2016 In Review
Gallery: 2016 Year in Review [17 Images] Click any image to expand.
Acadiana Parishes Speak Of “The Good” Of 2016
By Scott Brazda
1. Unprecedented flooding.
2. Continued struggles of the oil and gas industry.
3. Amazing, creative, unique, generous people.
While items one and two represent the challenges faced by Acadiana residents during the year of 2016, item number three is why, especially here in south Louisiana, there is always hope.
Things were tough for many residents during the current (and almost past year), but Acadiana is still here. The hearts of those who live here and, in the case of the following interviews, of some of those who lead us, are reasons enough to keep fighting the fight and to keep moving forward. Would Acadiana residents do anything different?
In the face of so many challenges, our Acadiana parishes also had many successes and many reasons why we proudly call this place “home.”
“Even with our oil and gas challenges,” begins Iberia Industrial Development President & CEO Mike Tarantino, “there are quite a few bright spots around Iberia Parish.”
Bigger and Better Things at the Port
And for Tarantino, one of those bright spots is the Port of Iberia. “I would submit that the Port of Iberia is Acadiana’s port, and has many, many companies who are doing a number of big things even during these difficult times.”
Those companies include industry heavy-hitters such as Dynamic, Logan Industries, Bayou Companies and Ramfab. “Many of these are companies that are either making multi-million dollar expansions or just moving into the Port because they see the opportunities. When all is said and done, the estimate is at 1200 jobs that are going to be created.”
Tarantino says there is “a lot of great stuff going on in ultra-deep drilling,” and that a lot of companies are investing in the future and see Acadiana as the place to be. “The Port of Iberia, in particular, is that place to be if you want to go forward. That’s what we’re hearing.”
Also at the Port is the AGMAC, an acronym, which stands for “Acadiana Gulf of Mexico Access Channel.” AGMAC is literally going to be big. “This project would deepen the navigation channel from the Port of Iberia out to Vermilion Bay and the Gulf of Mexico,” explains Tarantino. “This in turn would allow us to accommodate even bigger vessels to come in, which would mean more good things on the horizon for the Port.”
Iberia Parish Literally Flying High
From the water to the air, specifically, the Acadiana Regional Airport. “I consider Acadiana Regional Airport to be Acadiana’s airport as well,” smiles Tarantino. “We’ve got an 8,002 foot runway, with 2,000 to 3,000 acres of green space around it. Plus, we’ve a got a 5,000 foot lighted seaway, where you can land pontoon aircraft and similar planes.”
The Acadiana Regional Airport is great gem, furthers Tarantino and is wide-open for development. Bristol Helicopters has its North American headquarters there, as does Aggreko and to bring in even more companies has Iberia Parish building more access roads, thus making it easier for people wanting to get to the airport... to get to the airport.
But Acadiana Regional Airport has even bigger plans, plans that involve this magic word: passengers. “The big news is the airport is also embarking on phase one of its very first passenger terminal project,” Tarantino says proudly. “This passenger terminal, phase one, will be a small space, but it will help us charter aircraft. We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from industries who want more charter services, maybe even a few daily stops to selected destinations.” Tarantino says the new terminal would complement and augment the services already being provided in Lafayette and would help bring more business traffic in and out of Acadiana.
with a Bit of a Twist
“We’ve got a lot of festivals going on here, as does most of south Louisiana,” says Tarantino, “but we’ve got a couple that are pretty unique.”
One is the Spanish Festival, which makes sense because the Spaniards founded New Iberia back in the late 1700s. “Iberia Parish has this very special Latin and Spanish flair and in many ways, we’re kind of like a small piece of Spain, a small slice of Spanish heritage right here in Acadiana. We really cherish that.”
New Iberia celebrates its founding families with all kinds of great activities and the turnout has gotten bigger and bigger each year. There’s a flamenco contest, a papaya contest, music, historical symposiums and even a tweaked ‘running of the bulls.’ “It’s a 5K with a lot of motivated runners wearing make-shift bull horns, and you’ve got to see it to believe it,” chuckles Tarantino.
And To Delambre
Outside of New Iberia proper, continues Tarantino, is Delcambre, the haven split between the parishes of Iberia and Vermilion. Some huge things are happening there, particularly in terms of a Seafood Farmers Market. “At the Delcambre Canal, shrimp boats back right up into the farmer’s market. While you’re getting your great fresh vegetables, you can buy your shrimp right off the boat and right from the shrimpers. As a result of that, they’ve built a new boat complex, with a landing and a pavilion for the community to come and enjoy those kinds of activities.”
The population of Delcambre, says Tarantino, doubles and even triples during the once-a-month Seafood Farmers Market. “In this era of healthy eating, is there anything better than getting the freshest seafood directly from the fishermen themselves? There are a whole lot of amazing things and people in Delcambre.”
And there’s this for the residents of Delcambre. A return. For the first time since Hurricane Rita, Delcambre will have its very own grocery store. Shawn Cajun Meats and Grocery sits at 11,000 square feet and seven feet off the ground and means so much more to Delcambre than not having to travel an extended amount of time to buy groceries. Shawn Cajun Meats and Grocery symbolizes Delcambre’s resilience and perseverance. Welcome back to a way of life.
