Nic Hunter took over as mayor of Lake Charles in July 2017 following longtime, popular mayor Randy Roach, who retired.
Just one month later, Hurricane Harvey hit. Then COVID-19 arrived in March 2020, with its variants continuing today. Hurricane Laura struck in August 2020, followed by Hurricane Delta in October 2020, and then a serious winter storm in February 2021.
Hunter’s tireless efforts against anything Mother Nature threw at the city earned him a second term; he won with 74% of the vote in March.
Lake Charles was promised support by two presidents, but when Congress finally acted, it approved too little to cover the area’s vast needs.
“The amount of money that will eventually filter down to those who need it in southwest Louisiana is a pittance compared to the disaster relief packages that have come to other communities,” Hunter said recently. “We’ve had a lackluster response from the federal government, but I am proud of the people in southwest Louisiana. I give them the lion’s share of the credit for the recovery we have achieved so far.”
The housing situation, which Hunter called “dire,” tops the city's list of challenges. Aid is trickling in slowly, with $11.3 million for low and moderate-income homeowners available from the city and state while the $595 million that Congress approved for the 2020 storms works its way through the federal bureaucracy. Still more is needed, and Gov. John Bel Edwards is seeking another $700 million.
Also key to bringing back Lake Charles is Hunter’s steady focus on infrastructure and economic development.
Making good on his promise to “turn dirt on the lakefront,” he announced Port Wonder, a $20 million-plus science and nature center and state-of-the-art children’s museum, made possible by funding from dozens of public and private partners. Groundbreaking last June has already proved to be a catalyst. An additional lakefront investment, Crying Eagle Brewery, will break ground on a restaurant and micro-brewery in the first quarter of this year.
City leaders joined Edwards in January 2021 for a ribbon-cutting in the Nellie Lutcher Cultural District for Acadian Ambulance’s regional headquarters and National EMS Academy. This project, which started prior to Hurricane Laura, transformed a vacant auto parts store that sat in disrepair for decades.
Hunter’s work with three economic development districts for an underserved community along the I-10 corridor in Lake Charles was a game-changer. It attracted a new location for a longtime Lake Charles small business, AA Billiards. Nellie Lutcher Memorial Park and several unannounced businesses are planned for this area, which hasn’t seen such robust economic activity in decades.
An image that fixed in Hunter’s mind immediately after the hurricanes was of missing trees in front of Our Lady Queen of Heaven Church on Lake Street.
“Planting new trees is another necessary step in rebuilding after hurricanes Laura and Delta,” he said.
Firestone Polymers and Resource Environmental Solutions donated more than 350 trees to kick off the start of ReTreeLC. Firestone and city employees volunteered to also plant native grasses at Hillcrest, Grace & Medora, and Buddy Prejean city parks. ReTreeLC will be ongoing throughout 2022.
Hunter wants to do a tree giveaway in April, with Firestone Polymers providing the trees.
“We want to encourage people to plant the right types of trees, to plant them in the right fashion, and to plant them in the right location,” he said.
Trees give off oxygen and clean the air, reduce the amount of stormwater runoff and erosion, and provide food, protection, and homes for birds and mammals. Trees are beautiful and a necessary part of a healthy environment.
Trees are the perfect symbol for a mayor fighting to rebuild a great city.