Denham Springs residents got to air both at a public meeting Thursday of the city’s Long Term Community Recovery Plan at Denham Springs Junior High.

Six tables on topics ranging from cultural resources to housing to infrastructure sought opinions, comments and ideas. Each table had round stickers in red and green, note paper and pens.

 Visitors were encouraged to post their answers below questions or put a green or red dot near photos of ideas they liked or opposed.

Signup sheets also were available for people to join one of the six subcommittees.

The turnout impressed Mayor Gerard Landry.

“There are hundreds of ideas out here. We will come out again in July and look at projects and in August make the decisions,” he said.

“It’s good to come together to share ideas.”

On July 13, a second community meeting will be held, to show what ideas and suggestions were generated, and on Aug. 12 – the anniversary of the Great Flood of 2016 – the public will rank the possible projects.

Then a group from FEMA will begin looking for funds and grants to make the projects a reality.

“We will come up with some really nice things and they will find the money,” said Rene Delahoussaye, city councilman, referring to the FEMA team.

“They have been working hard. It’s an opportunity to do some good and interesting things,” Delahoussaye said.

Charles Stoma, a retiree from False River, is one of those FEMA “reservists,” people who volunteer their time to help communities with recovery plans then find the federal funding for it.

“We’ve got a team embedded here,” Stoma said, who works as a liaison to the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the National Park Service, which could be a source of funding for a project on the Amite River if that is chosen.

“It’s not FEMA’s plan; it’s the City of Denham Springs’ plan,” he said.

Stoma worked in South Carolina last year, in Alabama after tornadoes hit two years ago and in the Northeast after Hurricane Sandy.

“This is the first time I’ve had a job in my own state,” he said.

Meanwhile, a walk around the tables offered an insight into what Denham Springs residents are thinking.

Natural and Cultural Resources table:

What type of cultural things should Denham Springs have?

“Trampoline park, speciality park, retail parks.”

“Amite River – kayak, fishing.”

“Outside – biking, concerts, festivals, ‘everything.’ ”

Volunteer Judy Averett, treasurer of the Arts Council of Livingston Parish, said the city once had a bowling alley and skating rink and people mentioned them. Transportation to events was another topic.

City resident Melinda Mayeaux said improvements are needed for walkers.

“I used to walk and there was no sidewalk,” she said. “I walked in the ditch or on other side of ditch down on Cockerham as cars zoomed by.”

Bicycling was another challenge, Mayeaux said. “People were never taught hand signs” used by bicyclists, “they thought I was waving at them.”

Economic table:

What do you want to see?

“Go kart, jump park.”

“Civic center, water park, bowling alley.”

“Drive-in movies, bakery.”

Pier Park in Panama City Beach, Fla., — “an area like Perkins Rowe” – would be perfect for Denham Springs, Tina Guillory said.

Pier Park, with 900,000 square feet, offers more than 130 speciality shops, dining establishments and attractions

“We would have it made,” she said. “Food, fun, exercise all in one place.”

She called Pier Park “kid friendly and adult friendly.”

Housing table:

What kind of housing is needed?

“Please get rid of blighted properties.”

“I am concerned about lack of planning.”

“Enough already, too crowded already.”

“People are looking at getting back in their homes. They’re tired,” said volunteer Barbara Stoetzner, who works with the Louisiana Housing Corp. (LHC).

Stoetzner works with the LHC’s Neighborhood Landlord Rental Program to help landlords who lost their rental properties.

The faster they can get restore their properties, the more housing options are available, she said.

But more housing is not embraced by everyone.

“I have issues with putting concrete down, covering the ground that absorbs water,” Mayeaux said.

She said she has seen houses with small openings for water to flow through.

“Water goes around the house and hits my house,” she said.

Denham Springs Housing Authority Director Fred Banks said an elevation chart was helpful for people to understand the concept.

“We will come back better and we will come back stronger,” he said.

Health and Social Services table:

What services do you wish were in Denham Springs?

“Low income dental, counseling adult and teens.”

“Transportation for disabled elderly, food kitchen.”

“Transportation to medical clinics.”

Four questions were posed about the Livingston Parish school system.

Plenty of dots covered the questions about were your children enrolled in 2016, did they complete the 2016-17 school year and do you plan to return for 2017-18.

Only one dot sat under home-schooled.

Infrastructure table:

A large map showed the Amite River Basin Watershed, 1,884 square miles that flows from Mississippi through Florida Parishes into Livingston Parish. At the bottom is Denham Springs.

Asked what is worse, traffic or drainage, the overwhelming response was drainage, according to Chad Bacas, of the Forte & Tablada engineering firm and chairman of the board of the Livingston Parish Chamber of Commerce.

“We have too many subdivisions, not enough drainage solutions,” Baca said. “The local drainage issue was there before the flood.”

“Infrastructure has got to mitigate drainage and roads,” Mayeaux said. “The roads are horrible. They want to build highways and bridges and can’t maintain what they have.

“If you can’t take care of what we got, how are you going to take care of new roads,” she asked. “I’m brutally honest. I’m sorry. I’m from the country.”

“I’m looking at all of the tables,” said Ricky Patterson, a 22-year resident of Denham Springs, as he toured the gym.

“My big concern is drainage. The Comite-Amite River Diversion has got to be finished,” said Patterson, whose home flooded near the Bass Pro center.

If the diversion project had been in place, “We might have got some water but not to the extent it was,” he said.

Patterson said whatever project is decided, “It needs dedicated funding every year,” and on an annual basis, it should be reviewed to make progress is being made.

Guillory’s flood saga followed how drainage was outmatched by floodwater.

Guillory said she got her daughter and family out of the Dunn Road home on Aug. 11, only to wake up the next morning to 6 inches of water in her home.

The evacuated to Bass Pro, where rising water forced them to Plantation Estates, where more rising water left 60 people at the only two homes that didn’t flood.

“They took 60 people off the street took care of us for two days. God was good,” Guillory said.

Addressing drainage may require a new outlook, Bacas said.

“More than a local interest, it’s a regional issue. We have to be a player with the regional group, support regional projects,” Bacas said.

Community planning table:

What would make Denham Springs more resilient?

“Stronger ties between the local community and local business.”

“More open community forums.”

And this observation:

“Keep neighbors engaged with each other and city representatives. Should not take flood to bring us together.”


Kevin Fambrough is a reporter at the Livingston Parish News. He can be reached at You can follow him on Twitter at @fambroughkevin.