Posts tagged ‘southwest louisiana’

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

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

Multimillion-dollar coastal projects await funds

Coastal restoration projects in Southwest Louisiana will get around $1,180,000 for the fiscal year ending in 2012, according to the governor’s Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration.

The funding plan will likely undergo changes before being approved by the Legislature this year.

The report compiled at the end of February outlines hundreds of projects and studies — most stretching across multiple fiscal years — that are funded by the state and a variety of federal agencies.

Some projects are listed as necessary but unfunded because the projected revenue for the state office in FY2012 is $391,074,134, with projects listed costing $439,737,800.
Projects in the works

In the southern part of Calcasieu Parish, about $2.6 million is scheduled to be spent restoring marsh and levees in Horseshoe Lake and parts of the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway.

On the waterway, two 36-inch culverts would replace damaged ones and three miles of levee would be refurbished.

The Horseshoe Lake leg would include 1,200 acres of marsh restoration in four steps — two water control structures, four miles of new levee construction, the repair of one mile of levee and a construction of a four-mile rock dike along the Intercoastal Waterway.

In Cameron Parish, one of the largest multiyear projects is the $19 million Black Lake Beneficial Use Disposal Area, which will pump in about 1.9 million cubic yards of dredging material to create around 440 acres of marsh. A 10.2-mile pipeline will move the dredging material, which is coming from the Calcasieu Ship Channel.

At a cost of around $10 million, about 750,000 cubic yards would be pumped into Sabine National Wildlife Refuge for marsh creation.

The following are other projects awaiting funds:

• Cameron Parish Shoreline Restoration: This three-year project will cost about $45,800,000, with $2.9 million allocated for FY2012. It will rebuild 8.7 miles of dunes and beachhead from the Calcasieu River Jetty to the Holly Beach-Constance Beach breakwater field. The project is in its engineering and design phase, which means engineers and biologists are assessing the effectiveness of the project.

• Cameron-Creole Freshwater Introduction Vegetative Plantings: This multiyear restoration project includes saving 22,247 acres of marsh and open water by pumping in freshwater and planting native vegetation.

• Little Pecan Bayou Hydrologic Restoration: Fresh water will be pumped into the brackish marsh south of La. 82

• Bioengineered Oyster Reef Demonstration: This project in the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge places a 1,000-foot-long oysterbreak — a shore protection device — west of Joseph Harbor Canal. Using agricultural byproducts as attractants, it should develop into a full oyster reef, which would help prevent shoreline and wetland loss by absorbing wear from waves and storms.

March 7, 2011 at 1:34 am

Cranes born to be wild, state gets new population of rare birds

Whooping Cranes release from Vanessa Deggins on Vimeo.

A group of rare birds is settling in to life in Southwest Louisiana.

Ten juvenile whooping cranes have been introduced to the White Lake Conservation Area in Vermilion Parish by state and federal wildlife officials.

The site was selected for the 10-year project because of the state’s successes with species-restoration projects involving the American alligator and brown pelican.

On Tuesday, local media were allowed to observe the birds.

The cranes came from a U.S. Geological Survey research facility in Maryland, where they were “costume-reared” by workers who covered their bodies and fed the birds using fake beaks.

For their first two weeks at White Lake, the cranes will be in a 70-foot diameter wire mesh cage surrounded by an electric fence. When the cage is removed, the birds, who have GPS trackers, will continue to be fed by workers in bird costumes. Biologists will check for any indications of disease and monitor their social behavior.

The three males and seven females are each about 10 months old, according to state wildlife biologist Carrie Salyers. They begin to mate at between 3 and 5 years old.

Salyers said the wildlife agencies hope to release more cranes in the fall.

“This is one of the most complex projects I have worked on,” said state biologist Tom Hess.

Hess, who worked on the alligator and pelican projects, said his department had to convince landowners and people with agricultural and oil interests in the area that the re-entry program would not affect their daily lives.

Hess said the long-term goal of the program is to establish a permanent, self-sustaining population of whooping cranes with 130-150 adult birds and at least 30 nesting pairs that will breed for at least 10 years.

Whooping cranes were present on Southwest Louisiana’s chenier coastal plain until the 1940s, according to wildlife officials. By the late 1950s, much of their habitat was converted to agricultural land, and the birds were subjected to unrestricted hunting.

