- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

Sept. 7

The Advocate (Baton Rouge) on employment in the state:

While all is not sunny in Louisiana’s economic outlook, the number of jobs in the state overall is growing. This is happening despite a recent fall in jobs in metropolitan New Orleans, apparently because of a decline in hurricane reconstruction projects, and losses in oil and gas exploration and services. Yet the losses elsewhere have been offset by continued growth in metropolitan Baton Rouge and in the Lake Charles area, where a boom in petrochemical construction is driving job numbers.

But even as we celebrate the growth across the state in both technology jobs and in the oil and gas mainstays of our economy, the craft trades, health care and professional services offer good jobs at good wages.

In a meeting with Advocate editors and reporters, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu recently noted the region’s initiatives to link the underemployed with jobs - to overcome hurdles in transportation and education. During the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, it’s particularly relevant because of a decline in the demand for construction workers; there is a natural ebb in reconstruction spending over time.

There also is a serious impact in the oil patch, particularly in the Lafayette and Houma areas, as job cuts have followed last year’s sharp decline in oil prices.

Where Louisiana has an opportunity going forward is in jobs that require training or apprenticeships post-high school, but not at the level of a four-year degree from a university, or even a full two-year associate degree from a community college.

That opportunity beckons not only in greater New Orleans but in the entire state.

The Baton Rouge Area Chamber, in a new report, focuses on what are often called “middle skill” jobs, the craft trades and health care service workers who can make good livings at what they do.

“Many of the new jobs coming online require an associate’s degree or less,” BRAC President Adam Knapp said. “These are high-wage jobs, in high-growth industries that represent tremendous professional opportunities for our citizens.”

That report outlines several ways in which industry and government can work together to develop or expand training opportunities for these new openings.

In conjunction with BRAC, the Center for Planning Excellence will release a companion report - “Entering the Pipeline: Engaging Disconnected Workers in our Regional Economy” - identifying barriers that prevent workers from training for the high-demand fields and how resources can be better used to engage the underserved.

Particularly as the anniversaries of hurricanes Katrina and Rita pass, there ought to be a new emphasis on these jobs. We don’t believe that focus should be at the expense of those able and willing to get a four-year degree; a college education is still one of the best investments in the future a family can make. But there are a lot of jobs to be done, and these “middle skill” jobs promise a good salary and other benefits for a family - something that no economic development specialist should ignore.

Online:

https://www.theadvocate.com

____

Sept. 6

The Courier (Houma) on state officials looking at alternatives for a north-south highway:

For far too many people in our region, traveling anywhere east or west first means traveling for miles on two-lane roads through swamps.

The problem has persisted for years, but there hasn’t been much relief.

Smaller projects that repaved portions of those roads treated the literal surface of the problem, but the primary dilemma remains.

So it is welcome news that state officials are looking at alternatives for a north-south highway that would better connect U.S. 90 with La. 3127, which runs from Donaldsoville eastward to Interstate 310 at Boutte in St. Charles Parish.

That roadway, much of it four lanes, is good for getting people from our area east or west and on to larger roads that can help them to safety during evacuations.

A new roadway that would ease motorists’ access to the east-west roadways would be a welcome improvement to daily travel.

But for times of emergency, it could be an actual lifesaver.

When the order comes to evacuate, we have tens of thousands of people on roadways that struggle to carry a fraction of that load on normal days.

And the potential for catastrophe is great.

On a two-lane road, even a minor crash can cause large backups and hours of delay. If such a scenario unfolds during an evacuation, the results could be disastrous.

“Yes, you can go north, south. You can use (La.) 24 and (La.) 20 to get out. But where else in this area can you do that? There is no system redundancy. So if this fails, connectivity fails,” said Stephanie Phillips, a state engineer who is working on the future road project.

Phillips was in Thibodaux for a public meeting to go over the alternatives.

The two primary alternatives basically go east or west around Thibodaux to connect U.S. 90 with La. 3127. Either way, our entire region wins.

