On Saturday, a grassroots storefront opened to allow citizens in the St. Charles Parish area to voice their concerns and visions for the future of Louisiana, especially in their own communities. The data collected will be culled adding to Louisiana Speaks, a revitalization plan by Louisiana Recovery Authority, (LRA).
"We are an outreach effort, whose idea is to ask, solicit and record the information and the knowledge and thoughts that the people have had post-Katrina about how they would like to recover their community," said Leonard Marreta, Team Leader for the regional storefront in Norco.
Fanned out all over the state, the storefronts allow a unique chance for those affected by the storm to make their ideas and opinions heard. Not wanting to commit on closure date, Marreta encouraged citizens who have vital suggestions for Louisiana and the River Parishes future to make it in as soon as possible. "Now is the time," Maretta said.
LRA is a conglomerate of the Army Corp of Engineers, FEMA, Louisiana National Guard and state and parish officials. As the LRA is tailor-made to each storm-affected community, the Norco storefront has representatives from South Central Regional Planning Commission, which covers St. Charles Parish, along with volunteers from all over the country.
According to LRA's goal the public's input is essential. "It allows the individual to create a vision: What do we want to look like in five years? Where do we want to go with this? It is good opportunity for us dictate our own future," Marretta said, adding that already he getting some excellent ideas from the public, ones that the planners had not conceived. The purpose of this event is to give credence to that, and elevate that and make it part of the process. We encourage you to think big."
The walls with the facility are adorned with a multitude of issues, coming from the December 12 St. Charles Parish Governmental Workshop at Landry School. There, officials, such as council members, police and local engineers, felt that planning for population growth, providing wetland protection and implementing a costal restoration project were key issues that needed immediate address.
At the storefront, a visitor upon arrival is asked to go around and place stickers on the issues to isolate what concerns are of prime importance to them. Additional paper is provided for individuals to add comments for issues not already outlined. Officials guide citizens around the round while providing them access to a myriad of resources, such as SBA loan information and new guidelines for flood insurance.
Although he did not have direct damage to his property, one attendee, Burton Mayeux of LaPlace, said "I'm concerned about the rebuilding of the whole metropolitan area. I read in the paper that they wanted feedback and I wanted to be a part of it," describing his motivation for coming out. Saying that other members of his family were victims of the storm, Mayeux said it was his duty as a citizen to offer suggestions.
"I love to be part of this. I like to go Washington," Mayeux said. As for why he would like to go to capital, "I'm really concerned that they aren't going to put the money out there that is necessary to rebuild the whole area."
Additional concerns highlighted by the government workshop were on the infrastructure, such transportation facilities for the population increase, expanding water and wastewater capabilities, as the population growth, and its subsequent affects, with St. Charles Parish continues to top the agenda.
Equal importance is placed on quality of life issues, such as treasures that make the region special. Among those for St. Charles Parish were strong community, safe neighborhoods, pristine natural resources and a strong river plantation heritage. According to LPA, these cannot be compromised in the recovery effort.
"(The storefront) is the first step in a long journey," Marretta hopes to have something back to Baton Rouge by March. He said that local ideas will be taken to the regional and state levels, where they will be put into a comprehensive plan for the future.
Mayeux feels that getting his voice heard at this level is only way to force a change for the better. "We need more regional cooperation among ourselves, especially in the New Orleans metropolitan area. Orleans is not just Orleans, and Jefferson is not just Jefferson. Even out way out here in the River Parishes, we are all part of the big picture,"as he felt that the provincialism of the region crippled communities during and after the storms.
Along with offering ideas on what Louisiana should become in the aftermath of two major hurricanes, releasing the frustration pent up from the bearuecratic nightmare that stalled some of the relief efforts is important for these citizens. This data will be added to help mitigate the some of the problems that Katrina and Rita exposed.
"I believe there was a lack of cooperation because there was a lack of communication," Mayeux said. "It time to stop playing these games and get something done out here."
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