Denham Springs working on long-term recovery plan

Before Easter, the Louisiana Office of Community Development Disaster Recovery Unit met with Mayor Gerard Landry and extended an offer of assistance in the city’s long-term community recovery planning process. They met again after Easter, and the City accepted the offer.
According to Mayor Landry, the city had already been considering a disaster recovery plan before the flood. He said, “This is not new to Denham Springs; we have been working on some of these plans for a long time. Part of the reason we were chosen is they saw we were trying to do something before the flood and continued to work on it after the flood.”
Other communities in the area have been contacted, but so far, Denham Springs is the only one known to have accepted.
With the stated objective of developing a long-term plan for the recovery of Denham Springs, the City will collect input from concerned residents as to what they hope to see happen for their hometown over the next several years.
The first item needed was to establish a steering committee, and the first step towards that was to name a coordinator. The mayor chose Jeanette Clark, a 10-year city employee known as a “go-getter” to be the coordinator of the Denham Springs Community Recovery Plan. The three FEMA employees who have been working with the city since the flood, Beth Otto, Jack Slota and Deanne Bingham, are now focusing on this project.
recoveryOtto noted, “We will help, but this is not a FEMA project; this is a City project. We will do everything we can to provide support in the background. The recovery plan will not be funded by FEMA, but we will assist the City in identifying resources for potential funding from state and federal agencies, the private sector and philanthropists.”
Support will be available from the state of Louisiana, the Capital Region Planning Commission, FEMA and the U. S. Dept. of Homeland Security. FEMA is able to draw upon various other federal agencies as well.
Mayor Landry said, “Jeanette will report directly to me, but I am not the one that will run this project. She will coordinate it and will rely heavily on input from residents.
Clark echoed that, and said, “We need community involvement – that’s the key. We want to find out what do people want to see the community become, and then let’s see if that is attainable.”
Clark and the FEMA staff hit the ground running. They first interviewed city department heads to learn what could be done better in the event of another flood or other disaster.
Otto said, “We have been very impressed with what city employees did to help rescue people and keep city services going. Many of them left their flooded homes to go out and do essential repair and rescue work with no base of operation since City Hall also flooded.”
Clark’s group also identified, contacted and met one-on-one with owners of all types of local businesses, religious leaders, educators, private citizens and all others who have a stake in the future of Denham Springs. Many of these stakeholders agreed to serve on the steering committee and are currently working together to develop ideas and solicit input from residents.
Otto said, “We have had an incredible response from people who are so invested in seeing Denham Springs return better than before. This is long-term planning, and projects could be implemented over a span of 6-10 years.”
The steering committee plans to come up with potential solutions by mid-July, and identify specific projects by August 12 for the one-year anniversary of the flood. The group’s first interaction with the community will be an open house June 15 at Denham Springs Jr. High gym, 4-8 p.m. for public input.
The mayor said, “This is not a ‘fluff’ committee; we’re not here to talk, we are here to solve problems. We will keep our meetings short and to the point. People have their own unique understanding of their situation, their own areas of expertise, and they have ideas for what the city needs. We’re counting on having residents come forward and help get this done.
He added, “I’m not going to pretend that I know what every person wants or needs the city to become. I often say that as your mayor, I’m driving the bus, but the citizens are my GPS, and they give me directions on where they want to go.”
The committee’s first meeting May 18 was an introductory meeting, to learn what the purpose would be and meet other committee members. Carter presented a slide show that identified areas being considered for inclusion in the planning. At a follow-up meeting May 22, the group signed up for sub-committees which began to meet once a week.
Sub-committees are Health & Social Services, Infrastructure, Community Planning, Housing, and Economic Recovery. The Steering Committee will continue to meet once a week to identify potential projects that will be presented at the June 15 public meeting.
“Initially, we will focus on some needed projects that can be achieved quickly. Then we may eventually select the top 10 projects and prioritize them. We need a quick ‘win’ to show people that we are serious about the work we are undertaking.”
She emphasized that anyone interested in helping is welcome to join the Steering Committee. She can be contacted by email at jclark@cityofdenhamsprings.com or call 225.678.6088.

By Helen Turner