The East Baton Rouge Metro Council on Monday waived the parish noise ordinance for flood-related construction projects every day between 5 a.m. and sundown; is allowing people to live in motor homes parked on the street or with other families in a single-family house; and agreed to make permits free for people restoring their homes due to flood damage.
At the special meeting, council members also heard the parish's own flood toll — including 72 police and fire vehicles destroyed and 34 buildings flooded. The Greenwell Springs Library took on a fair amount of water, as did many of the volunteer fire stations in the north of the parish.
The parish has not yet determined the cost of the damage to municipal property. The federal government will pay at least 75 percent of the cost. City Finance Director Marsha Hanlon said she heard from a disaster official that if Louisiana winds up sustaining $600 million in damage statewide, the federal share will likely jump, possibly as high as 90 percent.
The city-parish has $15.6 million tucked away in stabilization funds to cover its share. Councilman Trae Welch asked if the council needs to start looking at diverting money from capital projects, but Hanlon said that should not be necessary. Hurricane Gustav caused $50 million in damage to city property, and fewer buildings were affected in the recent floods, she explained in an interview.
In addition to public property, approximately 55,000 parish homes were damaged in the storm. Councilwoman Tara Wicker remarked that the three most common words spoken in Baton Rouge last week were "I've lost everything."
Anyone needing to rebuild was given some small succor Monday. For the next three months, the noise ordinance will begin taking affect at 5 a.m. — two hours earlier than usual. Noisy crews may also work on Sunday, typically reserved as a day for peace and quiet.
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Councilman Scott Wilson was approached by a constituent in the Central area who was going to have to pay $435 just to get all the permits to fix his house. For the next six months, anyone with water damage can get the work approved by the city for free.
Due to a strange law, homeowners have to get a permit when they replace a wall, but not if they replace the bottom four feet of every bit of drywall in their house, said city-parish assistant chief administrative officer Carey Chauvin. However, with that level of damage, homeowners may also have electric or plumbing problems that require a permit.
For the next six months the parish will also relax certain housing and traffic ordinances. As long as they stay out of the way of debris cleanup, drivers may park on grassy areas on residential streets and leave motor homes on neighborhood roads.
Welch wondered if the decision would make it difficult to remove questionable rental arrangements run through sites like Airbnb, but city attorney Lea Anne Batson said the city already has ordinances prohibiting hotel-like operations out of private homes.
The Metro Council also approved a measure allowing city-parish employees to be paid administrative leave time during a seven-day period following the flood. Those employees must have been unable to reach their job site, and supervisors will have to sign off on their requests.
Many of the victims include people who worked for the city and members of the Metro Council. For instance, roughly one third of fire department employees flooded, according to the local union president Shane Spillman.
The city is tracking the extent of the flood through its mapping system. Information can be viewed at gis.brla.gov, and city officials urged the public to write in or send a message to the city's Facebook page to help make any corrections.