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Session IV: Current Recovery Planning Status of Recovery Planning in Louisiana Jeff Hebert, Senior Planner for Concordia LLC (www.concordia.com) and former director of Community Planning for the Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) discussed the evolution of the Louisiana recovery planning efforts under Governor Kathleen Blanco, whom he characterized as a strong leader and coalition builder. Hebert noted that one of Blancoâs first major actions was to hire James Lee Witt, former director of FEMA, as a consultant. This was followed by several other notable actions by the governor to generate an effective planning structure for the stateâs recovery, including the creation of : â¢ Louisiana Recovery Authority to serve as the planning and coordinating body for all levels of government and to allocate incoming federal funds throughout the state. â¢ Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority to take the lead in developing plans for environmental actions to mitigate future coastal storms. â¢ Louisiana Family Recovery Corps , a nonprofit entity to help families get back on their feet by linking them to both nonprofit and government resources. â¢ Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation to pull in resources outside Louisiana and to distribute them through grants to local nonprofit groups and organizations throughout the state for disaster response and recovery projects. â¢ Recovery School District to rebuild the troubled New Orleans public school system. â¢ Statewide building code to facilitate mitigation. According to Hebert, these outcomes were achieved by the governor through tough negotiations with stakeholders and coalition building. He indicated that the resulting new organizations and institutions represented a significant departure from traditional problem-solving approaches used in Louisiana and these were made necessary because of the extreme demands placed on the state by Katrina. Hebert noted that the LRA is the centerpiece of the governorâs institutional building efforts to meet the recovery crisis. It was designed to be bipartisan and is led by Dr. Norman Francis, president of Xavier University and one of the most admired persons in the state. It has a 33- member board comprised of people related to Louisiana from a local and national perspective, as well as persons from specific constituencies, such as the business and scientific communities. According to Hebert, the well-publicized difficulties that the governor and the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, initially had working together changed over time. He noted that the hiring of Edward Blakely as the director of the New Orleans Office of Recovery Management considerably improved relations between such state agencies as LRA and the stateâs largest city. Hebert indicated that the state is making progress through the LRA and other new entities but that some of the big challenges faced by the LRA as a new agency involve overcoming the resistance of established agencies, coping with recovery politics at all levels, and understanding and meeting the requirements of federal recovery programs. Status of Recovery Planning in New Orleans 8
Laurie Johnson, independent consultant, moved the discussion from a focus on statewide recovery in Louisiana to recovery planning activities in New Orleans. She participated in these efforts as a planning consultant with the Unified New Orleans Plan , a nonprofit activity funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. Johnson characterized the Unified New Orleans Plan as a citywide planning effort to obtain input from both official New Orleans and neighborhood groups and private citizens, including many residents who had been forced to move away from the city after Hurricane Katrina struck. The planning group had four months to complete its work, which included holding four rounds of district meetings with stakeholders and three outreach efforts called community congresses, the most expensive part of the process. Johnson indicated that even displaced persons were involved in the discussions and that 2,500 participants from five cities were linked together by satellite during the second community congress. The plan that evolved was based on the publicâs priorities and these were determined through the planning groupâs engagement with stakeholders and included: safety from future flooding; empowerment to rebuild safe, stable neighborhoods; opportunity for all to return; and equitable access to public services. According to Johnson, the planning group envisioned a plan that would cost $14 billion to support several core programs, including those to help residents rebuild appropriately and to elevate homes, restore and upgrade the physical and social infrastructure of the city, and rebuild health care institutions. Johnson noted that the Unified New Orleans Plan was submitted to the City Planning Commission on January 30, 2007. This became a part of the final recovery plan for the city that was approved by the City Council on June 21, 2007, which led the way for the Louisiana Recovery Authority to give the city access to $117 million in federal Community Development Block Grant Funds. According to Johnson, coming nearly two years after the storm, this was crucial initial funding to further recovery efforts in the city. Johnson indicated that after the Office of Recovery Management was established by the mayor in December 2006 to serve as the focal point for recovery efforts in New Orleans, to its credit began borrowing from the Unified New Orleans Plan. In providing an update on the office, Johnson noted that it was in the implementation and financing stage, which involves prioritizing public projects, integrating projects into the cityâs capital budget, tying the cityâs recovery efforts with other city functions, and obtaining recovery funds for such activities as blight cleanup. In looking ahead to future challenges facing New Orleans, Johnson posed a number of questions which have planning and research implications these include: â¢ Can future flood risk be reduced sufficiently and in time? â¢ What long-term public investment is needed in catastrophic recovery? â¢ What will be the impact of the emerging demographic shifts in the city? Johnson noted that all of these questions need to be thoroughly answered, and that while there is some relevant data on them, there is far from enough to draw definitive conclusions. This makes future recovery planning and decision making problematic. Discussion following the presentations included questions about the costs and benefits of mitigation measures in New Orleans, the need for local capacity building to meet the challenges of recovery planning and program implementation, and the difficulties of passing on lessons learned from previous recovery experiences. 9