“It’s been a fun year. And as you and I both know, Lafayette’s a great place.”
And for Lafayette City-Parish President Joel Robideaux, keeping Lafayette Parish ‘great’ has meant juggling what came before with the needs of the present and future. The 2016 budget, for one, was a mix of good and bad.
“The budget that we inherited was a good one, in terms of a healthy savings account,” says Robideaux. “But when it comes to the collection of sales tax, we’d been struggling, particularly because of the oil and gas economy. There’d been a 12 month decline and in 2016 it has continued to decline.”
The University / 1-10 Corridor
But Lafayette Parish still had, and still has, needs and finding solutions meant making some tough decisions. “We made some fairly significant cuts to the budget and at the same time, were able to put some money aside for the University Avenue Gateway corridor and make that a focal point of our first year.”
The University Corridor at Interstate-10 was a project that nearly all agreed needed to happen. Call it having only one chance to make a first impression. Call it having a set of clothes that doesn’t truly represent the wonderful person within. “We don’t have an entrance into this city that exhibits who we are and even how feel about ourselves as a city,” explains Robideaux. “All of our entrances are fairly bland and not representative of us as a community. I chose this one because of the connection to the University and because it’s been neglected so long. Many residents are of the age that they can remember when that area was thriving - Jacob’s Restaurant, Toby’s, the Pat Theatre - it wasn’t that long ago; we’re not that old.”
Robideaux had the sentiment, as do many Acadiana residents, toward Four Corners and to Lafayette in general. Getting travelers to take the exit and see the greatness within was huge here. “So I had a connection to University Avenue and I wanted to see it improve. I think that’s the best choice for us. An initiative that I was thrilled I could get backing from the Council and to get it into the budget that was making a lot of cuts.”
Ask Robideaux to discuss another one of his 2016 highlights and he turns to the four-legged members (or potential members) of Acadiana families. It’s big picture, the scope of which extends beyond Lafayette Parish and even the state of Louisiana. “The other issue that comes to mind is the effort toward becoming a no-kill animal shelter,” says Robideaux. “It seems simple; I was surprised to learn we had one of the largest kill rates in the state, which meant we had one of the largest kill rates in the country. That just doesn’t represent Lafayette either. I don’t think people were aware of it; I certainly wasn’t.”
Working in conjunction with groups like Acadiana Animal Aid, Lafayette Parish has expanded its reach, going beyond geographic borders and in many ways, convinced residents that euthanizing dogs and cats isn’t the only solution. One euthanized animal, says Robideaux and groups in support, is one euthanized animal too many. “Already, we’ve gone from a significant percentage of euthanasia. Any animal that comes into the shelter has a good chance of a live outcome. There was a time that a chance for a live outcome was just 10 percent, but now we’re at about 60 percent of a live outcome. So it’s been with the help of the nonprofits in Lafayette, in the state, and across the country, too.”
But building a team, especially for a topic that may not be high on residents’ lists of priorities, can be tough. When it came to ‘no-kill’, Robideaux was fighting mindset and history. “And it took buy-in from our workers; they’d had to believe in it and be willing to make a change to something that had been done a certain way for I don’t know how many years.”
The immediate success of the ‘no-kill’ initiative surprises Robideaux, and while there’s still a way to go, the Parish-President is proud of the progress. “We’re getting there, but we’re far from a ‘no-kill’ shelter. I had originally set the goal at four years, but we’ve made a huge amount of progress, so I’m really proud of that and think that eventually it will be a banner that we can wave and help us say, ‘Hey, this is the Lafayette that we know and love.’”
And Lafayette’s 2017 Cyrstal Ball Says...
“Well, my hope and wishes and dreams may not be what I see in the crystal ball,” laughs Robideaux.
The comeback of oil and gas. A marketing and branding initiative involving various parish agencies. “We’re a unique enough place that I think, if we just told our story a little bit better, branched out with that story a little bit more, then we would have visitors from all around the world that want to come and check out Acadiana.
ST. MARTIN PARISH
For Guy Cormier and the people of St. Martin Parish, the August floods brought about a complete re-set, in terms of both lives and priorities. “With over 30 inches of rain parish wide in roughly 48 hours, this historic event changed lives for us all. We saw many volunteers exhaust countless hours of service, not just for family members, but friends and acquaintances, too.”
The Great Flood & Even Greater People
“Family” is a buzzword for residents throughout Acadiana, and what Cormier saw during flood relief efforts reinforced that. “Every time we brought someone to safe ground, there was a family or friend to greet them, folks saying, ‘we got you’. A lot of tears were shed and at the same time, people saying, ‘You stay as long as you need.’ Even today we’ve got people volunteering to help those in need rebuild. It was truly an experience that brought out the best in our people.”