February 23, 2011 at 2:04 am

Town of Iowa soars in growth

BY John Guidroz, Todd Elliott, Vanessa C. Deggins and Taylor Prejean

Calcasieu Parish census data show that Iowa grew by 11 percent over the last decade, while DeQuincy’s population dropped by about 5 percent.

Other cities that lost residents include Sulphur, with a 0.5 percent decrease; Vinton, a 3.8 percent decrease; and Westlake, a 2.1 percent decrease.

Besides Iowa, Lake Charles was the only parish city that experienced growth — the population rose from 71,757 in 2000 to 71,993 in 2010.

Iowa’s population grew by 11.1 percent over the last 10 years. The census reported 2,996 people in 2010 — 333 more than in 2000.

Mayor Carol Ponthieux said she was “thrilled to see those kind of numbers.” She said the growth could result from people who work in Lake Charles moving to Iowa.

“Our housing costs are cheaper than they can find in Lake Charles,” she said. “And we have a lot of mobile homes and houses that people rent out.”

Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach said last week he was disappointed with the city’s small population increase.

“Over the past year and a half, I think we’ve had some pretty good growth in terms of new areas within the city,” he said. “There’s been a lot of construction of housing within the area.”

Westlake Mayor Dan Cupit said the loss of about 100 residents, or 2.1 percent of the population, isn’t that significant, but is a bit of a surprise.

“I thought we would have more people than in 2000 because of the houses that have been built over the years,” he said.

Cupit said he expects the population to increase in the future as more people move to the area because of Westlake’s new golf course.

According to Cupit, the Louisiana Municipal Association has received notice from some cities who were unhappy with their numbers and plan to appeal the results. He said Westlake won’t.

“With that amount, we don’t stand to gain or lose anything,” Cupit said.

DeQuincy Mayor Lawrence Henagan thinks the city’s population decrease of 4.8 percent, or 163 people, is because people are building outside the city limits.

“They still have DeQuincy addresses, but they aren’t counted in the incorporated area,” he said.

“One solution for the future may be to extend the city’s boundaries to include some outlying subdivisions. That will require extending city utilities, but it’s something we’re looking into.”

Henagan added that even with the population decrease, DeQuincy has “kept its rank as the fourth-largest city in the parish.”

Vinton Mayor Kenny Stinson wasn’t phased by his city’s decrease of 3.8 percent, or 126 people.

“It is what it is,” he said. “We had some increase in housing in Vinton after Hurricane Rita — two housing developments with 50 homes each came in — so we felt that it would be an increase. It was a surprise to us that it wasn’t.”

Mayor Chris Duncan was also surprised at Sulphur’s 0.5 percent decrease of 102 people.

“We thought it would have been close to even or grown a little bit,” he said. “What I find odd is that Vinton dropped, Westlake dropped and we dropped. West Calcasieu dropped, but not when you get into the Carlyss area.”

The census numbers from each district will be a better gauge of the actual population numbers, he said.
•••

Staff Writers John Guidroz, Todd Elliott, Vanessa C. Deggins and Taylor Prejean contributed to this report.

February 11, 2011 at 1:56 am

Expect active season

It’s that time of year; what’s your game plan?

BY VANESSA C. DEGGINS

State officials were in Southwest Louisiana on Monday to meet with local sheriffs to discuss what is expected to be a busy hurricane season.

“We mainly want to make sure we’re all on the same page,” Calcasieu Parish Sheriff Tony Mancuso said after speaking with state police head Col. Mike Edmonson.

The first named storm, Alex, entered the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday as a tropical depression, but has since developed into a tropical storm with winds near 65 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

“We’re not sure what’s going to happen with this storm, and if it stays on the current path, we’ll still be dealing with some lingering effects,” Mancuso said.

Edmonson said he is spending the week talking to sheriffs and emergency preparedness directors in coastal parishes.

“Right now, there’s only a 5 to 10 percent chance the storm will hit this area, but we like to be proactive,” he said.

“We’re already seeing a deviation from the norm with a storm this early,” said Mark Cooper, director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

“Residents need to make sure they have an evacuation plan for their families and elderly neighbors.”

