As the compounded effects of Hurricane Rita on southwestern Louisiana continue to be analyzed, Frith, chairman of the Acadiana delegation, is sure of one thing: The region needs more protection. He recalls a time when natural oyster reefs served as a buffer for Vermilion Bay. But now they're gone, pulled up by "abusive" dredging during the '80s. The nearby Intracoastal Waterway was also a cushion for incoming storms at one time, until increased traffic began eroding the surrounding land.
According to Christopher Knotts, director of the state's coastal engineering division, these natural and manmade bulwarks are vitally important because every 2.7 miles of land or other obstruction causes enough friction to reduce a storm surge by 1 foot in height.
But today, the only thing that stands between Acadiana and a monster Category 5 hurricane is Vermilion Bay itself ' an uncomfortable prospect when you consider there are open gaps in the bay spanning more than 100 feet, Frith says. While Lafayette is far enough inland that a massive storm surge likely wouldn't reach the city limits, coastal towns remain in danger, and continued coastal erosion in future years will further strip away natural protection from a possible storm surge from Vermilion Bay. Just the thought has local lawmakers piping-hot mad and ready for action ' not to mention curious as to why something hasn't been done sooner.
"I'm hoping and praying that people will start paying attention to this side of the state. We just don't have the notoriety the southeastern coast has on this," Frith says animatedly, shaking a cup of hot chocolate dangerously back and forth in the House committee hallway.
It's the new mantra of the modern Acadiana lawmaker. No longer are they content with allowing their colleagues from other parts of the state to drive the boat on hurricane protection and coastal restoration issues. The related jockeying played out on several different levels during the hurricane-recovery session that adjourned this week.
Scott Angelle, secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, says the volume of people from Acadiana lobbying for these projects hasn't exactly swollen, but their collective voice has gotten somewhat deafening.
"What I'm hearing are louder voices," he says, "people who want more of a say in coastal restoration and hurricane protection."
When Angelle joined other state officials to introduce the governor's legislative package that addresses these issues, members of the Senate Natural Resources Committee approved an amendment largely geared toward Acadiana.
The change essentially expanded the number of board members on the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. As proposed by Sen. Nick Gautreaux, D-Abbeville, one member would be added from the western side of the Atchafalaya River, thus guaranteeing a voice for Acadiana in an area where it has been lacking for years.
"This will increase the southwest representation," Gautreaux says.
The authority ' in theory ' would serve as the state's oversight board for hurricane protection, flood control and coastal restoration. Among other things, the authority would have the power to overtake local levee boards if they do not meet certain criteria. At press time, the legislative package was expected to pass handedly.
During the same natural resources meeting, Sen. Craig Romero, R-New Iberia, commented that the time is ripe for Acadiana to step up. But he also warned those in attendance that no matter what they do, a political reality could soon come into play, one that could reverse the traditional rewards of hard work.
"Y'all have been hustling," Romero says. "Nobody from New Orleans is hustling like that. But when the New Orleans delegation walks in the room, guess who is leaving with the money? That's just a fact of life in this process."
This is truly disheartening, he adds, especially considering how absent New Orleans has been from the table on such discussions. (No representatives from the Orleans Levee District have spoken at the legislative hearings.)
In the recent special session, the Acadiana delegation began pushing what could be the most ambitious hurricane protection plan ever considered by the state. Known simply as the "Louisiana Intracoastal Highway," the plan calls for a massive seawall, which doubles as a highway, stretching from New Orleans to Orange County, Texas.
Rep. Joel Robideaux, I-Lafayette, sponsored legislation to have the state study the feasibility of the $2.5 billion undertaking. The 255-mile project would mirror a similar one in Japan, and Robideaux says the state can experiment with private and international development banking.
This is a fairly new form of financing, ongoing presently in other U.S. states, where a company pays for the entire construction, then operates tolls on the highway and transfers ownership back to the state when they have recouped their investment.
"In addition to the traffic benefits, just think of the jobs it would create," Robideaux says.
Other members of the Acadiana delegation say there are plans to meet with the governor and her staff soon to discuss the concept.
Gerald A. Grau, assistant director of the National Wetlands Research Center in Lafayette, says the amount of increased attention has been comforting from his perspective. Despite the few number of restoration projects Acadiana receives each year, Grau says he has received endless calls offering advice on what is needed.
"It's a very good trend to see the cultural and political and societal interests are taking real notice of what's going on," he says. "If these parts don't keep coming together, nothing positive will come of this, though."
While coastal restoration and flood protection may not be historically significant issues for Acadiana lawmakers, officials like Frith contend they will be from now on.
"People might not think our area is worth saving, but it is," he says.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council on Tuesday will vote on a resolution that if approved would clear the way for a December ballot proposition asking voters to approve a 1-cent sales tax parishwide to help fund the construction of a new terminal at Lafayette Regional Airport.
Just days before the fourth anniversary of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster and oil spill, the Coast Guard has moved cleanup of Louisiana's coast to a new phase, allowing BP to end its "active" efforts in the area.
Legislators still must leave their guns at the door of the Louisiana Capitol.
Sen. Fred Mills may have an "R" behind his name, but his actions in the Louisiana Legislature transcend the established boundaries of his party.
The Louisiana House overwhelmingly rejected a repeal of the state's unconstitutional anti-sodomy law Tuesday.
The Louisiana Senate sided with Gov. Bobby Jindal and the oil industry Tuesday, agreeing to void a lawsuit that a south Louisiana flood board filed against more than 90 oil and gas companies for coastal damage.
Wednesday'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 Wednesday, April 16, 2014:
Acadian rep notifies would-be supporters that an April 25 fundraiser for the embattled U.S. rep won’t go on as planned.
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.
15th Judicial District Judge Durwood Conque has announced that he will not seek re-election after 27 years on the bench.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Chris Williams knows how to pilfer from the public coffers, this time with a back-pay lawsuit filed three years ago against the Lafayette Housing Authority, which netted the former city-parish councilman a cool five figures.
McAllister's office vowed that he intended to stay in office — for now. As for questions about whether he would stand for re-election in November, those were dodged.
The Green Army's Lafayette brigade has announced it will pay a visit Friday morning to Sen. Page Cortez to urge him to vote against Sen. Robert Adley's SB 553, which the group is calling the "Big Oil Bailout Bill of 2014."