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A FEMA flood trailer leaves the storage area on North Sherwood Forest enroute to a delivery address on Morgan Road in Central.

Advocate Staff Photo by PATRICK DENNIS

Federal Agency Management Agency trailer parks are coming to East Baton Rouge, and are expected to house as many as 600 people made homeless by the August's historic flooding.

The issue sparked a fight among Metro Council members who acknowledged the need for FEMA trailer parks but didn't want them in their own districts.

 

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Ultimately the council approved trailer parks in certain areas but passed on some sites around Scotlandville and elsewhere after a plea from north Baton Rouge members who said their public resources are already stretched. They also pointed out that they're already taking on all the debris from the flood.

Two weeks ago, FEMA representatives asked for broad power to establish trailer parks anywhere in the city or unincorporated areas of the parish. The council rejected the request that they lift certain ordinances parish-wide to accommodate the parks.

State and federal representatives returned on Wednesday night with a list of specific proposed sites.

FEMA prefers that flood victims participate in the shelter at home or rental assistance programs. However, for people whose homes suffered extreme damage and can't find a suitable rental property or move into an existing park, ones created by FEMA are a last resort.

Some families can fit a mobile housing unit in their yards while they repair their home, but in East Baton Rouge, 2,300 people have qualified for such units, and between 500 and 600 appear that they will need to move into a FEMA-created site, said FEMA representative Willie Nunn.

The agency identified approximately 15 lots, owned by both government agencies and private owners. The proposed sites are near the intersections of South Choctaw and the Central Thruway, Gloria Drive and Florida Boulevard, O'Neal Lane and South Harrell's Ferry Road, Ardenwood Drive and Harry Avenue, La. 37 and Airline Drive, Elmgrove Garden and Veteran's Memorial Boulevard, as well as several sites in the airport's business park.

Most of the sites only have room for a few dozen trailers, but one location north of Florida Boulevard is many acres and could conceivably fit several hundred units.

Since Hurricane Katrina, FEMA has changed its policy to make conditions at the parks less crowded. It now averages four or five units per acre, said FEMA representative Wyatt Kmen.

When the sites were revealed, several council members fought against the trailer parks in their districts. Chauna Banks argued that her district, which includes the areas around Scotlandville and Baker, already lacks "wraparound" services like grocery stores. Additional residents would also strain already-stretched schools and resources, she said.

The Elmgrove Garden site identified by FEMA for a potential trailer park is a beautiful site that could be employed for long-term economic development, not a two-year trailer park that's going to tear up the site, Banks said.

Several members also pointed out that leaders in Central and Zachary have refused trailer parks.

Representatives of heavily-flooded areas pleaded with their colleagues.

Approving the trailer parks is a difficult decision, but if the sites were rejected "I don't know where people are going to go," said Joel Boé.

Flood victims don't care about grocery runs; they care about fixing their houses and don't want to have to drive up from New Orleans to check on their homes, Erika Green said.

"I know nobody wants more FEMA trailers in their districts," councilman and mayoral candidate John Delgado said.

But he said the council wold be "doing the wrong thing" if it makes decisions that will mean people will still be homeless by Christmas, he said.

The council ended up striking a compromise. They approved all of the sites except those at the airport, and the Elmgrove Garden and Ardenwood locations.

Scott Wilson, Delgado, Boé and Buddy Amoroso voted against the proposal that excluded some of the sites from consideration. Chandler Loupe was absent.

In other flood-related business, the council officially backed a measure to begin taking flood debris to a landfill on Brooklawn Drive. It currently goes to Ronaldson Field near Alsen, where residents have complained of the smell and possible health risks. 

However, the council's resolution was a purely ceremonial vote, as the decision lies with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, which has expressed satisfaction with Ronaldson Field.

The city-parish has also started getting bills for flood damage. The Chaneyville Fire Protection District asked for $331,420 to fix their building and replace equipment, including a fire truck.

The Department of Public Works, meanwhile, sought $725,000 to pay contractors who helped respond to overflowing pump stations, cave-ins, and other emergency work on the sewer system during the storm.

However, the amount is only the maximum amount that may be paid. The contractors were hired on retainer before the flood, and the government and the companies haven't determined how much of the work will be charged.

Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.