Editorial: Getting people, businesses back into Cameron Parish

Borrowing a similar ‘‘Field of Dreams’’ line, ‘‘If They Build it, Will People Return to Cameron Parish?’’

That’s the salient question as the Cameron Parish Police Jury and West Cameron Harbor and Terminal District underwrite studies

about whether current and former parish residents want new development and a feasibility study on such plans.

The SmithGroupJJR, a Detroit-based

architectural and engineering company, presented last week a concept for

development around

the Courthouse Square and on Monkey Island. The study was launched

by Cameron Answers, a nonprofit group formed to revitalize

public interest in the parish and to spur economic development.

The lower part of the parish has been

reeling since Hurricanes Rita and Ike delivered a one-two punch. Some

lower Cameron

Parish residents rebuilt after Rita’s storm surge washed away or

inundated their homes in 2005, but Ike’s stronger surge and devastation in 2008 was too much for many of the most loyal

Cameron Parish residents.

To wit, when they rebuilt, it was

either north of the Intracoastal Waterway or in southern Calcasieu

Parish. The parish lost

nearly one-third of its population between the 2000 and 2010

Census, with an estimated 6,702 residents in the parish in 2012,

according to the United States Census Bureau.

So how do you get them back?

Ed Freer, a Smith GroupJJR urban

planner, touted an “eco-residential” area by rebuilding cheniers and

putting homes or offices

inside of them. He also promoted making Monkey Island a

destination facility for oil and gas industry that would include large

meeting rooms that could host a multitude of events.

Freer said a bridge or ferry would be

necessary to provide access to the island and raised the idea of using

“floating restaurants”

on barges that could be moved if another hurricane threatened the

area. A bridge to Monkey Island has been on Cameron Parish’s

wish list for decades.

However, his comment about not putting a

building on stilts may indicate a fundamental misunderstanding about

federal requirements

to build at elevation, a requirement that will make construction

more expensive and hence hinder development.

Cost of insurance is another daunting hurdle in many plans for the lower part of the parish.

Southwest Louisiana residents should take heart that the good folks of Cameron Parish are, much like following the tragedy

of Hurricane Audrey in 1957, not willing to surrender to the whims of Mother Nature.

Certainly, public help like tax incentives can make development more attractive. However, it will be up to private developers

to weigh the risk and rewards and ultimately decide whether to invest in lower Cameron Parish.

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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Mike Jones, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.