The Atchafalaya Trace Commission Meets

On Tuesday, January 6, 2009, the Atchafalaya Trace Commission held a regular meeting at the Capital Park Welcome Center on River Road in Baton Rouge. The Commission is recovering from the loss of several commissioners after the change in ethics rules last year. Some folks just don’t feel like the volunteer job is worth the hassle of dealing with the rules. That is unfortunate but probably means that the folks who end up on the commission will be committed to the project and comfortable with the conditions. The Commission is busy trying to figure out just what the Heritage Area should be and how it can maximize its contribution to the State. Part of that process is learning how to work with all the other agencies that have responsibilities in the Basin, without stepping on anyone’s toes and without unnecessarily duplicating efforts.

As part of the discovery process, Robert Benoit of the Atchafalaya Basin Program (ABP) made a presentation on the current status of the Program after the legislative changes of 2008 and the failure of the constitutional amendment that would have guaranteed funding for the Program into the future. He reported that he had prepared a Capital Outlay request for $10M, based on the assumption that the amendment would not pass and that some of that request, if approved, will provide the basis for the project funding for the next fiscal year. The program has not received Priority 1 funding (cash in hand) for the past two years, and is waiting for lower priority money to be approved but none has been forthcoming. That means that all projects not previously on contract are on hold.

Robert also announced that the Program has a new Director. He is Steve Schutz, formerly of the Departmet of Environmental Quality.

Debra Credeur noted that there is money available for Atchafalaya Development Zone Tax Credit Awards and that few businesses have applied. Plans are underway to simplify the application process.
Debra also announced that the public comments on the initial Heritage Area Management Plan hearings are in and will be published in February. The Plan development contractor will review the comments, hold additional meetings around the area to identify strengths of each parish, and draft goals and ultimately, a management plan. The primary functions of the plan are to define the identity of the Heritage Area, to provide a blueprint for promoting that identity and using the strengths of each parish to enhance the value of the Area.

I reported to the meeting that the FOA Board and Iberville Parish had sponsored the first in a series of Boat Landing clean-up projects at Bayou Sorrell Landing in the fall. I informed the Commission members that we would be inviting many of them over the next year to participate in similar efforts around the Basin, including the next one in Morgan City. The purpose of each event is to increase awareness of the importance of the Basin, to involve more citizens in Basin activities, and to stimulate them to participate in the meetings and hearings sponsored by government agencies that are planning Basin projects.

In the “Upcoming Events” category, a Louisiana Artists Market is being held at the Paragon Casino Resort in Marksville on January 22, 2009, from 9AM to 5PM and the public is invited.

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