued.
Churchill Downs began renovations early last summer and completed almost one-quarter of the work prior to Hurricane Katrina. Since then Churchill Downs has completed $1.25 million in improvements including replacement of roofs on many barns, electrical and plumbing repairs, masonry, carpentry and painting.
Other improvements were made for the annual Jazz & Heritage Festival including replacement of termite damaged wood, the installation of new sheetrock and repairs to the Track Kitchen. “Jazz Fest was an enormous success that all our employees and the City of New Orleans should be thankful for,” Meeker said. “It shows that the music, food and heritage of New Orleans is an economic development and tourism magnet.”
Churchill Downs approached the City Council in 2004 seeking permission to operate slot machines at the facility. The City Council approved their request after adding 21 provisos recommended by the City Planning Commission. In addition to making $4 million in repairs to backside facilities, the Fairgrounds will also request permission to build a new dormitory for racing industry personnel.
Meeker said Churchill Downs will present their plans for the dormitory to the City Planning Commission staff on June 15. Public hearings will be held as part of the approval process. “We have tried to be good neighbors,” said Meeker. “We have upgraded our site, formed a neighborhood committee and worked with residents to create a win-win situation for everyone. We want to continue that relationship as we move forward. Our goal is to raise the Fair Grounds to new heights in the world of racing.”
GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS PARTICIPATE IN EVACUATION DRILL
Governor Kathleen Blanco told a gathering of first responders that Louisiana’s hurricane preparations are a success. “Louisiana is prepared for the next storm,” she said. City, state and federal government officials gathered in Baton Rouge for the mock drill.
Approximately 100 buses will be on hand at the Morial Convention Center to move citizens without vehicles away from harm. Special needs residents will travel by train to safety. For citizens unable to make other arrangements, Governor Blanco announced that 65,000 shelter beds would be available around the state.
The Regional Transit Authority will be picking up passengers at 13 stops across Orleans Parish. Amtrak will be able to board onto trains 3,000 senior citizens and people with special needs. The state has also contracted with bus companies to transport 30,000 citizens.
CITY TO BEGIN SALES OF BLIGHTED HOUSES AGAIN
Non-profit and for-profit developers will soon be able to submit bids to purchase 2500 abandoned residential structures when the city reopens its Sale of Adjudicated/Abandoned Property program, known as SOAP. Buildings available must have been abandoned at least five years.
The city will select “responsive and responsible” non-profit and for-profit developers to rehabilitate the properties. Applications are available at the housing unit of the city attorney’s office at 1340 Poydras St., Ste 1116. The form may also be downloaded from the city’s website, www.cityofno.com.
The City Council had been critical of Neighborhood 1 for not moving more quickly to make units which were livable available to non-profit groups or local residents whose homes were uninhabitable by damage from Hurricane Katrina. The Council passed a measure last fall that gives first priority to purchase adjudicated property to citizens who lost their homes during the hurricanes.
MAJOR FLOODING COULD OCCUR THIS HURRICANE SEASON
A senior official from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told members of a national scientific review committee that despite recent repairs to damaged floodwalls and levees, the levee system would not be high enough to prevent flooding if a storm similar to Katrina hit New Orleans this year.
Don Resio, a senior researcher at the corps’ Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Mississippi said that until Congress provides the funding to build a safer levee system, the refurbished levee system will remain susceptible to overtopping. Resio predicted that if a Katrina-force hurricane struck New Orleans, six feet of water would overtop the levees.
“It’s clear that Category 4 or Category 5 hurricane protection cannot be built within the existing (levee) footprint,” said Resio. “And you’ve still got to wrestle with what the nation wants to invest in overall protection of southeast Louisiana. Whether it’s a combination of levees, a front barrier system or just an evacuation system,” he continued.
The corps also announced that three of the four failures of levee walls along the Industrial Canal were caused by water topping levee walls and eroding the inside of the earthen levees, causing them to fail. The breach on the northeast side of the Industrial Canal – the first to fail -- occurred when water rising in the Industrial Canal forced the levee wall and sheet piling on which it was built to crack away from the earthen levee, providing a path for water to reach beneath the structure and shove it aside.
BANKING CONSORTIUM TO PROVIDE CREDIT TO KEEP CITY GOVERNMENT OPERATIONAL
A consortium of four financial institutions led by JPMorgan Chase Bank, have committed to providing a $150 million line of credit that will keep New Orleans city government operational through 2007. John Kallenborn, the New Orleans president of JPMorgan Chase, said that the credit line would be available for three years at a “very favorable” interest rate. Other financial participants include two French banks and one other U.S. bank.
Kallenborn said that JPMorgan Chase will put up $55 million in loans with the other banks pledging the remainder. “We had to sell the confidence that the City’s revenue stream would rebuild,” he said. Kallenborn expects the local economy to rebound after tens of billions of dollars in homeowner insurance payments begin to circulate.
