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One of the houses on Johnson street in Baker, on the south side of Groom Road, where houses not in a flood zone sustained much damage in the flood of 2016. Photographed on Aug. 25, 2016.

Advocate staff file photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING

BAKER — After the 2016 flooding seriously impacted Baker, FEMA sent a delegation to help the city of just over 13,000 residents determine how it could not only recover but come back stronger.

About 975 homes in Baker were affected by the flooding, which also damaged Baker High School and the city’s fire station, both on Groom Road.

Beginning in July, the Federal Emergency Management Agency crew invited residents and business owners to imagine what their rebuilt community could look like, if they could find the funds for the improvements.

Baker residents then formed the Baker United Steering Committee to work with FEMA, addressing traditional flood concerns such as drainage and housing reconstruction as well as looking at amenities like bike paths and community gardens.

And while FEMA won't provide the funds for any of these improvements, it can direct the city to agencies that might be able to help.

On Monday night, 103 people attended an open house to view proposals FEMA presented on poster boards with space left for residents to leave comments and vote on the projects they deemed most important.

The proposals include projects for the next 10 years, focusing on issues identified by the community, said Rosemary Jackson, a member of the FEMA crew.

By December, FEMA officials and the steering committee will have a document for the city detailing the plans, priority projects, key steps to accomplishing them, and the costs associated with each project.

A few FEMA employees will also remain in Baker to assist the steering committee with making the projects a reality, she said.

Baker Mayor Darnell Waites has attended all of the steering committee meetings thus far and said he is happy with the progress.

“I just show up and inspire people,” he said, adding that he hand-picked many of the steering committee members.

Six focus areas emerged after over four months of steering committee meetings:

  • natural and cultural resources, including the BREC Baton Rouge Zoo, baseball fields and community gardens.
  • infrastructure such as ditches and drainage issues.
  • housing problems both those caused by and those not related to flooding.
  • community planning, which covers staffing in the city as well as municipal codes.
  • economic development.
  • education, health, and social services.

The plan identifies 15 to 20 projects within those six areas, such as creating bike paths in the city, providing more affordable housing, and fixing drainage problems. Not all of the projects will make it into the final plan, FEMA crew leader John Russell said.

All Baker residents are welcome at steering committee meetings, which take place every Monday at 5 p.m. in the Baker Municipal Auditorium on Groom Road.

Each project has a champion, or a person in charge of implementation, some of whom are steering committee members and others city employees, Russell said.

Local resident and registered nurse Sandra Jones is the champion for the Community Emergency Response Team, which will train volunteers to help in disaster and emergency situations. She will also be in charge of Baker’s emergency preparedness plan.

An eight-year resident of Baker, Jones volunteered after meeting Waites at the Buffalo 5K run.

“We don’t want to replace first responders or put people in danger, but to train people to help in emergencies,” she said.

Local businesswoman Evelyn Parker, who joined the steering committee to help with housing issues in Baker, said her mattress store was only open for two weeks before it flooded in August 2016.

She didn’t have insurance, so a Go Fund Me account as well as assistance from other business owners helped her reopen in the same location on Plank Road.

Seeing the city “like a desert with a bunch of rubble” after the flood inspired her to help, Parker said.

“We’ve got to start somewhere," she said. "Someone has to do the footwork.”