But was it really? The privately funded regional planning poll found overwhelming support for the state's proposed coastal plan, with 93 percent of participants backing increased funding and expedited implementation. The statistic, while abnormally high for any sketch of public opinion, was hardly surprising. More than half of the responses used to compile the survey came from residents in Louisiana's 19-parish coastal zone.
Respondents also answered questions about land use, economic development and transportation. More than 23,000 people submitted responses using the Internet, mail delivery and phone surveys. Louisiana Public Broadcasting aired an hour-long documentary on the process some 50 times over the past three months. Numerous editorials urged participation, and newspaper inserts were widely circulated.
More than 200 polling stations were established for the massive effort, and the Louisiana Speaks campaign produced more responses than any similar effort in the United States ' Utah recently netted 17,500 participants for its survey. A team of national experts and local planners are now using this data, along with previous resident input, to create a master plan for recovery in south Louisiana over the next 50 years. Despite the lofty goal, officials insist it'll be ready to hit the street sometime in May.
Putting the plan on paper is only one of several steps that must be taken. A new state agency needs to be created to make sure the plan is implemented properly, and the Legislature will be asked to pass a controversial package of bills dealing with insurance and land rights in the upcoming regular session that kicks off April 30. Parochial politics will likely play a role in the creation of the new agency, as responses from north Louisiana were few and far between. Additionally, there may be more inquiries about the poll itself in coming months; some already question its vaguely worded inquiries and its methodology.
Andy Kopplin, executive director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, the lead government group on the project, says priorities for the northern part of state will be folded into the new planning agency if it's approved by the Legislature this spring. Although significantly under-represented in the polling process, north Louisiana will not feel isolated, he says.
Lawmakers from the region might think differently during the coming debates. No figures were offered regarding the cost of the new agency, which would be placed in the Division of Administration.
The call for another agency in post-Katrina Louisiana might be seen as one more layer of bureaucracy. Already on the books are the Louisiana Recovery Authority, which Gov. Kathleen Blanco created to lead recovery efforts; the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, which lords over all things coastal and flood-related; the Road Home, which distributes federal housing money; two consolidated levee districts in southeast Louisiana; a board to oversee new building code regulations; and now Louisiana Speaks, or whatever agency name is eventually assigned.
All of these groups will surely collaborate with the Louisiana Speaks process, as will the Legislature and public. Everything from light rail transportation to natural habitats will be up for discussion. Kopplin says the goal is to make sure everything falls under one umbrella, admittedly a daunting task. Public money also may pose a challenge. So far, $10 million has been raised through private foundations and donors, with $4.4 million being sunk into Louisiana Speaks. The state coffers will eventually have to tilt. "The coordination has to take place on a mammoth scale," Kopplin says.
LRA board member Sean Reilly said the poll's findings also will be used to push for policy changes in the areas of coastal mitigation, insurance and community revitalizations. The consensuses reached in the survey can and will be leveraged, he says. The LRA might even take stances on controversial topics, such as abolishing the Insurance Rating Commission. The most heated debates could end up being over land rights, although Reilly wouldn't tip his hand to reveal any specifics. Still, it's clear the LRA will be a player in the upcoming session. "We plan on having a legislative package to help the Louisiana Speaks plan," Reilly says.
The poll reports that 88 percent of local residents want to consider new options for risk management in unprotected flood-prone areas, with only 11 percent holding a preference for emphasizing individual property rights over community risk. That means Louisiana is ready to deal with the tough issues, says Donna Fraiche, chair of the LRA's community planning task force. Of course, the Louisiana Land Owners Association and other Capitol heavyweights might have something to say about it when political realities come home to roost. "[The poll participants] want more housing choices, more transit options, and they are willing to consider policies, limitations and regulatory changes that will help us collectively reduce risk and create safer communities," Fraiche says.
The big winner in the poll was inarguably the coast. Near-unanimous support from respondents was given to the "importance of funding and implementation of the state's proposed coastal plan." When approximately 58 percent of the participants live in a coastal parish, such a response isn't a shocker. One would think the past five years of overwhelming support for constitutional amendments would have been enough of a referendum to chalk the issue up as a priority. The "huge mandate" in this area identified by Rather and others might not be as colossal as first thought, especially since participants were not asked to view a specific coastal plan, nor were they told anything about the plan that is in the works.
Yes, the state is still developing its master plan for coastal restoration, hurricane protection and levee management. The finite details ' funding, federal cooperation, subsidence and land-use policies ' have become sticking points, and the public is far from seeing a final draft. The coastal plan the state has now, which includes dozens of marsh restoration projects, levee alignments and floodgates, is estimated to cost tens of billions of dollars over the next several decades. Before the plan can be implemented by Congress, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must present its own plan for Louisiana. The Corps' plan is months behind schedule. It's possible the Corps could ignore Louisiana's plan entirely, but state officials hope the Corps will at least include it as an appendix to its own plan.