“No matter what, don’t wait until the last minute,” Mancuso said. “My philosophy is, ‘If it’s predictable, it’s preventable.’ Once it’s in the Gulf, there’s a chance it can come this way.”

“When we start ordering evacuations, residents need to also have a set place or places to go and make sure they have food and water in their car,” Edmonson said.

Cooper said he’s confident the entire state is prepared for a busy season, even with the oil spill. He said officials have met with BP and the U.S. Coast Guard to review emergency plans.

Lessons learned
State and local officials learned much during and after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, said Mancuso and Edmonson.

“Rita showed us our vulnerabilities on fuel and power,” Mancuso said. “We set up our own fuel supply, and for power we have backups for the backups.”

For evacuations, Calcasieu Office of Emergency Preparedness officials have specific shelters for residents, whom they transport by bus.

“We will also be sending a 10- to-12-man team to those shelters, so it’s less of a burden on the local authorities,” Mancuso said.

Cooper said state officials have increased shelter capacity from 11,000 in 2009 to about 24,000 statewide, as well as set up shelter agreements in other states.

“Our Get A Game Plan website has instructions and video on how to put together an evacuation plan,” Cooper said. He also explained the Louisiana Earth Google map feature. It was initially tracking the oil spill, but Cooper said it also has evacuation routes and shelter locations.

“Since 2005, we have been using state and federal money to make sure all first responders are on the 700 MHz digital radio system,” Edmonson said.

The system allows for statewide communication between most first responders and is considered more reliable during disasters.

SW La. does it right
Edmonson and Cooper both praised Southwest Louisiana residents for their actions during hurricane season.

“I’ve said it before: If you want to look at the way to do things right, look to Southwest Louisiana,” Edmonson said. “We could have initiated the contraflow during Gustav and Ike, but there was no reason. People left when we told them to.”

He said that initiating contraflow requires a lot of manpower and can require about 300 men in Southwest Louisiana if Texas evacuees must travel through.

“During the last storm, they left it up to us to call it, and I constantly meet with the mayors and police chiefs to get their input,” Mancuso said.

He said he always reminds residents that there is a point when officers are pulled off the streets because of weather, and that people who stay during a mandatory evacuation may not be able to get help.

“It’s a bad feeling because our job is to help,” Mancuso said. “But we just need people to trust that we’re going to protect this community and sometimes that means telling them to leave.”


Online: http://www.getagameplan.org; http://www.laearth.la.gov.
To see the Get a Game Plan public service announcement, go to
www.americanpress.com

link: http://bit.ly/dp5gCs

June 29, 2010 at 8:22 pm

Efforts to stem substance abuse topic of town hall session

*published Sept. 30, 2009

BY VANESSA C. DEGGINS

The parish’s top prosecutor urged the community to play a part in the effort to combat substance abuse and its associated crimes.

Calcasieu District Attorney John DeRosier was among area health and law enforcement officials talking about their cooperative endeavor to contain the abuse of controlled substances at a town hall session at the SWLA Center for Health Services.

“We’ve made a lot of progress on the legislation side,” DeRosier said. “But we also need the community’s involvement. People have to stand up and say they have had enough.”

DeRosier noted legislation that amends the seconddegree murder charge to apply it to when a person overdoses from someone else’s prescription medicine.

Judge Guy Bradberry of the 14th Judicial District’s Juvenile and Family Court talked about the district’s drug-free court.

The court works in-depth with 30 juveniles for 18 months.

“We begin intensive therapy, counseling, whatever we can do to stop this systemic cycle that keeps them in the justice system,” Bradberry said.

Bradberry said that once a week almost a dozen different agencies meet to discuss each child’s profile and progress.

“Another big part of this program is that we also get to go into the home,” Bradberry said. “Because you have to know that they have that stable environment.”

Other panel members included Calcasieu Parish Coroner Terry Welke, who talked about how legislation limiting the prescribing of pain killing medication in Louisiana and Texas has cut the number of overdoses in half.

Kayla Allison of the Southwest Louisiana Area Health Education Center, which focuses on HIV education and testing, spoke of talks to teenagers about the correlation between drug use and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

link: http://bit.ly/ukaKl

September 30, 2009 at 6:41 pm Leave a comment

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