Inequities
Sept. 17, 2008
By Roger Emile Stouff

Well we weathered the storms and are putting the pieces back together.

Last night, close to a hundred folks affected by Hurricane Ikeís flooding crowded into city hall. They were an angry, confused and hurt group looking for answers.

In all, I think that session went well. Passionate statements by city officials and residents went a long way in smoothing some of the hurt.

When it comes down to it, at the end, we have to all work through this together.

The city tried to build a Hurricane Rita-grade levee on the Franklin Canal. In that endeavor they largely succeeded. There were apparently some small "gaps" in the barrier on the Pecan Acres side, but no one at last nightís meeting wanted to address why that happened, with possibility of a lawsuit mentioned if they did. All that truly came out was that "we were not allowed" to fill those gaps. Itís anybodyís guess at this point.

We have to remember that in this state, since 1927 and another burst in 1973, every spade of drainage work and levee building has been to drain rainwater and hold back the Atchafalaya River from overflow. Thatís been the entire purpose. No one conceived until recently of a huge amount of water coming from the south rather than the north. Our entire system is designed contrary to what has actually happened. In effect, we have to start over, and itís not going to happen overnight.

But it can be fixed. It must also be understood clearly that local government does not have the money to fix all of it by a long shot. The state of Louisiana can go a long way in solving our problems, but they canít do it all either.

This is going to be a federal problem.

And Iím here to tell you this: If youíre satisfied with the feds spending billions to fight wars in Iraq, billions in aid to foreign countries; billions to bail out failed financial institutions; billions to do all sorts of stupid, stupid things, then donít expect any help from them.

Until you put the pressure on Congress they will not give a damn about your flooded house. Only your power as a voter will solve our problems in Louisiana, because as a city, as a parish and as a state we have little political clout in D.C. That must change.

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Hurricane Ike also brought familiar old faces and bad memories to the forefront.

Former Franklin Mayor Sam Jones, now state Rep. Sam Jones, lambasted city leaders for not building flood gates on the Franklin Canal.

The Daily-Iberian reported (probably because Sam knew we would challenge these statements), "Jones however, said he doesnít understand why Franklin city leaders havenít begun the process of getting a floodgate at the base of the canal near Vermilion Bay. The former Franklin mayor said the issue should have been addressed immediately after Hurricane Rita, which shined the Ďfirst spotlightí on the problem."

That is a bald-faced lie. Flat-out.

The problem first revealed itself during Hurricane Lily in 2002 when lower Willow Street flooded, and that was during Mayor Jonesí administration, and hereís the proof.

The Banner reported on Oct. 7, 2002 that there was up to 6 feet of water on Willow Street after the Franklin Canal breached. We quoted Jones as saying "at one point we were losing a foot of Willow Street every two minutes" to encroaching floodwaters.

In fact I wrote the story. I interviewed the mayor and others. I saw the flooding with my own two eyes. A compete and utter lie, and it boggles the imagination that heíd even think to utter such a thing.

Jones told the Daily-Iberian he secured $600,000 to begin floodgate construction. But the city wants to build permanent levees along the Franklin Canal instead to protect the property owners there.

Oh, and letís also point out that there already are preliminary drawings and early plans for floodgates on the Franklin Canal, and their origins date back to 1997, just 15 years after Jones became mayor and about seven before he left.

Jones has a colossal gall pointing the finger at the current administration and council who have secured engineering plans and most rights-of-way to build something along the Franklin Canal right now with the few dollars they have in hand. Some measure of protection to at least help for now, instead of waiting five or 10 years for a multi-million dollar set of floodgates that may never come to be at all.

Itís obvious that the relationship between Jones and the city is strained over political childishness on both sides, and if that doesnít make you mad as heck, you donít live near the Franklin Canal.

On the eve of Hurricane Ikeís passing the city made an attempt to erect a temporary levee to protect the homes along that canal. They did the same near Eastwood.

