DENHAM SPRINGS – Describing it as “an intensive, 3-month community-based planning process,” the Denham Springs Community Recovery Plan began its work with two meetings in five days and a tentative date for its first community meeting.
And that suits Mayor Gerard Landry.
“I’m not after fluff committees to just talk about problems. We need to get straight to the point,” Landry said Thursday, May 18, at the first meeting of the leadership committee, a group of community and business representatives who will lead the effort.
“We’re going to make sure things happen. We need to be productive,” Landry said.
The leadership committee has been charged with surveying city residents about what issues concern them about Denham Springs, both post-flood and long-term.
The panel will develop short-term and long-term goals to improve the city, then work with FEMA to find the funding for those projects.
“I’m driving the bus, but you’re the GPS. You tell me where to go,” Landry said.
The committee also has a goal of Aug. 12 – the anniversary of the Great Flood of 2016 – to unveil its plan that will chart the future for Denham Springs.
“The leadership team will be leading/guiding an intensive, 3-month community-based planning process,” wrote Jeanette Clark, the city’s community recovery coordinator, in a memo to the leadership team after its first meeting.
The “intensive” part continued on Monday, May 22, at the committee’s second meeting, when its members joined one of six sub-committees.
The six subcommittees will look at the topics of community planning, infrastructure, natural and cultural resources, housing, economics and health and social services.
All of the sub-committees scheduled meetings on Wednesday or Thursday. The next meeting of the leadership team will be at noon Monday, June 5, at Big Mike’s.
Outreach groups will be used to get public opinion and identify issues public wants addressed, Clark said.
Clark added she has been in contact with Denham Springs High School Principal Kelly Jones to use its cafeteria or gym for the community meeting, possibly from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, June 15.
But that is still tentative, she said.
Livingston Parish Assistant School Superintendent Steve Parrill said if the date can be confirmed before report cards are sent out, information about the community meeting could be included with the report cards going to homes in the Denham Springs area.
The school system also could put out the information on Twitter, its Facebook page and via SchoolMessenger, an electronic notification system, he said.
This community meeting will seek ideas from the public about what issues concern them and what they want to see in Denham Springs.
“The idea is to gather ideas about issues to be addressed, then have the community determine the top 10 from the subcommittees,” Clark said.
The sub-committees will define what issues could be addressed.
“Get about six to eight issues, then the FEMA people will get the funding,” Landry said.
A second community meeting would be held in mid-July to generate solutions to the issues, what they would cost and finding a source of funding.
The FEMA delegation has been at both meetings, jokingly described by Landry as the “good side of FEMA.”
“These people know where to find funding. They will help us determine what projects to do,” he said. “You might have one idea and they can find three types of funding for it.”
Denham Springs qualified to seek grants through the Natural Disaster Recovery Framework, Landry said.
It is the only municipality FEMA has accepted, Clark added, while Baker and Central are in the application process.
By Aug. 12, the projects would be ranked and a draft plan would be ready for review by the leadership team.
“People want to see Denham Springs come back at a high level,” said Kayla Johnson, of Covington & Associates Real Estate. “Hopefully, there is a program out there to help with our buildings. Let’s just bring it back better.”
Parrill asked about including school buildings damaged by flooding as an issue.
Clark said yes, education is a crucial issue to a community and it could be included.
Denham Springs has to prove to the federal government that people are participating in the recovery planning and they want these issues addressed, Landry said.
He cited a survey being done by the Restore Louisiana Homeowner Assistance Program. The program’s goal is 78,000 surveys; only 18,000 have been done.
The six sub-committees and their members are:
Economic Committee: Ryan LeBlanc, Danny Paline, J.T. Davidson, Mike O’Neal.
Housing Committee: Kayla Johnson, Fred Banks.
Natural & Cultural Resources Committee: Donna Jennings, Dawn Birdsong, Margot May, Helen Turner.
Health & Social Services Committee: Dawn Birdsong, Robin Dale, Margot May.
Infrastructure Committee: Rick Foster, Chad Bacas, Shawn Hima.
Community Planning Committee: Shawn Hima, Rick Foster, Cameron Hamby, John Cavalier.