In The News › Council reviews recovery zone details

Sep 6, 2007

Source: Times-Picayune

Council reviews recovery zone details

Council reviews recovery zone details
Public may get to see blueprints this month
Thursday, September 06, 2007
By Michelle Krupa
Staff writer

Street-by-street blueprints of proposed rebuilding projects in 17 target zones in New Orleans are under review by the City Council and will be available to residents by month’s end, recovery director Ed Blakely told a council committee Wednesday.

Beyond the zones, Blakely said his staff has developed plans for a Mid-City commercial corridor, expanded ports and a justice mega-center combining all New Orleans’ city and state courts, plus police and sheriff’s offices, into a single complex near Tulane Avenue and Broad Street. Details on those projects also remain under wraps, he said.

“The target areas are significant, they’re important, but we’re moving beyond the target areas,” Blakely said. “When we complete the process with the council, you’ll see every single project on the Web site, and there will be a biweekly status report on what progress we’re making in the target areas.”

Though Blakely did not provide schematics or other details of the projects, his comments marked the most explicit news about the city’s $1.1 billion recovery plan since it was unveiled in March. Mayor Ray Nagin’s administration has been vague about progress, saying only that officials have been working behind the scenes to nail down financing and craft designs for such projects as libraries, playgrounds and community centers.

Blakely said all the target-zone projects grew out of the New Orleans Strategic Recovery and Redevelopment Plan, a conglomeration of at least seven planning efforts undertaken by residents citywide after Hurricane Katrina. Though the plan calls for construction of a wide variety of assets, from bike paths to shopping centers to police stations, Blakely said limited financing forced him to select priorities in each zone, as well as large projects of citywide significance.

“My job as a professional is to pick things out of that plan and weave them together in a way that makes sense,” he said. “That is not arbitrary.”

Blakely said he based his decisions on recent meetings with civic groups and other stakeholders who got early glimpses of the blueprints. Those meetings, however, were not widely publicized, and Blakely could not immediately provide a list of the groups that vetted the plans.

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Governmental Research, a watchdog group based in New Orleans, released a letter Wednesday calling on the City Council to postpone a vote scheduled for today that would carve out specific spending categories that Blakely’s Office of Recovery Management would have to follow when splitting up $117.3 million in federal Community Development Block grants to finance the rebuilding projects.

The money, set aside for New Orleans by the Louisiana Recovery Authority, is the only solid financing stream available so far for the recovery plan.

The BGR wants the council to wait until city officials release a detailed list of projects to the general public before it commits a fixed amount of money to be spent on the projects. The categories include city roads and infrastructure, school facilities, community facilities, economic development, recreation facilities, blight reduction, environmental soil assessment, libraries and administrative costs.

“(A)ppropriating funding prior to the release of a detailed plan and public review places the cart before the horse. It also poses the danger that the public review would bear the significance of an after-thought,” according to a statement released by BGR chairwoman Janet Howard.

As proposed, the ordinance would put additional limitations on how the federal dollars can be spent in New Orleans by requiring Blakely’s office to split up projects into eight categories and to spend no more or no less in each one.

Because they have seen the proposed projects, council members ostensibly would know specifically how the money would be spent within each category. The public, however, would be in the dark until the city releases the plans.

Unlike other federal sources, the LRA money is meant not to repair damaged assets but to help the city improve its infrastructure. To get the cash, which flows through the state Office of Community Development, the City Council must authorize specific projects that meet standards set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. As work is completed, the city submits invoices to the state to draw down reimbursements.

Federal law bars the city from getting the block-grant dollars as a one-time cash payment available for discretionary spending by local officials.

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Michelle Krupa can be reached at mkrupa@timespicayune.com or (504) 826-3312.

Sep 6, 2007

Source: Times-Picayune

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