Eastbank residents demand answers at Braithwaite meetingSep 25th, 2012 | By Jessica Gonzalez | Category: community
The month-old Braithwaite auditorium was standing room only at the September 19 meeting, as hundreds turned out to get a chance to speak, and often scream, their minds at Parish President Billy Nungesser, Councilman P.V. Griffin, State Rep. Ray Garofalo, Senator A.G. Crowe and Micheal Byrne of FEMA.
One recurring point of contention for residents was the slow pace of the levee work. Many said they believed that elected officials did not do enough to get the 18-mile stretch of the Eastbank from Braithwaite Park to Whiteditch included into the federal levee system.
“Why should we have faith to rebuild when we were left out of levee protection?,” asked Peggy Schwarz of Braithwaite. “And this was a Category 1 storm, why should I rebuild?”
Nungesser says it is going to take a Presidential Declaration to get the Eastbank levees federalized, and he made a plea to President Obama to federalize the Eastbank levees. He also encouraged citizens to contact Senators David Vitter and Mary Landrieu.
In addition to the back levees, some residents questioned the integrity of the river levees that span the 18- mile stretch.
“I was driving my Ford F-250 on the river levee the night of the storm trying to get out, and winds blew me off the side because there is no rock,” said Eastbank resident David Morgan. “We get federal funding for the front levees to be maintained and they’re not.”
Morgan, whose property was covered in tombs and debris from Promised Land Cemetary, also said that getting the right agency to get working on removing them has been a nightmare.
“When I asked for answers on when the tombs were being moved, all I got was ‘We haven’t signed the contract yet’,” said Morgan. “So I asked ‘Where do you live? I’m going to bring one of these tombs to your front yard’. And now the tombs are being removed Monday.”
Shouts of “What about Stolhaven?!” also thundered from around the room, and several residents approached the microphone to ask their elected officials why they are still being kept in the dark about what exactly leaked.
“Not once have you mentioned Stolhaven,” said a frustrated resident, nearly an hour into the meeting.
President Nungesser informed the crowd that State Agencies and State Police are currently conducting air monitors, and said that since the State Police, DEQ and DHH took the lead on the investigation, the parish has no further information.
Councilman Griffin assured residents that as soon as more information was available a public meeting would be held to “to tell you what’s going on over there.”
“I’m a state official and I have no idea what’s going on over there,” reasoned Senator A.G. Crowe. “I’m calling the Senate President and asking to hold an Environmental Committee hearing.”
Another big issue for residents was flood insurance and the grueling process insurance companies are making homeowners go through in order to get paid out, which includes sending through an itemized list of every single item they lost in their home.
“I had 10 feet of water in my house, I lost everything—now they want an itemized list? They took my premium they should pay my policy back,” said one resident, her comments met by applause and “amens”.
“I’ve had to dig in mud, dirt and filthy water, a mile-and-ahalf from Stolhaven to satisfy my flood insurance policy,” said another homeowner. Eastbank resident Eric Sino frankly asked parish leaders if any money earmarked specifically for Eastbank projects has been moved to the Westbank.
“I feel that the Eastbank is continually sabotaged so the parish seat can move,” said Sino. “I know you can’t run for parish president again, but you could decide to run for something else. I think your political career is over.”
Sino’s remarks struck a nerve with Nungesser, who screamed back, “Why don’t you get out and do something; shut your mouth instead of personally attacking me!”
Amid resident outcry, fear and feelings of displacement, those in attendance made it clear that they were not going to rebuild until they saw some definitive movement from their elected officials.
“We voted you in to represent us,” affirmed one resident. “The message is clear that we want you to do something.”