Archive for March, 2011

Police Jury to vote on map proposal April 7

*published Mar. 30, 2011
BY VANESSA C. DEGGINS

Calcasieu parish officials on Tuesday, presented a redistricting map filled with minor shifts in district lines.

“We focused on maintaining distinct communities, while still following federal laws,’’ said Kade Cole, the attorney who oversaw the redistricting.

The parish population according to the 2010 census is 192,768.

Majority minority districts, mandated by the Voting Rights Act, were slightly shifted south into central Lake Charles.

Each district would have a black voter population over 60 percent.

The second largest change was residents moving southwest in the parish, causing changes in Districts 6 and 7, which stretch from the airport to Ward Line Road.

The largest overall population increase was District 8 in south Lake Charles, which is the Barbe school district.

The Gillis area was moved from District 1 with Moss Bluff to District 10 with LeBleu Settlement.

A northern section of Westlake, would be moved from District 3 to District 14, with the rest of the city.

Far west districts that include the Vinton and Starks area were unchanged.

For an April 30 election, which is a local option election on Mojito Point casino resort, the polling places will be listed on the Police Jury website.

The Police Jury voting on the map on April 7.

Officials then send the map to the Department of Justice for approval, which takes about 120 days to review.

March 30, 2011 at 12:54 am

SW La. officials map out plan to tackle coastal erosion

*published Mar. 24, 2011
BY VANESSA C. DEGGINS

Armed with information from a half-dozen studies, Southwest Louisiana officials spent Wednesday laying out possible coastal restoration projects and how to get them completed.

Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach said one important factor would be to change people’s thinking.

“Everyone has this ‘deltaic’ thinking, they keep comparing us to southeast Louisiana, which is completely different. We have the Chenier Plain here,” Roach said.

When dealing with the Chenier Plain, the best option is multiple lines of defense, said Sherrill Segrera, a Vermillion parish farmer and member of the Acadiana Resource Conservation and Development Council.

“We can’t really do levees here, so we would need to work on rebuilding Chenier and marshland,” Segrera said.

A sore subject among the discussions was the now-stalled Southwest Louisiana Coastal Feasibility Study.

The study by the Army Corps of Engineers was authorized in 2007 and was set to be the first comprehensive look at Southwest Louisiana’s coast, focusing on Calcasieu, Cameron and Vermillion parishes.

It was also supposed to develop a plan to rebuild the Chenier Plain, barrier islands and coastal marsh.

Because of lack of funding, the study has been delayed and officials said the chance of completing the study soon is unlikely.

“If we had the money right now, the study could be done by 2012, with an optimistic implementation of 2020 — and Cameron and Vermillion don’t have that long to wait,” said Sidney Coffee, senior advisor for America’s Wetland Foundation.

“The corps is a group of good guys, but they are not going to change,” said Ernie Broussard, Cameron Parish planner. “The parish as a whole has elected not to dwell on the bureaucratic tape of the federal government and we continue to have our own robust agenda.”

The best option for a doable project is the Dredged Material Management Plan, a study that has been completed but has not been funded. It is a 20-year plan for effectively using material dredged from the Calcasieu River and Pass.

Coffee suggested that officials have projects prioritized in case something has to be dropped because of funding.

Sherill added that they shouldn’t think about building a project unless they factor in maintenance.

March 24, 2011 at 12:58 am

Scientists, engineers across globe have studied coastal erosion (sidebar)

Officials at the Blue Ribbon Resilient Community Forums presented information from scientists and engineers all over the world. Here is an overview of some of the studies used.

Building a Resilient Energy Coast
The study by Entergy and America’s Wetland Foundation was an attempt to put a potential price tag on the climate risks on the Gulf Coast.

Researches included more than 800 zip codes across 77 parishes and counties occupied by about 12 million people.

The main areas of study were hurricane damage (from wind, storm-surge and sea-level rise), how assets in the area are affected by the damage and the cost of that damage. The oil and gas industry is considered the most vulnerable, bearing about 88 percent of all losses by 2030.

Rita Report
Published by the Louisiana Recovery Authority one year after Hurricane Rita hit Southwest Louisiana, the study gauged the economic impact of the hurricane and recovery status of Calcasieu, Cameron and Vermillion parishes.

In the overview of the damage in the three parishes affected most by the hurricane, each gets an individual section. The sections outline infrastructure, economic activity and restoration and redevelopment.

Manual for Coastal Development in Louisiana
A guide that varies by parish was created by the nonprofit Center for Planning Excellence (CPEX). Officials with CPEX worked with the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority to develop land regulations that promote sustainable growth patterns. Officials with CPEX meet with parish officials to develop an individual “Land Use Toolkit” that looks at issues such as hazard mitigation and natural resource protection.

