Sierra Club to hold Y49? forum

by Christiaan Mader

Your chance to connect on the I49 Connector.

Photo by Daniel Schwen - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons

[Editor's Note: This story has been corrected to reflect that Harold Schoeffler is not an attorney]

Acadiana’s chapter of the Sierra Club will host a multi-voiced forum concerning the proposed I-49 Connector project tonight at the Lafayette Public Library’s Downtown branch. The program’s format will feature speakers from five project stakeholders, each with five minute presentations on the project’s status and potential impact.

Speakers include Carlee Alm-Labar, LCG’s chief development officer and co-author of the TIGER grant recently awarded to LCG by the federal government; Harry Weiss, One Acadiana’s vice president of urban revitalization and development; environmental activist Harold Schoeffler of the Sierra Club; Nathan Norris, CEO of the Downtown Development Authority; and a representative from DOTD.

Following the presentations, attendees will break into discussion groups. Charettes will not be part of the program.

Tonally, the forum could be a microcosm of the next 16 months of public review and comment stipulated by DOTD’s Context Sensitive Solutions process. To be sure, this is not an official part of that program, though much of the goal of CSS is to engage the community at large in the process.

Expect a variety of opinion on the project, which is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, displace residents and permanently change the layout of Lafayette's urban core.

Each one of the represented organizations has a decidedly different take on the issue's why's, what's and how's.

Expect skepticism from the Sierra Club, who has long criticized the project's environmental ramifications.

One Acadiana has prioritized the Connector as a must-have economic builder for Acadiana at large.

LCG aims to mitigate the cultural and economic impact of the build on adjacent neighborhoods. Like One Acadiana, LCG under Mayor-President Joey Durel has emphasized the urgency of the project, though city leadership sees this as an opportunity to revitalize an Evangeline Thruway corridor long left out of Lafayette's historic decades of growth.

DOTD, through its CSS process, hopes to appease public concern while protecting the integrity of 2002's Record of Decision, building a Connector that adheres to decades of design work and environmental study.

Much of the 5.5 mile connector will cut straight through neighborhoods administered by the DDA, making that organization particularly sensitive to how the structure will interact with the re-burgeoning central business district.

To be sure, this a gross over-simplification of very complex opinions, but it should give you an idea of how the represented parties diverge and converge.

If you have questions about or want to be involved with what some have called Lafayette's largest public infrastructure project since the railroad, tonight's meeting is a good place to start.