The helping hands of St. Martin Parish, the willingness to bring in family and friends, told the area’s story in so many ways. “Family and friends kept watch over the folks they rescued when they got to higher ground, making sure of their constant personal safety and that of their valued belongings,” adds Cormier. So many residents opened their doors, he says, that there came another benefit: St. Martin Parish didn’t have to open a shelter. “Residents taking in those who needed a place. That’s who we are.”
Drainage Coalition: Getting
Communities to Think “Big Picture”
As a result of the flooding events, the St. Martin Parish government took the lead in coordinating multi-parish drainage efforts, bringing in neighbor parishes and agencies that were directly involved in relief efforts. “As the flooding and rains continued, I recognized that a lot of the water coming here was coming from Lafayette and St. Landry, and from us, down to Iberia,” recalls Cormier. “I also realized there’s little or no communication as drainage goes from parish to parish – and I’ve been to blame, too.”
What Cormier realized was that parishes would do their own thing, embark on a drainage project that, under each parish’s microscope, would benefit its own people and infrastructure. Problem is, when it come to drainage, one parish’s dream might become another parish’s nightmare.
“You know, when we talk transportation, from A to B, everyone chats,” says Cormier, a bit of frustration noticeable in his voice. “But when it comes to drainage, well, it’s time to start having that conversation. If I do a major project and bring it to the parish line, then I need to contact the next parish and maybe the ones even further down the road who might have to deal with the waters I’m diverting or rerouting.”
Highway 90’s closure during the August floods may have been a result of some prior activities and Cormier wants to make sure that Acadiana’s parishes work together to make sure such a thing never happens again. “We’re going to try and create an Acadiana Drainage Coalition or something, perhaps in the legislature. If we apply for grants and do it as a group - St. Martin, St. Landry, Lafayette, Iberia, St. Mary – then we can get more play from a grant making agency. When grant makers see a unified team effort, they are more receptive to considering a funding request.”
A Burgeoning Medical Hub
It wasn’t long ago – less than 10 years – that a small hospital, St. Martin Hospital, became partners with the Lafayette General Health System. Although still owned by St. Martin Parish, Lafayette General took over daily operations and Cormier says it’s been the perfect marriage of public and private interests.
“In partnership with Lafayette General Hospital, we’ve had a tremendous year in providing valuable and affordable healthcare for the people of St. Martin Parish, “ says Cormier. “We’ve had an expansion of services and a greater scope of work with this public/private partnership in place. Our goal is to continue providing quality healthcare to the people of the parish and in the Henderson and Cecilia areas as well.”
And everything around that area is growing, too. “Cardiovascular Institute of the South is doing something and there’s another doctor opening a suite of offices. Our parish is becoming a small, healthcare enterprise and it doesn’t appear we’ll be slowing down anytime soon.”
Looking ahead to 2017, Cormier is optimistic. His hopes? Growth. Rebirth. Relationships. “Moving forward to 2017 - we are hoping for a continued upswing in our economy - with the oil and gas sector improving. We hope for everyone to continue their successful rebuilding efforts, where homes and businesses can be restored once again. We are blessed with so much of a community, and together, 2017 can be an even better year for us all.”
For Vermilion Parish, water is a hot topic, ‘hot’ as in, active, moving, ever-changing. And what’s happening, and what’s to come, will affect both the natural and economic landscapes of those who live, work and play in the parish.
Natural Solutions For Coastal
“For one,” says State Senator Jonathan Perry, “there’s the Boston Canal Jetties for coastal restoration. In conjunction with The Chenier Plain Authority, the plan is to rock the Boston Canal Jetties for coastal restoration.”
It’s a project, explains Perry, which will speak loudly for generations to come. “It’s an ongoing project that will extend the rock further down the beach into the mouth of Boston, allowing Mother Nature to naturally restore the sediment behind the rocks. Funds appropriated thus far have gone into engineering.”
The Port Of Vermilion: Economic
Outlook Bulks Up
“The Port of Vermilion bulk heading,” begins Perry, “completes a 36-year industrial development project with state and local funds.”
Such a project is huge because of the dollars and jobs and, quite simply, the lives changed in Vermilion Parish. “The Port of Vermilion supports 335+ jobs at all skill levels, at all education levels. While it’s true this is a ‘down cycle’ for the energy industry, these new numbers will return 450-650 jobs as the energy sector returns.”
And that’s just under the current restrictions and additions. With a little more activity, some more dollars, some more investment in the Port of Vermilion? Who knows? “With the additional improvements, these numbers could add incrementally to the employment totals. These numbers represent $23 million in payroll annually and $45-50 million in projects at the Port of Vermilion.”
The hopes and dreams of 2017 are already in play. For many, those hopes rest, as they seemingly always have, on the oil and gas industry. Fingers are crossed, lucky rabbits’ feet are rubbed and most importantly, innumerable prayers are offered that the industry’s downturn becomes an upturn much, much sooner than later.
Still, many of the good things mentioned above tell us Acadiana’s joie de vivre isn’t going anywhere, regardless of the economy. Good people do good things, which lead to amazing things, which leads to life-changing things. Acadiana answers the call time and time again and will continue to do so.
All the best in 2017.