DENHAM SPRINGS – Memories of grief and despair remain vivid nearly one year after the Great Flood of 2016, but the aftermath brought Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks a strong sense of optimism.
Ricks discussed the natural disaster – among the worst four in the nation’s history – during his State of the Parish Address at the Livingston Parish Chamber of Commerce luncheon Aug. 9 at Forrest Grove Plantation.
“It was stressful as hell … heartbreaking and gut-wrenching,” he said. “But the way we responded said a lot about who we are as a parish.”
It was hard to feel any sense of optimism the day the flooding became imminent, Ricks said.
In fact, the severity was much of what caught him and most Livingston Parish and surrounding areas by surprise.
“A year ago today, who would’ve thought we’d have thought we’d have experienced what we did?” he said. “It started raining as we expected, and low and behold, it kept coming.”
The visual images of homes almost completely under water and roadways resembling waterways also come to mind for Ricks and other officials.
One of the worst sights came in the aftermath, Ricks said.
“A lot of things transpired, as you all know, but the worst of it was seeing all of our stuff in the front yard – all the things we’ve earned, acquired and inherited.”
The redemption came in the form of the response from residents, who have worked hard to rebound over the last year from what has become the benchmark flood, eclipsing the 1983 event.
“Everyone banded together to work as a team,” Ricks said. “Even people who didn’t like each other lived together and worked together.”
It also unified residents in a way perhaps never seen in Livingston Parish.
“When you look at all the coverage on the TV channels, it crossed race, gender, financial status … it took it all,” he said. “In the aftermath, we’ve seen people helping each other day in and day out.”
Economic fallout from the loss of businesses and residents triggered concern that the parish would see a nosedive in sale tax revenue. Instead, it went the other direction.
Consumer purchases of automotive and building materials triggered 26 percent spike in sales tax revenue, which equated to $23.3 million.
“The sales have gone down as we’ve moved further from the flood, but so far we’ve held our own,” Ricks said. “We haven’t had to do any layoffs, in fact.”
In the wake of the flood, 13 commercial developments have been permitted throughout the parish and 23 more are under consideration. Also, 11 residential developments are under consideration, along with one mobile home park.
Ricks still expects a turnaround time of three to five years for the parish to regain its pre-flood economic and residential standing.
“Looking at what happened to Juban Crossing, I’d have thought it would take at least five years,” he said.
Ricks said he sees hope not only for a return to a pre-flood Livingston Parish, but one better than that.
“I see it that way because our employees are phenomenal and did what they had to do, and it says something about the quality of people here in the parish,” he said. “That’s what makes Livingston Parish special.”