How Resilient is Your Coastal Community Guide Book
The Guide Book, developed in Oct. 2007 after the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, addressed how a community can quickly rebound from a devastating tsunami (in Louisiana, that would be a storm surge).

March 23, 2011 at 1:05 am

Marsh planting just beginning of restoring ravaged coastline

Laurie Cormier of Lake Charles plants marsh grass along a newly rebuilt levee near Black Lake in Hackberry. (VANESSA C. DEGGINS / AMERICAN PRESS)

A dozen volunteers spent Monday in Hackberry planting marsh grass along a levee next to Black Lake.

The grass — smooth cordgrass — will help secure the 25-year-old levee, which was recapped last October, according to Hilary Colis, a restoration coordinator with the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana.

The 3 1/2-mile levee had been worn down by Hurricanes Rita and Ike, said Curt Mercantel, who owns the property.

“Its root system stretches out pretty quickly. I’ve seen this grass take off in three to six months,” Colis said.

Cordgrass is also ideal for wetland restoration because it can handle the low elevation and saltier environment well, Colis said.

The volunteers planted about 5,000 plugs along the levee. Volunteers came from as far as New Orleans and Houston.

Ruth Cruce of Houston said she regularly visits Cameron Parish and has considered retiring in the area.

“I’ve always felt so welcome and (it is) such a beautiful area. Doing things like this just makes me feel more a part of the area,” Cruce said.

Mike Dever of Sulphur had volunteered for other beach and marsh plantings. He said he’s followed the state of coastal restoration closely.

“These (projects) help, but we need bigger projects and we need to coordinate better,” said the former science teacher and environmental engineering consultant. “I don’t think people understand that different approaches need to be used when dealing with Southwest Louisiana’s cheniers and Southeast Louisiana’s wetlands and levees.”

Mercantal has been involved in coastal restoration since he bought the property in 2003.

“When I bought this area, there were lilly pads, lots of marsh grasses and alligators,” the Moss Bluff native said.

March 22, 2011 at 1:11 am

Advocates: Child abuse requires more attention

One in four girls and one in six boys will suffer some type of abuse before they turn 18, according to the Family & Youth Counseling Agency’s Children’s Advocacy Center.

“I think a lot of people wonder, ‘Why should I care?’” said agency director David Duplechian. Well, “if it’s not your child, it may be your child’s friends or a future son or daughter-in-law.”

Duplechian shared the statistics on Friday during an area meeting of child advocates to discuss the many issues that lead to child abuse or neglect.

“There is more stress in families than ever before,” Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach said, citing the economic recession.

“It’s real easy to feel all warm and fuzzy; it’s another thing to go out and help,” Roach said.

Penny Haxthausen with the Calcasieu Parish School Board said parents and children must proactively address issues that children deal with such as pregnancy, eating disorders, child abuse, bullying and cyberbullying.

“We also find that many of these issues are related. One trauma such as a loss of a close relative may lead to anger because they have no one to talk to,” Haxthausen said. “We need to be more aware of what our children are dealing with and take the time to talk with them.”

Catherine Michaels, regional manager of the state department of child and family services, said Hurricanes Katrina and Rita provided the perfect storm in terms of stress for families.

“Our number of child abuse investigations have been going up since 2005,” she said.

Duplechian encouraged attendees to be a friend to other parents by doing things like offering to babysit so those parents can go out together, relieving built-up stress. He also urged attendees to allow abuse awareness groups to speak at school, churches and civic groups to spread the message.

Roach encouraged attendees to take more action.

“Show me, don’t tell me,” he said.

March 21, 2011 at 1:09 am

State ranks fifth in train-vehicle accidents

Louisiana ranks fifth in the nation for the most vehicle-train collisions, according to the latest Federal Railroad Administration data.

The same data shows that Calcasieu ranks seventh-highest in the state in vehicle-train collisions.

According to the data, vehicle-train collisions are on the rise. There were 2,004 vehicle-train collisions in 2010 in the United States. A total of 260 people died and 810 people were injured in those accidents. In 2009, there were 1,924 vehicle-train collisions with 247 deaths and 738 injuries.

Louisiana had 106 vehicle-train collisions in 2010 with 13 fatalities and 65 injuries, compared to 84 collisions in 2009 with 11 fatalities and 36 injuries.

The state ranked fifth highest in the nation in highway-rail collisions, fourth highest in fatalities, third highest in injuries and 14 highest in trespass casualties and injuries.

Trespass casualties are incidents that do not happen at a crossing, such as a person walking on train tracks.