At least one ballot for the Louisiana Speaks poll was received from every parish and 32 other states. While the coastal issue dominates because of the large number of respondents living in coastal communities, gender and racial breakdowns track traditional population distributions ' with one exception. The 8 percent response in the Lafayette area was significantly lower than expected. The racial breakdown was "great," Rather says, but there is a lingering doubt raised by one telling statistic: 53 percent of respondents used the Internet to complete the survey. That suggests income diversity among respondents might not reflect the state's diverse population; Internet access isn't usually a readily available tool to lower-income families.
While computers used at polling stations could account for that, the poll reports that 61 percent of respondents did not indicate an income level at all. There's no way to tell how accurately the study represented the poor population ' the largest income sector devastated by Katrina. This fact alone could have legislative ramifications. Reporting income is a common problem in market research and political surveys, and the income results in the Louisiana Speaks poll are "unusable due to the low number of participants," according to the poll's summary of findings.
The men (35 percent) versus women (41 percent) ratio was also larger than Louisiana's traditional gender gap, which has women leading men by roughly three percentage points in the most recent U.S. Census count. Rather says many of the women respondents passed over issues, such as commercial fishing and recreational hunting. Whether sections were skipped due to the broad wording of some questions ' "What is the right mix of property rights and community risk?" ' or because of other factors was not addressed at last week's news conference.
On the issue of economic development, 59 percent pegged "attracting and retaining companies" as a top priority, with expanding job skills and vocational education four points behind at 55 percent. Expanding trade and shipping garnered 23 percent, and fostering knowledge-based businesses, at 29 percent, both fell to the bottom of the pile. Economists and development types consider the areas to be ripe for growth, but the buzz hasn't caught on. "The economic development folks will probably be disappointed with that one," Rather says. "But it indicates that people want to stop the bleeding that's going on in the economy before heading out in new directions."
The entire Louisiana Speaks effort is privately funded, so there is no clamor at this point for public accountability. That will come soon enough, when the Legislature convenes. For now, Louisiana Speaks is relying on its champions ' prestigious donors, good government groups and businessmen ' to do the heavy lifting. The champion list contains pages of names, a virtual who's who, including Lee Griffin, former chairman and CEO of Bank One in Baton Rouge. Griffin promises the lobbying will be tough, the plan will be implemented and the poll will stand up to any and all scrutiny. The champions won't have it any other way. "We're serious. We're going to be getting in people's faces," he says.
Complete survey results are available online at www.louisianaspeaks.org.
newsy bits for the fam
Festival International de Louisiane is right around the corner — April 23-27 — and IND Monthly’s second annual Fest fIND contest is along for the ride.
Acadian rep notifies would-be supporters that an April 25 fundraiser for the embattled U.S. rep won’t go on as planned.
Georgia-based fried chicken chain would go up against Raising Cane’s, Chick-fil-A and others (like the Popeyes near its proposed location).
While it isn’t all too unusual for public bodies to have hired security present during meetings, the LPSB’s push to do so is arguably a response to the antics of one board member.
“I’m running. Why would I be raising all this money? Just to have to return it to people?”
With incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu watching from afar, and with a united Democratic Party in her corner, the fight to get the GOP officially behind Congressman Bill Cassidy is gaining just as much momentum as it is hushed controversy.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
15th Judicial District Judge Durwood Conque has announced that he will not seek re-election after 27 years on the bench.
The perfect color for Easter Sunday
The controversial standardized tests are set to be used in third-grade through eighth-grade public school classrooms next year.
The Louisiana Senate has agreed to prohibit unmanned aircraft from flying over chemical plants, water treatment systems, telecommunications networks and other items considered "critical infrastructure" in Louisiana.
A Scott businessman has pleaded guilty to failing to report a conspiracy to award Opelousas Housing Authority construction bids to his company.
It didn’t take long for KATC TV 3 to jump all over the news of a dead body found in Girard Park, but in its rush to produce headlines, the local TV station got sloppy.
Egg-citing ideas for sharing at family gatherings
Tuesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Tuesday, April 15, 2014:
An unholy trinity of civil-society upheavalers whose first names are not Conner, Tanner or Logan are facing charges in Eunice.
Now that lawmakers have shot down efforts to cap annual interest rates for payday loans, supporters for stricter regulations of the storefront lenders are rallying behind another strategy.
The Appropriations Committee held public testimony day, letting people talk about what they like or don't like about Gov. Bobby Jindal's budget recommendations for the 2014-15 fiscal year that begins July 1.
Court-appointed examiner says Lafayette businessman was “effectively on both sides” of transactions, opens door for legal action against him.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Lafayette-based insurance broker/risk management group bought by Florida firm for undisclosed sum; principals Landry and Harris continue to run local operations.
Lafayette police are investigating the death of a 21-year-old woman whose body was found early Sunday in a drainage ditch in Girard Park.
Former Grant parish District Attorney Ed Tarpley says he's running for the U.S. House seat currently held by Republican Vance McAllister of Swartz.
Louisiana-Lafayette got strong starting pitching and timely hitting to hold off Arkansas-Little Rock 6-3 in Sun Belt Conference baseball in Lafayette, La.
The life and legacy of Dave Perkins will be commemorated with a special INDesign Lifetime Achievement Award as part of the 2014 event on April 24.
Easy crafts in time for Easter
The Cane Fire Film Series presents “The Great Flood” on Monday, April 14, at the AcA.