The city is not obligated to draw upon the line of credit. City revenues from sales and property taxes, sanitation service fees and parking meter fines are expected to decline in 2006. The city’s largest source of revenue -- sales taxes -- are projected to decline from $151 million in 2004 to $69 million in 2006, mainly because the tourism economy is returning slowly.
GOVERNOR BLANCO WILL CONTINUE CONTRAFLOW EVACUATION PLAN
Governor Blanco announced that last year’s successful contraflow program will be used again this year with only one revision – residents of travel trailers and mobile homes who want to tow their belongings should leave before an official evacuation begins.
Under the plan, residents of coastal areas and those residing south of the Intracoastal Waterway will start evacuating 50 hours before the outer edge of the hurricane is predicted to reach land. All residents living south of Baton Rouge on the west bank of the Mississippi River from Algiers to Lake Charles should evacuate about 40 hours ahead of the hurricane’s landfall. Citizens residing on the east bank of Orleans Parish would be asked to evacuate 30 hours before the hurricane’s arrival.
The contraflow system doubles the lanes traveling away from New Orleans by blocking inbound traffic. Free brochures describing the contraflow process, recommendations for residents of trailers, and a list of disaster supplies are available from the Red Cross, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Wal-Mart and some post offices and libraries. The information is also available at www.lsp.org and www.arcno.org
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POST OFFICE LIFTS EMBARGO ON PERIODICALS
The U.S. Post Office has lifted its embargo of magazines, newspapers, periodicals and most advertising mail, said Postmaster General John Potter. Long distance mail shipments that arrive at the Louis Armstrong International Airport have also returned.
RTA MAY CUT SERVICES, STAFFING
The Regional Transit Authority may be forced to cut staff and services when emergency federal funding ends after June 30. FEMA has been supporting the emergency operations of the mass transit system in New Orleans as well as the daily commuter service for New Orleans workers currently residing in Baton Rouge.
Prior to the hurricane, RTA operated 62 bus routes and three streetcar routes. RTA is now operating 27 bus routes and two streetcar routes in New Orleans plus one in Kenner, using 80 buses and six streetcars. Before the storm, the RTA collected approximately $60 million annually in sales and hotel taxes along with $35 million in fare box revenue and $15 million in federal grants. The total operating budget was $110 million. Today RTA officials indicate that the transit system may only be able to generate about one-fifth the income.
Revenue projections for the 12 months beginning July 1 are only $15 million from sales and hotel taxes, $5 million from fares and $ 5 million in federal grants.
AUTHORITY INCREASES FOR HOUSING CONSERVATION DISTRICT REVIEW COMMITTEE
The City’s Housing Conservation District Review Committee was partially restored the right to review the proposed demolition of hurricane-damaged buildings. Last January the Council revoked the committee’s jurisdiction over all structures determined by the Department of Safety & Permits to be substantially damaged by the hurricanes and where the damage is defined as 50 percent or more of the replacement value prior to the hurricane damage.
Preservationists are trying to save dozens of buildings listed by the City for demolition. The HCDRC includes several members who are advocates of rebuilding most hurricane-damaged properties.
CONDO TOWER TO BE BUILT IN CBD
Developer Trey Cefalu received unanimous approval from the New Orleans City Council to construct Vantage Tower, a 25-story, 219 condominium building, at 919-39 Girod Street and 616-42 O’Keefe St. Units will range in cost from $180,000 to $480,000.
Parking will be included on-site.
“Vantage Tower will help revitalize a dead zone,” said Councilmember Renee Gill Pratt.
The project included several changes recommended by the City Planning Commission.
NEW ORLEANS MUST RECRUIT ADDITIONAL DOCTORS, DENTISTS
New Orleans’ designation as a shortage area for medical professionals has increased Medicare reimbursements for remaining physicians and provides extra programs designed to attract doctors. More than 77 percent of primary-care doctors, 70 percent of dentists and 89 percent of psychiatrists closed their practices in Orleans Parish since Hurricane Katrina. Only 140 or 617 primary physicians remain; only 77 of 259 dentists are still practicing here, and only 22 psychiatrists – down from 196 – remain, according to the state Department of Health and Hospitals
CITY COUNCIL SEEKS INCLUSIVENESS FOR REBUILDING
At the request of Councilmember Cynthia Willard-Lewis, the Council passed two ordinances expressing inclusiveness and equal access to resources which became part of the city code.
The first establishes equitable labor force participation and employment opportunities in disaster areas. The second establishes equitable distribution of disaster mitigation resources and ensure that rebuilding is not restricted by geographic area or zone, and to provide equal access to government disaster assistance resources citywide.
“All locally based firms including disadvantaged and minority business enterprises and non-profits should be afforded fair and equitable participation and general employment opportunities to the greatest extent feasible,” said Councilmember Willard-Lewis. The resolution encourages temporary or permanent partnerships between minority and majority firms.