According to Operation Lifesaver Inc., the reason for the increase in collisions could be that more people are traveling because of the steadily-improving economy.

Also in Southwest Louisiana, Allen Parish ranked 18th in the state for the most vehicle-train collisions; Jeff Davis, 20th; and Beauregard, 38th. Cameron Parish does not have any train tracks and was not ranked.

In trespass casualties and injuries, Calcasieu is ranked 10th in the state and Allen is 15th. Beauregard and Jeff Davis had no casualties and were not ranked.

On the law enforcement side of Operation Lifesaver, Louisiana State Police conduct railroad crossing enforcement details throughout the state throughout the state.

State police and Operation Lifesaver has speakers and troopers available to schools, city agencies and civic groups.

In 2010, during four details, troopers issued 143 citations, which included 98 for failure to obey a signal indicating the approach of a train.

Louisiana law require drivers to make complete stops at crossings where red lights are flashing, which indicates a train is approaching.

Failure to obey signals can garner a $200 fine and 30 days in jail for the first offense. The fine for racing a train is $1,000.

March 18, 2011 at 1:07 am

Seminar enlightens law enforcers about prescription plight

More than 100 officers and deputies from Southwest Louisiana spent one day last week learning about prescription drug investigations.

The seminar, organized by Lake Charles Police Chief Don Dixon, was a joint venture between the FBI Law Enforcement Executive Development Association, or FBI-LEEDA, and Purdue Pharma, a pharmaceutical company that manufactures Oxycontin.

Dixon, a former FBI agent and member of FBI-LEEDA, said the seminar showed officers how to identify prescription drugs and how to detect signs of fraud and abuse, but it also included breakout groups to discuss common issues.

“Overall, there needs to be a nationwide database for pharmacists and doctors,” Dixon said. “Obviously that’s a huge undertaking that would require a lot of money, but that’s the only way to stop doctor shopping.”

Dixon said Louisiana’s drug monitoring laws are making it harder to get large quantities of Hydrocodone, Xanax and Oxycontin, but trafficking issues still persist because Texas doesn’t have similar laws.

Calcasieu District Attorney John DeRosier has worked with Harris and Jefferson county lawmakers to write and pass similar laws. DeRosier has said he hopes the state will pass it’s own doctor shopping law during this year’s legislative session.

Dixon said the pattern of addiction is similar.

“With adults, most had a legitimate injury or illness and needed the painkillers and became addicted,” Dixon said. “When doctors would not prescribe the medicine anymore, they began doctor shopping or buying the pills off the street.”

The medicines can cost between $7-10 per pill on the street.

“My officers are also seeing a steady increase in drivers who are under the influence of prescription drugs instead of alcohol,” Dixon said.

According to Dixon, officers also have seen an increase in addiction among high school students, many of whom are stealing from parents’ and grandparents’ medicine cabinets.

Peer pressure and curiosity also play a huge role, Dixon said.

“We have push back from parents more than I’d like. They’ll deny the child has a problem and say it was an isolated incident,” Dixon said. “What’s worse, many are mixing the drugs with alcohol, which is a dangerous and sometimes deadly combo.”

Landon Gibbs, a former Virginia State Trooper who now works with FBI-LEEDA, said pill addiction is not a new problem, but it is steadily growing. So is coverage of the problem.

“We created our prescription drug task force in 1988 and over all this time, people continue to come up with better ways to keep people from illegally getting the pills,” Gibbs said.

March 15, 2011 at 1:22 am

Forest fires double as firefighter roster shrinks

The number of forest fires in the first two months of 2011 is more than twice that of the same period last year, with the majority happening in Southwest Louisiana and the Florida Parishes.

Statewide, there have been 434 forest fires that burned 4,491 acres of timber in January and February, compared to 213 fires and 2,500 acres of timber lost in the first two months of 2010, according to the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

Forestry officials are investigating a recent Beauregard Parish arson that burned 416 acres and caused more than $311,000 in damage.

At around 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 13, state firefighters responded to a fire near Evans, said Charlie Greer, enforcement chief for the Office of Forestry. He said multiple fires were set to start the blaze, which destroyed pine and hardwood timber.

Officials are offering a $12,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. Residents can anonymously call Beauregard Crime Stoppers at 337-462-8918.

“I don’t think people realize how detrimental one fire can be to a local economy,” Greer said. “Companies have to replant those trees, and they can take seven to 10 years to grow and get to the mills.”

Greer said this affects loggers, people who work at mills and fuel and equipment companies, who face lost hours and revenue.

The charge of arson carries a penalty of from two to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.

Dry, windy weather, coupled with layoffs of state firefighters, may contribute to bigger fires, said officials with the Louisiana Forestry Association.

