DENHAM SPRINGS – Mayor Gerard Landry had the hard numbers in terms of what the Great Flood of 2016 has cost Denham Springs in his State of the Parish address on Wednesday, Aug. 9.
“Just in Denham Springs, right now, we’re at $10 million written in checks through June,” Landry said at Forrest Grove Plantation at the event sponsored by the Livingston Parish Chamber of Commerce.
It will be a long time before the final numbers are in, but Landry said the flooding of a year ago has not diminished his city.
“What made Denham Springs and Livingston Parish so attractive before is still here. People want to come here,” Landry said.
Homes are being repaired and business property is in high demand, he said.
And Landry credited the help from the other State of the Parish speakers with the progress that has been made.
“There are no words to describe the leadership we have in this parish. We enjoy working together,” Landry said as he acknowledged Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks, Sheriff Jason Ard and School Superintendent Rick Wentzel.
“I can call Layton at any time and things happen,” Landry said.
“We are a team and that stands for ‘Together Everyone Accomplishes More,’ ’’ he said.
But the financial numbers Landry offered showed how the flooding has affected Denham Springs.
Debris removal alone has reached $6.5 million, the mayor said, and could “top out at $10 million when we get the invoice.”
Repairs to lift stations and their pumps have run $700,000. “We’ve got to get it to the sewage station,” he said.
The engineering firm hired to “navigate and secure estimates on repairs to buildings” has cost $90,000.
Other costs cited by Landry:
--Capital outlay items, from pens to computers to printers: $500,000.
--City employees’ overtime immediately after the flood: $200,000.
--City Court: $100,000.
--Document restoration: $74,000.
--Water wells: $50,000
--Consultant to navigate the FEMA process: $55,000. “So far,” Landry said.
“It cost a lot of money to get us back to provide the services taxpayers pay for. That’s what our job is,” Landry said.
“I liked fire trucks as a kid, but we spent $450,000 on a fire truck,” the mayor said, after flooding closed one of the fire stations and ruined three of the vehicles.
The city is looking to spend $1.4 million on a ladder fire truck and $140,000 on other city and police vehicles,” Landry said. FEMA will reimburse the city some of the costs, but it follows the federal process.
“This is a monumental task and we will in time recover,” Landry said.
Denham Springs has seen a 15.2 percent increase in sales taxes in the past year, fueled by purchases such as appliances, paint, sheetrock and furniture, he said.
The mayor held up the July report from the city building department listing the status of construction and remodeling projects.
It runs 2½ pages, he said.
“If there is a vacant building and it held a business, someone is in line to take that building,” Landry said.
The mayor also talked about what the flooding did to Denham Springs in personal terms.
“When the rain starts, the phone starts to ring,” Landry said, as people worry it will flood again.
The mayor has coined his own term – post-traumatic flood syndrome.
“People are nervous and anxious. I understand it takes so long to get over what we just went through,” he said.
On a personal note, Landry said, 337 days after the flood, he cooked his first meal at home.
“After 344 days, I slept in own bed,” he said, “everything is still not finished, but it’s getting there. I had flood insurance, but it took time and craftsmen.”
Landry said looking to the future includes work under way by the Denham Springs Long Term Recovery group.
Working under the Natural Disaster Recovery Framework, the volunteer group has been working with a FEMA team to get feedback from the public on what it would like to see in the city.
Two public meetings have been held to get public opinion, draw up possible projects and rank them.
“I was told to expect 100 people. The first two public meetings saw more than 700 people show up,” Landry said.
The final meeting will be held from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Aug. 12 – the anniversary of the flood – for the public to rank the 22 projects.
“Then the FEMA folks will look for funding from national partners to get the projects up and running,” Landry said.
“We want to change and we have to change. We want to look get past the obvious -- streets, drainage, infrastructure,” he said, and begin log-term projects that will improve life in Denham Springs.
He also promoted the Denham Springs Celebration of Hope on Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 19-20, at Train Station Park.
It will feature food, music, rides and a community prayer service at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 20 at the Denham Springs High gym with nine pastors from community churches.
While Landry has chosen his words carefully about the Restore Louisiana program, he urged those present to fill to its survey.
“Restore Louisiana survey -- Love it, hate it, it is what it is. Fill out the survey. If you don’t, you won’t get a penny. You need to do it,” he said.
The Restore Louisiana Business Program is still accepting applications,
“None of those dollars have hit the street. If you borrow $50,000 and make 48 payments, you don’t have to pay interest and the final 20 percent is forgiven,” he told his business audience.
Kevin Fambrough is a reporter at the Livingston Parish News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @fambroughkevin.