With 'seconds' to act, Baton Rouge paramedics grab suicidal man, pull him to safety on I-10 bridge _lowres

Congestion on the Mississippi River Bridge connecting East and West Baton Rouge parishes begins to accumulate about 3 p.m. on July 25, 2014.

Advocate file photo by HILARY SCHEINUK

Last month's devastating floods could mean an uptick in the West Baton Rouge housing market if flood victims look to replant roots on drier land.

Housing experts have said there will be population shifts as folks who lost their homes look to buy new ones in neighborhoods that didn't flood, and West Baton Rouge Parish President Riley "Pee Wee" Berthelot said that could likely put his parish on top of a lot of people's lists. 

"It's no guarantee, but I'm thinking we should," Berthelot said. "There's this perception, when you look at maps showing flooding, that we hardly got hit."

Berthelot's executive assistant, Jason Manola, added, "We had some sporadic flooding but nothing like you saw over in other parishes where you could literally paint a brush over entire areas." 

Only 40 homes in West Baton Rouge sustained flood damage.

Berthelot suspects things remained relatively drier on the west side of the Mississippi River because of a good drainage system and its geographic location. 

"We don't take a lot of water the other parishes do because we're kind of isolated. So water doesn't travel the way it did over in Ascension and Livingston," Berthelot explained. "And any flood water up north from the Pointe Coupee Parish and False River area pretty much dumps into several bayous and big canals, which flushes it out before it hits us."

So, could the parish's lucky outcome in the historic floods entice flood-fatigued victims to migrate into West Baton Rouge? Berthelot seems to think so. 

Parish officials have projected they'll issue about 200 building permits this year for new housing. It'll be the most they've processed since 2006, when West Baton Rouge saw a housing boom following Hurricane Katrina. That year, the parish issued 220 building permits for residential housing, according to a 10-year analysis. 

On average, the parish issues about 150 permits annually, according to the report. 

Manola, who also serves as president of the parish's School Board, said the school system has already welcomed about 75 students from neighboring parishes that were hit harder by the floods. 

"These are mostly kids who are living temporarily with folks over here," he said. "In order for them to enroll, they have to show they have some type of temporary residency here in West Baton Rouge." 

More rooftops is one thing parish officials have said could lead to the much-needed commercial development West Baton Rouge currently lacks. The parish's economic experts have struggled to attract retail and other high-end commercial entities into the area because not enough people call West Baton Rouge home.

The 2015 Census estimate pegs the parish's population at only 25,490, up from the 2010 Census figure of 23,788.

The parish's traffic woes don't help, either. 

"Traffic is becoming our biggest hindrance now," Berthelot said. 

Any new residential development would only add to the daily congestion commuters traveling across the Interstate 10 Mississippi River Bridge into East Baton Rouge and adjoining parishes face every day during peak travel times. Which is why West Baton Rouge hopes to spend the next 10 years focusing its residential growth in the north end near the Erwinville and Chamberlin area. 

The parish recently unveiled its 2016 Master Plan for residential and commercial growth over the next 10 years. The plan highlights several "village centers" where parish leaders hope to spark more concentrated residential development.

Berthelot said focusing on new subdivision construction in the northern end of the parish wouldn't exacerbate traffic issues since those new residents would likely use the Highway 190 bridge to traverse the Mississippi River.

"Right now, everything is just funneling down to the I-10 bridge," he said. "Twenty-five percent of the land south of the Intracoastal Canal holds about 43 percent of our population." 

Berthelot says families considering a move to West Baton Rouge in the wake of floods are likely people who don't have any ties like schools or jobs looming largely in their decision about where they call home. 

"I'm expecting us to be in the top 10 percent when it comes to residential growth in the 2020 Census," he said. 

Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.