Getting from, say, Schriever to Vacherie now is a time-consuming effort on even the best day. If there is any sort of delay, it can become daunting. And in evacuations, the route quickly becomes clogged.

Another north-south route, one that is larger and can accommodate more traffic flow, would be a boon for motorists and could save lives in times of emergency.

Upon that larger premise there is widespread agreement, Phillips said. There has been some division among local residents over which route they would rather see come to fruition.

But that is a matter best left to the experts. It will likely depend on which rights-of-way are easiest to secure.

Either way, our region will be much better off than it is today.

Unfortunately, for now, the project remains in the distant future.

The estimated cost of $735 million is a stumbling block, of course, particularly at a time when the state faces such substantial budget difficulties.

The need for it, though, is clear.

Let’s hope it remains on the state’s radar and that the financing for it can be found. Our people need and deserve a way to get to safety.

Online:

https://www.houmatoday.com

____

Sept. 2

The Times-Picayune (New Orleans) on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina:

The 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the levee breaks passed with memorials to the 1,833 who were lost and testimonials about how far we’ve come. Before we move on, though, we should take a moment to honor our rescuers. As horrific as the death toll was in Katrina, there were tens of thousands of people who were saved from the floodwaters - plucked from their rooftops and attics by helicopter or brought to dry land by boat.

With tropical force winds still swirling on Aug. 29, 2005, a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter crew rescued two women and 4-month-old baby in the community of Nairn in Plaquemines Parish. Their home had been standing since 1876, and they had thought they were safe.

But Katrina made landfall nearby and stormwaters rose into the second floor of the house. Bobbie Jean Moreau tied netting together to steady them as they climbed onto the roof, and her daughter Cheramie swam to get a neighbor’s boat. In the boat, which had a cabin and a radio, they began calling for help.

Lt. Dave Johnson, Lt. Craig Murray, Petty Officer 2nd Class Warren Labeth and Petty Officer 3rd Class Laurence Nettles were getting numerous “mayday” calls as they flew out of Houma, but they heard Ms. Moreau mention the baby and made her their first rescue.

The crew would fly nine straight days of missions.

The Coast Guard rescued 33,500 people across the Gulf Coast after Katrina, according to the agency’s count. Of those, 19,000 were stranded in flooded neighborhoods in the New Orleans metro area - and 6,500 of them were picked up by helicopter. It was the largest air rescue mission in the agency’s history and one of the rare success stories in the federal response.

Coast Guard helicopter pilot Lt. Patrick Dill talked later about seeing small beams of light pointed up from the flooded neighborhoods in New Orleans during five nights of flights. “They were everywhere, shining flashlights,” he said. “There were just thousands.”

Thankfully, there were thousands of rescuers as well, including more than 5,600 men and women from the Coast Guard. The agency deployed 26 cutters, 38 helicopters, 14 fixed-wing aircraft, 13 auxiliary aircraft, 119 boats and eight Marine Safety and Security Teams and Disaster Assist Teams.

At the height of the effort, the Coast Guard contingent was rescuing 750 people an hour by boat and 100 people an hour by air, according to agency officials.

The heroic rescue operation included many others, of course: New Orleans police and firefighters, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the National Guard, active military personnel and regular citizens who volunteered with their own boats.

At a congressional hearing in January 2006, Sen. Joe Lieberman praised Wildlife and Fisheries rescue workers. They “put on what I would consider to be an extraordinary display of both organization and courage. On Monday morning, as Katrina was still raging, they transported 60 boats to New Orleans from their prestaged areas around the state, and by 4 p.m. the same day they began to rescue people stranded in the storm. They succeeded in rescuing more than 1,500 by the next afternoon, and more than 21,000 before it was over.”

New Orleans firefighters and police carried on numerous rescues as well despite difficulties with communication equipment and a lack of boats, he said.

“These heroes stepped in, in some ways unprepared and unassisted, you might say with nothing but their courage and their wits about them, to save tens of thousands of lives,” Sen. Lieberman said.

And for that, we will be eternally grateful.

Online:

https://www.nola.com

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