News Briefs

Levees, gunning for Blanco, Grant Street and more


The debate over consolidating the almighty levee district boards continues to be more soap opera than public policy. Sen. Walter Boasso, a Chalmette Republican, filed a consolidation bill during last month's session that failed miserably without the support of Gov. Kathleen Blanco, but Boasso plans on filing another version next year and is holding a series of public meetings in preparation.

In a surprise move before Boasso's first hearing last week, the governor released a memo finally supporting the consolidation concept. It was a political trump card at best; Boasso's initial hearing was overshadowed by Blanco's announcement. The freshman senator subsequently garnered more ink responding to her move than he did commenting on his own plans. Furthermore, Blanco has left it up to a coastal panel to draft her version of the plan, and administration officials are pushing for it to be ready in time for Blanco's potential January special session.

If levee reform is not a top priority or Blanco decides not to call a special session, Boasso told a group in Jefferson Parish last week that lawmakers may combine forces and call themselves into a special session without consent of the governor. ' Jeremy Alford


Roger F. Villere Jr., the chairman of the Republican Party of Louisiana, has given the governor his own ultimatum: Hold elections in Orleans Parish as scheduled or step aside.

"If Governor [Kathleen] Blanco will not allow an election, then she must forfeit her own," Villere said in a press release. ' Jeremy Alford


Over the past month, speculation on the future of Grant Street Dancehall has run rampant as club owner Don Kight has lamented his struggles to keeping the business going. (This week, the club is hosting a "Farewell to Grant Street" concert.) As Kight seeks to move his business elsewhere, the building's owner, Tim Mahoney, a partner with Garden Properties LLC, says he has just reached a deal with a new tenant. Mahoney expects the new tenant, whom he declines to identify, to keep the building at 113 Grant Street open as a live music hall. Mahoney says the new tenant also plans to purchase the building within the next 90 days and will take over at the end of the year when Kight's lease expires. ' Nathan Stubbs


After lobbying the Federal Emergency Management Agency repeatedly for more flexibility on the National Flood Insurance Program, Lafayette Republican Congressman Charles Boustany Jr. is pushing an initiative that could bring an additional $30,000 to those who already have the federal flood insurance. Property owners potentially impacted by the coming changes in local flood-plane ordinances can use the cash to bring their structures into compliance. "This is an issue I have been fighting for weeks, and I am relieved that people who reside in dangerous floodplains will be eligible for additional federal assistance," Boustany says. The congressman is also pursuing a study to initiate several hurricane protection measures for the parishes of Vermilion, Cameron and Calcasieu. A part of the study could include a 12-foot levee system along the Intracoastal Waterway, an area with barely any protection that state lawmakers are investigating as well. ' Jeremy Alford


An age-old legislative practice allows House members to switch their floor votes, or even vote late, as long as their actions don't impact the outcome of a bill. The Times-Picayune blasted the concept this month, focusing largely on seven lawmakers who changed their votes ' days later ' on a bill to consolidate levee districts. But a number of issues are being overlooked in the ongoing saga. It was reported on Dec. 1 that Rep. Jalila Jefferson-Bullock, a New Orleans Democrat, was among those changing their vote to "yea." In a fiery written response, Jefferson-Bullock retorted that she was in the Senate when the vote transpired. According to House rules, she should have never been allowed to vote since she was apparently absent when the presiding officer announced the original tally. Rep. A.G. Crowe of Slidell has proposed a quick fix to the problem by drafting a bill that would allow House members to change their recorded vote only on the same day the bill passes or fails. Currently, lawmakers often have to suspend the standing rules of the House to allow this to happen; as such, Crowe's proposal legalizes a practice that is illegal rather than addressing the problem at all. ' Jeremy Alford


On Monday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved $2.9 billion to repair and strengthen New Orleans' levee system in a hurricane relief package that totaled $29 billion. That came on the heels of President Bush pledging $3.1 billion last week to build stronger and better levees ' with a bit of semantics that has many Louisiana residents, not just the displaced ' uncertain about the details of the promise. The president's current commitment will restore the levees to greater strength than their (supposed) Category 3-strength hurricane protection levels. But commitments to Category 5-strength protection remain elusive, and some critics fear that the Category 3 levee protection is merely a Band-Aid that will take Category 5 levee protection-funds off the table in 2006. ' Scott Jordan