The Great Flood of 2016 left Livingston and other affected parishes with little doubt their respective areas would not look quite the same in the aftermath.
Certainly, it sounds like the understatement of the century. It’s also a reminder that improvements will come much more slowly than the destruction which decimated the region.
For that reason, it seems wise that the Livingston Parish Council chose to hold off on discussions on how to address dilapidated homes and blighted property.
The issue arose at the Feb. 9 meeting, but District 1 Councilman R.C. “Bubba” Harris asked to withdraw the discussion. Harris said he put the item on the agenda to raise awareness and address concerns of property owners in regards to the many flood-damaged areas throughout the parish.
He and the rest of the Council agreed the move was premature, a decision which made perfect sense.
“We need to give our people a chance to get back into their homes first,” Harris said.
A ride along a road in any part of the parish gives passersby a stark contrast of the neighborhoods and communities. Some areas reflect an impressive comeback, but others remain in the same condition from the immediate aftermath of the flood.
It’s not to say debris should line a yard. The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness has extended the flood-related debris removal deadline to August, a cut-off date more than generous for businesses and homeowners.
The story takes a different turn when it comes to damaged structures.
A variety of reasons can explain the rapid progress for some and the stalemate for others. In most cases, it comes down to slow response from insurance adjustors or FEMA.
Other homeowners walked away with no plans to return. How many chose that route remains uncertain, even six months after the flood.
A move to penalize or even threaten homeowners with fines or demolition would not only prove premature, but also seem like a kick in the gut for residents after the hardships they have endured over the last year.
It’s not wrong to address blight, particularly when it comes to how it affects the value of adjacent property owners.
In this case, the timing would not seem appropriate.
The move to address blighted property has already taken shape in East Baton Rouge Parish, which also suffered severe flood damages. Officials in the City-Parish say the blighted homes existed long before the flood – no dispute there.
But the timing seems questionable, particularly in light that they hope FEMA may pay some of the demolition costs. The City-Parish will consider revising ordinances to speed up the process, in some cases.
We should consider ourselves fortunate on this side of the Amite River by knowing it has not yet reached that juncture. Perhaps it came from the fact that nearly every official in Livingston Parish endured hardships during the flood.
At the same time, blight should not go ignored. Once rebuilding comes into full bloom across the parish, officials will need to take a strong stand the existing blight – some of which may have been in that condition prior to the flood, in the same way as EBR.
As for now, however, it’s best to let the rebuilding process continue and deal with the blight later.