- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

August 29

The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

There was a time when tens of thousands of New Orleans homes were stewing in fetid floodwaters and some in Congress were saying we didn’t deserve help. That moment now seems impossibly far away.

Ten years. A decade of gutting houses, repairing roofs, fighting mold, reopening businesses, reimagining schools, winning a Super Bowl, feeding our bodies, feeding our souls, dancing, crying, holding on, letting go, feeling stuck, moving forward.

Despairing. Rejoicing.

Ten years recovering.

This anniversary is supposed to be the benchmark for judging our progress. Time and again in the months after Hurricane Katrina, people experienced in catastrophe told us: Ten years is the timeline for rebuilding.

So where do we stand a decade after the hurricane and the levee failures took 1,833 lives, displaced a million people, flooded 80 percent of New Orleans and inflicted $151 billion in damage to our region?

The statistical picture is impressive in many ways:

In May, New Orleans returned to the Census Bureau’s list of top 50 most populous U.S. cities for the first time since Katrina.

The city’s 2014 population was 384,320, according to census estimates. That is somewhat smaller than before Katrina, but the number is still growing.

The metro area as a whole had 1.25 million residents in 2014 - roughly 94 percent of its population in 2000.

New Orleans hosted 9.52 million visitors in 2014. They spent $6.81 billion, the most in history, according to the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

By 2014, the number of passengers moving through Louis Armstrong International Airport surpassed the pre-Katrina high mark set in 2004, according to the Data Center.

Entrepreneurs are moving in. New Orleans is well above the national average in the number of startups-per-capita, according to the Data Center. The Kauffman Foundation named the city one of the 20 Hottest Startup Hubs in America.

In 2004, only 30 percent of New Orleans students were in schools that met state standards, the Data Center said. A decade later, that number is 88 percent.

Broad statistics don’t capture reality for everyone, though.

New Orleans is struggling with a stubbornly high crime rate, and 27 percent of residents live in poverty. There are greater economic opportunities for some, but many others are being left out. African-American men in the city have a staggering jobless rate: 52 percent aren’t working, according to a Loyola University report.

Despite the post-Katrina gains, there are still too few “A” and “B” rated schools in New Orleans. And finding the right one for your child can be a frustrating process.

Rents are dramatically higher, and so are housing prices and homeowner’s insurance.

Paola and Jose Corrada got back to their flooded Lakeview home before the city was officially open and began to clean it out. They were young - she was 26; he was 30 - and decided to start over Uptown.

“Even though at the time it was really, probably, the most depressing and darkest time in our lives, things bounced back,” Jose told NOLA.com ‘ Times-Picayune photographer Ted Jackson recently.

There are thousands of people across South Louisiana who, like the Corradas, rebuilt or found a new home to love. But there are others who are still waiting. They didn’t get enough money from insurance or the Road Home Program to finish rebuilding.

Some are stuck in other states, longing to move back. Some are here, agonizingly close to but not actually home yet.

The St. Bernard Project, which has rebuilt more than 600 homes since Katrina, has more than 100 families on its waiting list and estimates that 5,000 families are still displaced.

African-American residents especially feel the unevenness of recovery.

An LSU survey released this week found that 78 percent of white residents believe Louisiana has “mostly recovered” since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. But African-American residents see things far differently. Fifty-nine percent of them think the state has “mostly not recovered.” Far more white than black residents believe their quality of life has improved.

The racial split reflects different experiences at the time of the disaster and now. Seventy percent of white residents said they were able to get back into their homes within a year of Katrina. Only 42 percent of African-American residents were able to do so.

The disparity hurts not only individual families, but the community as a whole. Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration is working to connect unemployed African-American men in New Orleans with training and jobs, including the rebuilding of the city’s sewer and water system. He is using the Welcome Table racial reconciliation initiative to get black and white residents together to talk to each other. Those are important efforts.

In January 2006, jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis delivered an inspiring speech at Tulane University on Martin Luther King Day. He talked about Rev. King’s tireless campaign to end injustice.

“His single-mindedness is what is required of us, at this time, to rebuild New Orleans. Don’t settle. Succeed,” he said. “When we look around here, we see destruction, anguish and uncertainty. Let’s look deeper into ourselves and find possibility.”

