Lieutenant governor tours damaged park

Published 4:45 am Saturday, May 21, 2016

On Friday, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser stopped by Bogalusa to check out Cassidy Park and meet with city officials about its repair.

Nungesser later went to visit the parish fairgrounds, but he spent the morning with State Rep. Malinda White, who organizes the blues and heritage festival, Mayor Wendy Perrette, the city’s engineer and the director of public works.

The park was badly damaged by flooding in early March, but despite the damage, White has been determined to hold the festival in the park. The festival is slated for September, but city officials have repeatedly raised concerns that the park might not be safe for festival-goers by then. Nungesser offered suggestions for a path forward that could result in the park being ready by September.

Perrette told the lieutenant governor that engineering estimates indicate that it could take 18 months and as much as $1.4 million to fully repair the park. However, it won’t cost that much to make the park merely safe.

“All we need is level, flat ground,” White said. She pointed out that she could provide portable bathrooms and use generators for power, if necessary.

White repeated her insistence that the festival must be held at the park. She said moving it would be impossible.

“It would cost us at a minimum $20,000 that we don’t have,” she said. “And logistically, it wouldn’t work. This is not a local festival — this is a national and international event. We’re expecting to have between 8-and-10,000 people this year.”

She said last year’s event drew about 8,000 people and expects more to arrive this year.

Perrette and others don’t expect the park to be fully rebuilt before September, but the mayor said if the city can get state or federal funding, it is possible for the city to at least make the space safe. Perrette said again Friday that safety is the goal, not total rehabilitation.

Nungesser said he would see about state loans, and he suggested the city should create a repair plan with deadlines. He said the plan should emphasize the most important fixes that are necessary for safety and then each fix should get a deadline for completion, week by week, until September.

“If you truly want to make this happen, you gotta have a plan,” he said.

The city does have a plan from Kyle and Associates, an engineering firm the city uses, but the plan has no timetable. To date, even simple tasks like leveling ground has been delayed because of weather, manpower and even ancient arrowheads.

On Friday, city public works director James Hall said certain parts of the park cannot be cleared of sand, because Cassidy Park Museums officials are concerned that relics and artifacts swept away in the flooding are somewhere in the numerous piles of sand.

Hall said he plans to give the museum groups a deadline to search for the relics, and Nungesser suggested they should get help with the search.

“They better get the Boy Scouts out here to help sift,” he said.

The lieutenant governor also suggested hiring emergency temporary workers, including an emergency contractor to oversee the work. Hall has said one of the biggest problems for him is allocating resources to the park. He has 16 employees for the entire city, and between park repairs and general operations, manpower is thin.

Nungesser pointed out that the city could hire temporary workers and still get reimbursed by FEMA with a 75/25 match, meaning the city would need to contribute a quarter for every dollar in aid it receives. This includes in-kind contributions like labor, so the city wouldn’t necessarily have to spend any extra money.

“If you’re documenting everything, then you don’t have to put in any cash,” Nungesser said. “Everything you’re doing will count toward that match.”

But Perrette said FEMA funding takes months or years to get. The state is one source for revenue, and Perrette said the city could qualify for a GOHSEP (Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness) loan, except the city still owes them $18,000 from Katrina cleanup.

Nungesser suggested that if the city qualifies for a loan to repair flooding damage, then it should ask the state to take the $18,000 it still owes out of whatever funds it may presently qualify for.

Nungesser and city officials will begin looking into that possibility next week.