The second ordinance proposes that the City should protect the public interest through furtherance of disaster mitigation, neighborhood reclamation and infrastructure restoration programs and services which affirm equal protection of the rights of all citizens and Orleans Parish residents through equal and unabridged access to disaster assistance.
MR-GO MAY RECEIVE FLOOD GATES TO CURB WATERS DURING STORMS
During the past four decades, the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet has allowed salt water to rush through its 76-mile shortcut between the St. Bernard Parish wetlands and the Gulf of Mexico killing off marshes that lined the banks and allowing the wakes of passing ships and chewing away the region’s storm buffer at an alarming rate of 30 feet per year.
Originally 650 feet across, it is now as wide as 2,000 feet in some stretches. Filling it in is not considered a viable option. The Army Corps has requested $350 million for a pair of navigable floodgates that could be closed when major storms threaten the region. The first would be located at the Paris Road Bridge along Interstate 510 north of Chalmette and other at the Seabrook Bridge near the Lakefront Airport where water flowing from the MR-GO enters Lake Pontchartrain.
“The channel is a disaster, and it has been since it was built. But now we’re stuck with it. so you just have to deal with what you’ve got,” said John Koerner, chair of the flood protection sub committee of the Bring New Orleans Back Commission.
The Army Corps has also requested $100 million for coastal restoration projects. Most would address wetlands loss east of New Orleans, including $35 million for projects to mitigate erosion near the MR-GO.
CHARITY OPENS TEMPORARY TRAUMA CENTER IN ELMWOOD
The region’s seriously injured patients can now be treated at a temporary Charity Hospital emergency suite located to the former Elmwood Medical Center, 1221 S. Clear view Parkway. Charity’s trauma team was relocated to Elmwood because the main campus flooded during Hurricane Katrina.
Trauma teams will treat victims of serious accidents including automobile wrecks and high falls as well as victims of crimes such as shootings and stabbings. The emergency facility includes two surgery suites, a recovery room, a radiology suite and inpatient beds on the third floor for extended care.
PRIVATE CONTRACTORS INSPECT LEVEES FOR ARMY CORPS
The Army Corps of Engineers is looking for any problems that might exist in the 181 miles of levees and floodwalls that weren’t destroyed or visibly damaged by the recent hurricanes. They have hired four private contractors to assist with the inspection.
The work includes new elevation surveys, more soil sampling and recommendations for remedial repairs or upgrades to be finished no later than June 1, the official start of the 2006 hurricane season.
The task force is also seeking answers as to why portions of the levee system failed during Katrina and determine how much the entire system may have been degraded. Their findings will help guide the Army Corps on future redesign. Two outside panels of engineers and experts will receive the task force recommendations.
COUNCIL ASKS RESIDENTS TO REGISTER THEIR HOMES FOR REPAIR
The New Orleans City Council is asking homeowners and residents who have not begun working on their flooded homes to clean, gut and board up their homes by August 28 or at least apply for a building permit.
Councilmember Batt was concerned that ravaged, mold-infested houses, especially if not boarded up, could become “environmental biohazards” that will slow the recovery of whole neighborhoods by discouraging nearby owners from moving back or making repairs.
FAITH-BASED COMMUNITY TO RECEIVE AID FROM BUSH/CLINTON FUND
Churches and other faith-based organizations will be able to apply for grants made available through a $20 million fund created by the fundraising efforts of Presidents Bush and Clinton.
Ministers and other religious leaders recently attended a seminar to explain eligibility requirements and show pastors and their associates how to apply. Churches and other organizations can receive up to $35,000 each under the plan. All applications are due by July 31.
JARVIS NAMED TO HEAD RECOVERY SCHOOL DISTRICT
State education official Robin Jarvis has been named acting superintendent of the city’s recovery school district. Jarvis has been helping oversee the expanded recovery district since the State Legislature approved the take-over last fall.
The recovery school district has jurisdiction over 107 low-performance schools. Studies show that 28,000 students could be entering Orleans Parish schools in the fall. Currently twenty-five schools are now open in New Orleans. Fifty-eight schools will be needed to accommodate projected students.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education received approved the charter applications for 22 new schools.
FEMA ISSUES ADVISORY BASE FLOOD ELEVATIONS
Residents whose homes were determined to be damaged more than 50% and have not yet received a building permit along with individuals seeking permits for new construction will have to meet the new flood plan elevations when the new maps are formally adopted in 2007. Residents who have already received permits to rebuild and those that will apply for permits in the near future will not have to raise their properties to meet the new elevation recommendations.
FEMA announced this week that homeowners whose houses were significantly damaged should rebuild three feet above the grand to prevent future flooding. Those homeowners seeking permits now need only meet the base flood elevation presently on the books.
Residents who meet the current standard and renovate will also receive the benefits of subsidized flood insurance, and their rates will not jump dramatically. Owners of badly damaged homes built on slabs are encouraged to be on piers at least three feet high.
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