[StBernard] Chalmette man seeks to revive area

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Sat Nov 18 11:00:27 EST 2006

Chalmette man seeks to revive area
Storm rebuild plan to go block-by-block
Saturday, November 18, 2006
By Karen Turni Bazile
St. Bernard/Plaquemines bureau

Howard Luna's main goal is to repair his flooded home on Karen Drive in

At the same time he wants to help the rest of his neighborhood as well.
Luna, and many others like him, will soon get their chance.

Under a program called Rediscover District C created by St. Bernard Parish
Councilman Kenny Henderson, Luna and other civic-minded residents will be
tasked with bringing hurricane recovery to the block-by-block level in the

That district lies in the heart of Chalmette and received extensive
flooding, as well as contamination from an oil spill at the nearby Murphy
Oil refinery. Like the rest of the parish, it is battered and bruised but
showing signs of recovery, as more and more families move back into the

Under the new program, Henderson has selected 10 area captains who will
organize volunteers to survey blocks and identify problems such as ungutted
houses, weed-choked lots, even missing stop signs. He hopes it will be a
springboard to address quality-of-life issues and provide a vehicle for
those who want to help in a district that currently has no comprehensive
neighborhood groups.

"We are going to organize the requests rather than throwing them all at
Kenny," said Luna, who will help direct the program. "It's just overwhelming
for Kenny. We need him to be doing the big stuff. We need to be doing the
small stuff because quite frankly, the parish doesn't have enough money and
we will have to wait. It's a mechanism for us to get things done a little

Once the effort gains momentum, Henderson and Luna hope to shape it into a
nonprofit corporation that can go after grant money and donations.

About 60 district residents crowded into the Parish Council trailer at the
government complex in Chalmette Thursday night to discuss the program and
meet Henderson's captains.

Many of the residents who spoke seemed to like the program and then peppered
parish officials with questions -- precisely the kind of street-by-street
specific questions the program aims to help answer.

For instance, several residents wanted to know what can be done about
abandoned cars and how ungutted homes were being handled in the

Clay Dillon, the parish's chief compliance inspector, asked residents to
note addresses where there are abandoned vehicles and whether they are on
private property. Also, residents should survey which houses are ungutted,
which ones have high grass and dangerous trees or debris that should be
removed, as well as those that still don't have windows or doors as the law
now requires.

Henderson said debris and cars are being picked up as quickly as possible,
but because much of the area was affected by the Murphy Oil spill -- which
is the subject of a class-action lawsuit -- cleanup has been slowed due to a
myriad of legal issues.

About 40 voluntary home demolitions in the area have been done, but more
than 900 residents have requested demolitions. Because of the lawsuit,
additional legal documents must be signed and officials said only 300 of the
900 voluntary requests have been properly updated.

"We have fallen behind since the get-go because of the oil spill," Henderson

Residents also asked when they might expect street lights, street signs and
stop signs to be replaced; many even offered to erect the signs and replace
light bulbs if possible.

Public Works Director Chris Merkl said the parish is bidding the work on
street light repairs parishwide that should begin early next year. Although
he has FEMA approval to order regulatory traffic signs, he said he has no
sign staff to survey which stop signs and speed limit signs are missing.

"We can help you with that," Luna said. "It's obvious to us that the stop
signs are more important to us than street signs."

Henderson said the parish is ready to begin mowing the lawns of neglected
properties. Owners will be fined $300 and a lien will be placed if they
don't pay.

Many in the audience cheered.

"For us who are living here (next to unkempt lots), I say cut their grass
and make them pay through the nose for it," said Laura Napolitano, one of
the area captains.

For more information, call Henderson at 278-4217 or Luna at 908-8880.

. . . . . . .

Karen Turni Bazile can be reached at kturni at timespicayune.com or (504)

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