With 34 percent fewer firefighters than in 2008, the delayed response times may allow the average size of forest fires to triple, said C.A. “Buck” Vandersteen, executive director of the nonprofit organization that represents forest landowners and related businesses.

There are about 100 firefighters available, compared to 188 three years ago, said Wade Dubea, assistant commissioner for the Office of Forestry.

Dubea said he thinks the increase in acreage burned is due to a lack of manpower.

Vandersteen said Louisiana has about 18 million acres of forestland, according to 2008 numbers, meaning one firefighter for every 185,294 acres.

“When you look at other states, Arkansas has a firefighter for every 29,000 acres and Texas has one per 29,000 acres,” Vandersteen said.

He said the department needs at least 40 more firefighters, and the LFA wants the position listed as Public Safety/Protective Services, which makes them less vulnerable to budget cuts.

Anyone with information on forestry arson cases are asked to call the Department of Agriculture and Forestry at 225-925-4500.

The Baton Rouge Advocate contributed to this story.

March 14, 2011 at 1:29 am

Turkey numbers down in Louisiana

There has been a downward trend in the reproduction of wild turkey in Louisiana, but the numbers are still healthy, officials say. (Larry Prince / national Wild Turkey federation)

The wild turkey population in Louisiana remains strong despite a few bad reproductive seasons over the past decade, according to a recent report by the state department of wildlife and fisheries and the National Wild Turkey Foundation.

The 2010 Louisiana Wild Turkey Report outlined what hunters should expect for the 2011 season, which starts Saturday, and the state of the once endangered bird.

A 2009 summer survey showed the second-lowest statewide production in the 16 years officials have collected data. It is part of a continuing trend in declining poult — or baby turkey — production. Turkeys breed once a year.

After about a month of incubation, the poults hatch and are highly susceptible to predators and adverse weather during their first two weeks of life. Within a few more months, evasion skills develop.

Last year, four of five habitat regions were below their long-term average.

Four poults per hen — or mother turkey — is considered an excellent yearly average and all five habitat regions had below average PPHs.

Contributing factors that disturbed the hatching season and caused the decline included excessive rain, drought and predators.

Most of Southwest Louisiana is in the Western Longleaf Pine region and had a 2.8 PPH ratio, which was the highest of all five.

The season

Statewide, in 2010, wildlife agents conducted almost 1,500 hunter compliance checks. About 96 percent of the hunters were in compliance. The majority of hunters not in compliance were under 18 years of age. In 2009, it was lifetime license holders.

The most common infractions were not having valid turkey tags while hunting, missing tags not validated and harvested turkeys not properly tagged.

Wildlife officials stressed the importance of timely reporting of turkey harvests, because it is a major factor in managing the bird and its hunting seasons. The 2010 compliance rate was 91 percent.

The majority of turkeys — 78 percent, or 1,734 — were harvested on private lands. Compliance numbers for these areas are unknown, but officials said they believe them to be considerably lower than harvests in wildlife management areas.

In the Western Longleaf Pine region, there are seven WMAs, covering 316,000 acres.

The department of wildlife and fisheries host youth hunts that are selected by lottery. The information is listed on their website. Last year, there were 14 WMA youth hunts and 110 kids harvested eight adult turkeys.
•••

online: http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/hunting/lottery-hunts

March 14, 2011 at 1:25 am

Officials report burn project successful

Three prescribed burns took place in the Sabine Wildlife Refuge in February and another one in March. The burns helped clear 25,178 acres for new vegetation while at the same time eliminating fuel for wildfire. (SPECIAL TO THE AMERICAN PRESS)

Wildlife officials spent the month of February burning more than 25,000 acres of Sabine Wildlife Refuge in an effort to spawn new vegetation growth and eliminate fuel for wildfires.

The goal was to burn about 60,000 acres, but weather conditions were not conducive.

The burns — three in February and one in March — cleared a total of 25,178 acres and also helped control invasive species like the salt cedar and Chinese tallow trees, said Diane Bordon-Billiot with Sabine Wildlife Refuge.

About 3,500 acres were burned in Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge in January.

The prescribed burns took months to schedule.

“Agents have to write a plan for each unit and they have to be reviewed and approved by multiple people,” said Bordon-Billiot.

Plans must outline equipment and manpower needed, as well as ideal weather conditions. Bordon-Billiot said the focus was to keep wind-blowing smoke away from the closest community, which is Johnson Bayou.

Bordon-Billiot said ideally, the burning should be done every three years, but there were parts of the refuge that had not been burned since Hurricane Rita struck in 2005.

March 11, 2011 at 1:31 am

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