Ten years later, we have embraced possibility. The progress is palpable in New Orleans. But we must stay focused and not settle for less than complete recovery and fulfillment of our city’s immense potential.




August 30

The News-Star, Monroe, Louisiana on severance tax exemption:

Legislation passed in 2015 to generate more state severance taxes on oil and gas production from horizontal wells in Louisiana will probably do little, according to a state Legislative Auditor’s report issued this week.

House Bill 549 - it was the lone bill to pass among five proposed in 2015 - set benchmarks for collecting taxes from horizontal wells that are high enough to be useless in the near term, state observers suggested. Oil must rise to $70 a barrel, gas must be priced at at least $4.50 per million BTU, before the state can collect the severance tax. Such prices are unlikely in 2015, perhaps not in 2016, experts say.

Consider, too, that under the current state severance tax exemption on horizontal wells - most are in northwestern Louisiana - Louisiana cannot collect severance taxes for the first two years of the well’s use. For natural gas, those years are generally the most productive years for wells. If two years covers the active life of the well - it could - some well operators may never pay severance taxes on their wells.

That’s why the Legislature would do well in 2016 to reconsider how it imposes the severance tax on horizontal wells, especially in light of the exemption. It would do well to revisit the exemption itself. Industry leaders suggest that drillers might not operate here without the exemption; skeptics suggest that Louisiana is rich in oil and gas, and that oil and gas companies will go where the oil and gas is.

Most important to the state is to impose taxes that are fair to oil companies, who contribute substantially to Louisiana’s economy, but also to the state, which is being mined for its resources, and its people, who will remain here after wells run dry.

The idea behind the severance tax exemption, which was passed in 1994, was to encourage drilling horizontal wells. Most of the horizontal wells were drilled in the Haynesville Shale after 2007 when the price for natural gas soared. Drilling slowed, the exemption notwithstanding, after the prices dropped.

The auditor’s report suggests that the state lost some $1.1 billion over the past five years because of the exemption on horizontal wells. Perhaps. But it’s unlikely that the severance tax would stay at 12.5 percent - that’s relatively high - if it were not for the exemption.

The report tells us this, important to note: Among the leading oil and gas states, Louisiana is the only one to grant full exemption on severance taxes for horizontal wells for two years. Texas doesn’t do it. Neither does Oklahoma.

Next year brings a new governor, a new Legislature, new perspectives. Let’s be open to fair change.




August 26

Alexandria Daily Town Talk on hurricane preparedness app

As we mark the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and with two named storms popping up in the Atlantic in the past few days, this seems like a good opportunity to remind readers of the need to take the proper hurricane planning steps in order to be ready should a hurricane impact Louisiana.

Granted, hurricane season started nearly three months ago, and preparations should have started then. But, human nature being what it is, we suspect most people put off prepping until the last minute. Besides, hurricane season doesn’t really ramp up until late August or September. Well, guess what - it’s late August now.

Apparently the penchant for procrastination when it comes to hurricane planning extends down to Baton Rouge and our state’s Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, which is pretty much the last place that should take a relaxed approach to hurricane planning.

Our original thought was to check their website to gather some updated planning tips to share with readers.

When we opened their page, getagameplan.org, we found a link at the top of the page for a mobile app. We thought that was a great idea, and we eagerly downloaded the iPhone version of the app.

As expected, it had checklists and other general safety information. Then there were links to all sorts of useful looking things, like evacuation shelter information, emergency alerts, road closures and satellite imagery. It looked great.

The problem was, when you tried the links, we got an error message on several of them. Thinking we had accidentally downloaded an older version and missed the update, we called to ask for app support. We were told the app that is currently available for download is out of date and they are working on an updated version.

When asked for a timetable, we were told they didn’t have a hard date, but “it should be ready soon.” At this point, we’re doubtful it will be in time to be of any use this hurricane season.

To be fair, from talking with other officials in the office, the main website was recently upgraded and the linking address for some of the information changed. We can understand that as we’ve been through website upgrades ourselves. It’s hard to check every link. That said, it still needs to be done. The site upgrade was weeks ago, and our call seems to be the first they knew about these app links not working.

New technologies are great, and an emergency app from the state’s emergency preparedness office could save lives, but only if it is properly maintained.

This time it appears the state dropped the ball. We hope they get things fixed quickly, preferably before a disaster strikes.



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