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 superintendent insists the budget is illegal and vows to fight on.
"I am not a scientist," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has said numerous times, a response that other members of his party have parroted.
Republicans are running strong races against endangered Democratic incumbents in states such as North Carolina, Colorado, Arkansas, Louisiana and Alaska. Republicans are also looking to replace retiring Democrats in Iowa and West Virginia with a GOP lawmaker.
Republican congressman Vance McAllister is trying to make up to Louisiana voters for getting too close to a married former employee.
You may not like all of “it,” but U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, unlike many of her colleagues, isn't sitting around twiddling her thumbs in Congress.
Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro says he "can't wait" to play against Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The heat keeps rising for Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal as a new slate of corruption allegations surfaced this week.
If opposing defenses sell out to stop the Packers' passing game, they risk being gashed by powerful running back Eddie Lacy, a New Orleans-area native.
At the horn the officiating crew trotted to the tunnel and left security personnel to clean up after them.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Sign "ninjas" cleaning up clutter; NYC doctor positive for Ebola; Ferguson grand jury decision nears; and more national and international news for Friday, October 24, 2014.
We can safely assume incumbent Chief K.P. Gibson isn’t too worried about this challenger.
Nationally, Republicans must gain six seats to win Senate control. The most competitive races, many in states where Obama lost in 2012, remain too close to call.
The Baton Rouge Republican has repeatedly battled a perception within his own party that he perhaps wasn't the best choice to carry the GOP banner.
Even if Jimmy Graham's production dips while the star tight end recovers from a shoulder injury, it looks like Drew Brees won't have much trouble finding other targets.
A former campaign manager for Senate candidate Rob Maness is striking at the Republican contender's tea party support, saying Maness only sought to appeal to conservative organizations because he needed money for his campaign.
Ninety-two percent of public school teachers were rated either effective or highly effective in a report the state issued marking the second year of a new statewide evaluation process.
School board members Mark Babineaux, Hunter Beasley and Tehmi Chassion can vote to fire Cooper — because we all know that’s exactly what they’ll do.
District 2 school board candidate Simon Mahan is hoping to unseat first-term incumbent and former Carencro Mayor Tommy Angelle in the Nov. 4 election.
District Attorney Mike Harson is showing his desperation by falsely attributing quotes to his opponent and blocking journalists from his social media.
The governor is traveling the country laying the groundwork for a possible 2016 presidential campaign, but his approval ratings at home hover well below 50 percent.
State District Judge Bob Downing extended the order and delayed a planned Wednesday hearing about a permanent injunction while negotiations continue between Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and the waste disposal site operator.
New Louisiana higher education commissioner Joseph Rallo will be paid more than his predecessor.
Elijah McGuire and Alonzo Harris each had four rushing touchdowns, and Louisiana-Lafayette rolled to 419 yards on the ground in a 55-40 victory over Arkansas State on Tuesday night.
Bill and Hillary Clinton are the validators-in-chief for Democrats struggling through a bleak campaign season in states where President Barack Obama is deeply unpopular.