Zachary Mayor David Amrhein and city officials held a dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony Dec. 9 for the recent renovations made to Zachary Youth Park.

The new improvements to the park were made possible thanks to about $1.4 million in Community Development Block Grants for recovery from damage sustained by hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008. With the new improvements, the park serves as an emergency staging area for the city during severe weather conditions and is a place to protect citizens and local assets, Amrhein said.

“The city of Zachary wanted to not only get their youth park rebuilt after Hurricane Gustav, they were determined to make it stronger to better resist damage from future storms,” said Pat Forbes, executive director of the Louisiana Office of Community Development. “With the improvements they’ve undertaken, this park can continue to serve the community in good times, as well as after disasters, for many years to come.”

Following hurricanes and other natural disasters and based on disaster declarations and documented loss, funding is often made available to local communities through federal Public Assistance Grants, according to Chris Calbert, chief administrative officer for Zachary.

The funds, provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, are facilitated by the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness and awarded based on a demonstrated need for small or large projects and actual loss, Calbert said.

Following hurricanes Gustav and Ike, which both struck in 2008, Zachary received the disaster recovery funding, and initial projects identified in 2009 and 2011 were a dry pond water storage system, debris removal and the redesign of the city-parish owned Cypress Bayou, Calbert explained.

“Numerous properties experienced flooding as a consequence of Gustav and Ike,” Calbert said.

Contributing to the flooding from Cypress Bayou was the fact that Cypress had not been cleaned since the late 1970s and contained thick overgrowth and other channel debris.

“Unfortunately, about two and a half years of project development work later, the Cypress Bayou initiative was lost when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ultimately ruled against the project,” Calbert said.

When faced with the prospects of losing the grant funds due to two failed project proposals, Zachary officials faced the imposition of a Gustav project closure deadline.

Knowing that the funds had to be directly linked to Gustav storm damage, Zachary had only one proposal option available — the rehabilitation of the Zachary Youth Park complex, which sustained the greatest loss in terms of damages at about $220,000 because of Gustav.

“Wanting to make the best use of funds, we had PEC, our city engineering firm, design the project while at the same time using the economic development impetus that the park represented as the incentive to help assure project approval,” Calbert said.

The design featured state-of-the-art improvements such as site hardening techniques to lessen the impact of future storms.

Damage to light poles, utilities, fencing, site and asphalt erosion throughout the park validated the need for site improvements, making the park safer and more appealing to people living in Zachary and those who visit, he said.

Concrete surfacing and a roundabout were added to help guide vehicles to a covered awning area during weather-related emergencies. A $6,000 sandbagging machine, capable of filling about 54 bags in 30 minutes, was purchased, and bags will be dispersed along with water, tarps and meals-ready-to-eat.

“Zachary Youth Park will effectively serve as a distribution point for supplies in the event of a hurricane, severe weather or other natural disaster occurrences,” Calbert said.

Other park improvements include new and upgraded lighting, generator backup assistance, underground utilities and all-new fencing.

The park, now complete except for some minor aesthetic work, has added about 250 parking spaces to its new concrete parking lot.

Calbert noted that a portion of the grant funding was used to purchase a new fire truck and its special support equipment, also an identified post-Gustav need. The remainder of the grant money was dedicated to rehabilitation upgrades at the Youth Park.

Industrial Enterprises performed the construction work at the Youth Park, which began in May.