By Cyndi Sellers
Hurricane recovery was the main topic of last Thursday’s Cameron Parish Police Jury meeting. The discussion was wide ranging, and a large number of residents were present with questions. Persistent flooding on Pelican Point Road in Grand Lake was brought up by Butch Guidry, and other jurors said they have roads that flood as well. Parish Administrator Katie Armentor said money will become available for road improvements through the Disaster Community Development Block Grant and Hazard Mitigation programs. Public Works Supervisor Emily Mock will make a list of all flood-prone roads for a priority list.
Curtis Fountain asked the staff to pursue getting the state to mitigate state highways in the parish that have been compromised by Laura’s flooding. Armentor said Jury President Sonny McGee and Rep. Ryan Bourriaque had already met with DOTD about the problem and will pursue federal funds for improvements. Some local money might even be used to start the process.
LSU AgCenter Agent Kevin Savoie reported that the Sea Grant program had visited all the boat docks and is making a list of all fishing boats destroyed by Laura. Sea Grant is in the process of trying to find assistance. Agent Bradley Pousson has been working with cattle owners on thier needs. The 4-H program is holding a virtual signup.
A Fenstermaker representative reported that the company has begun modeling for the flood prevention project being designed for Little Chenier and Chenier Perdue. These areas often flood from heavy rain events farther to the north.
District Attorney Jennifer Jones suggested that instead of demolishing the old DA’s office, the Parish might consider offering it to the U.S. Post Office for sale or lease. She said the agency is very interested, since the parish seat must have a post office, and this building survived.
She also gave a report on the progress of providing medical services at South Cameron Memorial Hospital. Instead of the DMAT team’s mobile urgent care unit, staffed by the Army, the hospital is installing a Western Shelter tent clinic, staffed by SCMH personnel, and powered by a solar array provided by Tesla. The clinic was supposed to be operational this week, but Hurricane Delta has caused it to be dismantled. It will be returned when the danger is over.
For step two, the hospital plans a temporary emergency room unit composed of several modular units like those the hospital was built with. It will include x-ray, and laboratory capability and at least 10 inpatient beds, as required by federal rules. the temporary ER unit can only operate for two years; after that it must become permanent. The hospital board does not want to build a large a facility as the current one but plans to build higher.
South Cameron Memorial Hospital averaged 1500 patients a year and is funded by a local tax and proceeds from the hospital in Creole and the care unit in Lake Charles. It was built with private donations.
Mosquito Control Director Josh Hightower reported that aerial spraying began one week after Laura, using pesticides already stored by the agency. Extra plans have been contracted. The priorities are areas with livestock and people working in recovery. There have been 14 nights of aerial spraying and 11 nights of truck spraying. After a week of spraying, the mosquito population returned to normal. Then TS Beta’s flooding spawned a new hatch, so more spraying was planned.
To date, there had been 640,333 acres sprayed by air, at a cost of $828,663. Jurors said, “Keep spraying,” and promised more money if needed.
Temporary Housing, Permits
Katie Armentor said she has been requesting a meeting with FEMA on temporary housing for Cameron Parish for three weeks. “They won’t meet with us,” she said. “I am disgusted with their lack of effort. They have met with Calcasieu, Beauregard, and Jeff Davis. We can’t get temporary housing without a meeting.”
Permit fees for home repairs have been waived. A permit is required for repairs to any home in the Special Flood Hazard area. Coastal Zone Manager Myles Hebert said the rules are the same as before the storm. Elevations and building code are not changing. Homes need sewer and electricity first. Repairs to minor damage are okay. Canopies will now need permits, and there will be wind loads. This is not currently in the state rules, and Hebert is waiting on a letter to confirm the ratings.
Hebert said his office is swamped, working to get power to everyone. The LSU AgCenter website has recommendations for repairs and building in the flood zone, and there is information on the Police Jury website as well. A simple one-page checklist was to be prepared and released on Facebook.
“Substantially damaged” buildings will have to be elevated and brought up to code. Substantial damage is over 50 percent of the property value required for repair. Hebert suggests getting an engineer or architect to evaluate the value, and a contractor to provide the cost of repair.
Tax Assessor-elect Darrell Williams was asked about property tax assessments in the wake of hurricane damage. Williams said the matter is under discussion at the Assessor’s office, and there will probably be a reduction in all residential property values before the tax bills go out. Staff have been driving throughout the parish looking at all the homes. A decision will be made by the current Assessor, Orson Billings, in a couple of weeks.
Commercial property will be considered on a case by case basis. At any rate, the income for the Police Jury, School Board, Sheriff’s Office, and local districts will be affected, and the Assessor’s Office will be advising them of the impact when it is known.
Greg Gachassin, owner of several commercial properties in Cameron, asked about the debris removal process, and what to do if the property is not close to the state or parish road. All debris must be moved to the right of way, which generally extends twenty feet from the edge of the road. It is best to separate vegetative debris, household debris, construction materials, white goods, and hazardous materials.
Trucks are making passes now and will make more on the same routes if more debris shows up. State highways and parish roads are being handled by different contractors, with different instructions. These contractors are being paid by the cubic yard, not by the hour or day, so they will pick up as much a possible each day.
Certain items, however, will be left behind for later pickup. These include propane tanks, white goods, and tires. Household garbage should not be included in the piles. Waste Management is now picking up garbage on its regular routes. Parish garbage cans are now available by calling the Public Works department.
Private Property Debris Removal (PPDR) is a FEMA program that has been applied for. When granted, it will allow crews to come onto private property to remove debris, fallen trees, and the “leaner and hanger” trees that were removed after Rita.
Some Parish dump sites are open for household garbage disposal, but the closed dumps in lower Cameron Parish are waiting on fences, sewers, and staff on site. They should only be used for household debris.
Permits were issued for several landfills around the parish, but they are still waiting for Department of Natural Resources approval.
These requests are said to be moving forward.
Library Administrator Dede Sanders has reported that all parish libraries have been cleared by the structural engineer, and water remediation and elevator repair are ongoing. All fared extremely well, but the Library Board plans to allocate funds from the Hackberry branch to the new building that is being designed.
The Sheriff’s Office is being housed in the Grand Lake Branch until reliable power and dependable internet is provided in Cameron. The Registrar of Voters will also be in that building through the election.
The DA’s office has located in the LSU AgCenter office in Grand Lake until assured
power and internet are available in Cameron. Like the Sheriff’s Office, the DA’s Office needs access to certain internet sources that cannot be accessed from satellite feeds.
38th Judicial District Court Judge Penelope Richard plans to announce court dates in Cameron soon.
Susheel Kumar and Corey Williams of the Small Business Administration explained that businesses, homeowners, and renters are all eligible for SBA loans are very favorable interest rates. These loans can be used right away to get started on repairs and rebuilding, to pay employees and get back on their feet. Rates of 1.18 to 2.37 percent are available for 30 year loans of $40,000 to $200,000.
The deadline to apply is Oct. 27. Borrowers need to get a FEMA number and then the SBA package at SBA.gov.