NEW ROADS — Residents of flood-prone Pecan Acres weren’t buying what Pointe Coupee Parish was selling as a possible solution to their flooding problems at a meeting Tuesday night.
The purpose of the meeting was to update residents of the low-income community on a proposal to relocate them. But they were skeptical.
Cletus Langlois, the parish's contracted engineer, told the Police Jury tentative plans are being finalized for a "disaster recovery resource fair" at which Pecan Acres residents will be paired with legal representatives to help arrange buyouts of their homes under a federally-funded program.
Sylvia Williams, who has emerged as a leader of the Pecan Acre community’s residents, voiced doubts about the parish’s plan.
One major obstacle, she noted, is that everything comes to a screeching halt if any one person doesn't want to sell their home and relocate.
"Do you have a consensus of how many neighbors will participate?" Williams asked Langlois at Tuesday's meeting.
"I think about 70 to 80 percent," he replied.
"Well, no one has talked to me about a buyout yet so how do you know that?" Williams responded.
The Police Jury in January entered into what is known as a “memorandum of understanding” with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service in response to pressure from Pecan Acres residents for the parish to step up and address their dire living situations.
Pecan Acres has been dubbed "Flood City" by residents who say the community has been swamped by storm waters at least 17 times over the past couple of decades. The community, which includes about 40 households, is inhabited primarily by low-income black and elderly residents and was built in an area that used to be a parish dumpsite.
Most homeowners can't afford flood insurance so they were often turned down for flood recovery funds from the federal government.
Although the neighborhood has flooded often, the most recent historic floods, which swamped much of the Baton Rouge region, galvanized residents like never before.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service program involves buying out homes in Pecan Acres and restoring the area to flood plain after the homes and infrastructure have been demolished and removed. But there has to be 100 percent participation from every resident in the community to implement it.
Langlois said Tuesday the parish reached out to officials at Southern University Law Center who agreed to represent residents, most likely pro bono, during the buyout process.
He also said the parish is preparing spreadsheets for each property that will outline home values and any legal hurdles that need to be cleared for buyouts to move forward.
Williams pressed parish officials for a back-up plan in case the NRCS program doesn't pan out but expressed said she was disappointed by their response.
"You cannot strong arm a community to do what you want," she said.
Williams quizzed Langlois about rumored funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development she claims her community could qualify for and doesn't take unanimous agreement from her neighbors to implement.
"We have two other options we're trying to get funded and one does involve relocation," Langlois said. "But the only one we have funded right now is NRCS."