DENHAM SPRINGS – Dots were the currency Thursday at the Denham Springs Junior High gym.

City residents used them to make their choices known to the Denham Springs Long Term Recovery Plan at its second community meeting.

The first meeting held last month – which drew 400 people – collected the public’s ideas on what is needed in Denham Springs.

On Thursday, projects that could address those ideas were posted on boards around the gym.

First was a “We heard from you” board, showing the comments from the first community meeting. Then came boards listing possible projects and choices under those projects with space for dots.

“We went door to door, literally, in the whole city on Saturday,” said Jeanette Clark, community recovery coordinator for Denham Springs, as volunteers distributed fliers.

“We’re hoping people come back and see their words reflected on the projects,” said Beth Otto, FEMA community specialist, as volunteers clad in yellow shirts took their positions.

“We’re going to further refine the projects after this,” she said and the focus will be on what projects can be carried out and getting them funded.

After 1½ hours, a total of 197 Denham Springs residents had signed in, a positive sign to Mayor Gerard Landry.

“I feel good about it. There’s interaction; everybody offers their ideas. People feel engaged,” Landry said.

“They know we’re going to make things happen. It’s not just talk. I’ve said this before, ‘Let’s get to work,’ ’’ he added.

Some projects – once they are chosen -- might be completed quickly, but others will be long-term efforts, the mayor said.

“Some might take five to 10 years. But if we don’t start as some point, then nothing will get done,” he said.

The time being devoted to selecting these projects does not mean Denham Springs is ignoring current issues, he said. 

“People ask why not roads and drainage,” Landry said. “We’ve had roads and drainage projects for 50 years and probably will for the next 50 years.

“We can’t be focused on just these things. There are too many needs for our citizens here,” he said.

And Denham Springs residents were making their needs known.

On the Natural and Cultural Resources board, under Main Street Revitalization, more lighting in the Antique Village was slightly ahead of diverting traffic from Range Avenue.

Elan Adams liked the idea of making the downtown district more “walkable.”

“Traffic can get bad,” said Adams, owner of Spiral Branch Yoga in the Antique Village.

Adams, who came to the open house with her six-month-old son, Alexander, said the downtown area could borrow the concept of Perkins Rowe in Baton Rouge, a group of shops and stores.

“There’s light traffic inside and traffic flowing around outside the area,” she said.

On other boards, under Economic Development, under the project Triangle Business District, helping local entrepreneurs and small local businesses had a 2-1 edge over other ideas.

Visitors also used dots to emphasize their choices on the Natural and Cultural Resources board.

The “We heard you” board had dots over the words “cultural events” and “community center.”

On the Community Planning board, under “What is important?” Keith Stark placed his dot for a community event space.

“It would be nice to have here; we could hold expos,” he said.

Otto said a community center was a possibility, the challenge was funds for its “ongoing operation.”

“You locate government funds to build a community center and see if you can get local support to fund its operation. Grants are better to start the process,” she said.

Dots on the Housing board’s series of questions reflected the post-flood situation in Denham Springs:

Live in home? Yes.

Still making repairs? Yes.

Have enough money for repairs? No.

Are repairs done? No.

Volunteer Angela White, working at the Economic Development board, said flooding was never far from conversations she had with visitors.

“People are saying all these ideas are great, but the overriding concern is the next time we flood -- can we avoid this again,” she said.

White took in her in-laws, grandfather and an uncle when their homes flooded.

“We had a house full of people,” she said.

But the issue of flooding did not deter White from volunteering.

“I was a member of the community at the first meeting. I came through and decided to volunteer,” she said.

“The first meeting spurred my interest. The people were pulling together and I wanted to be part of this, helping to pull us forward.”

Meanwhile, Jack Slota, one of four FEMA reservists working with the long-term plan group, explained the Infrastructure board to neighbors Don Rogers and Linda Whitman.

“Why didn’t the water go out,” Rogers asked.

“This is a regional issue,” Slot said, referring to a map of the Amite River Basin Watershed.

“You have two Mississippi counties and seven Louisiana parishes. That’s 1,800 square miles,” he said.

Denham Springs sits at the bottom of the watershed.

“Everyone should be in favor of analysis,” said Rogers, who saw his home flood.

“People are now talking,” about regional cooperation, Slota said.

But there were differences of opinion.

On the Infrastructure board, under stormwater management, was the question: “Are you in favor of a small drainage fee on your utility bill to support local drainage improvements?”

A large number of dots covered the “yes” square. Next to them was the note: “We are already taxed higher than any city in U.S.”

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Kevin Fambrough is a reporter at the Livingston Parish News. He can be reached at kevinf@livingstonparishnews.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @fambroughkevin.

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