After Ike was gone, the state representative showed up to do a news interview in a neighboring parishís newspaper. He and Sen. Mary Landrieu stood on the U.S. 90 overpass looking down on Franklin.

No force other than God Himself could have stopped that water from going wherever it wanted to go. Rep. Jonesí floodgates would not have stopped it without an additional 10-12 feet of levee height across the length of the parish, and then I have my doubts.

It is pathetic and appalling to have the former mayor who claims he loves this town and wants to help, get into the newspaper with Sen. Mary Landrieu at his side stabbing city officials in the back with his malicious comments.

What is sad is that when people are angry and hurting and desperate for answers, he feeds them lies and kindles resentment and anger.

Thankfully, he taught his former employees better.

Because during the two storms former Franklin city clerk Cindy Hebert was helping the city out as a volunteer. So was former councilman John OíNiell. So was former fire chief Chuck Bourgeois.

The current administration and council may not be perfect, but at least weíve moved somewhat beyond that kind of Long-era, Edwin Edwards-style of melodramatic browbeating.

Why in the name of decency show up here at a time of crisis, when people are most vulnerable and emotional?

A man who could have rested on the laurels of a 22-year career of public service in this town behaving like a hooligan. You truly ought to be ashamed.

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Hereís some interesting figures.

In September 2007 a barrel of oil cost $80 and a gallon of gas, national average, cost $2.81, so it was probably a little less here.

In September 2008, right this minute, a barrel of oil is going for $95, and gas is $3.72. Thatís from a July high of $4.10

The Valero in Lafayette was selling regular last weekend for $3.59, and itís $3.73 in Franklin.

In fact, oil prices have fallen about 35 percent since July, and the price of gasoline only about 9 percent.

I donít know how you learned math, but according to my educational background, that figgers out to equal the old adage "sticking it to you."

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Homeland Security Director Duval Arthur was gracious enough to take the heat for the opening of two distribution sites in Patterson and Morgan City for ice, water and MREs while none were open in west St. Mary at all. Arthur said that he didnít know where he would be authorized to have supplies dropped off and distributed.

Weíll take Arthur at his word and appreciate his public admission. He worked diligently with us in the media throughout the disasters, and did the same for the public.

My personal opinion is that Arthur took the fall for others who truly kept supplies out of west St. Mary, but I havenít got the evidence to prove it. Yet.

I will hope beyond all hope that in the future the OEPís power to commandeer facilities will be utilized no matter whose toes get stepped on. I doubt any of our local officials would have objected.

There should be some effort to transport some of the supplies to Franklin and Baldwin and Sorrell by hand, at least for the elderly and infirm.

Distribution in Franklin didnít begin until late Wednesday, with supplies already running low on Thursday, and didnít start until Thursday in Baldwin. This after a storm that trampled through Monday.

It has been pointed out that the Morgan City area sustained far more damage than the Franklin area, and that is certainly true.

But consider this: A person whose roof has been torn off in Morgan City is no thirstier, hungrier or in need of a cold glass of ice water than the person in Franklin or Baldwin who has absolutely no house damage but has not had electricity for two days, has a freezer full of rotting food and is afraid to flush the toilet because the sewer stations arenít working with no power.

This was not about tarps or generators or construction materials. This was about water, food and ice.

It is also obvious that with gas stations closed or, if open at all, their tanks emptied by the exodus before the storm, few over here could get to the Morgan City area, or either of the two PODs opened in Jeanerette. For instance, there wasnít a single place to get gas along U.S. 90 on my way home from Ville Platte Tuesday. I made it back on fumes.

One parish councilman from this end of the parish promised that a move is afoot to incorporate some of the communities to the extreme west so that they can take care of themselves in the absence of parish support.

Word has it that in the heart of the storm, an eastern parish councilman was calling most of the shots up there on the fifth floor. Whaddaya know about that?

Even if that is not the case, it still cannot be ignored that once again western St. Mary was neglected. Iím not alone in this indictment: Many of our western public officials are feeling very put-upon.

This story is not over. More to come.