Established 40 years ago, the Imperial Calcasieu Regional Planning and Development Commission has helped secure federal dollars for projects throughout a five-parish area. Grant Bush talked is the IMCAL Interim Executive Director. (Michelle Higginbotham / American Press)
Established 40 years ago, the Imperial Calcasieu Regional Planning and Development Commission has helped secure federal dollars for projects throughout a five-parish area. (Michelle Higginbotham / American Press)
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 05, 2012 12:33 PM
Established 40 years ago, the Imperial Calcasieu Regional Planning and Development Commission has helped secure federal dollars for projects throughout a five-parish area.
IMCAL Interim Executive Director Grant Bush talked with the American Press about the organization.
American Press: What does IMCAL stand for?
Bush: The Imperial Calcasieu Regional Planning and Development Commission. Of course, Imperial Calcasieu was the old terminology for the large Catholic district here in the area. It was carried with, that name, Imperial Calcasieu, representing the five-parish area. Our regional planning district — which is the fifth region and there are nine districts (in Louisiana) and we represent that (number) five and we represent five parishes.
When and why was it formed?
IMCAL is kind of a two-office situation. The IMCAL Regional Planning and Development District began with the MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) at the same time. Congress basically mandated that all areas create a regional planning district and with them the MPOs which had to have at least 50,000 and above.
It was created in ’64 by Congress but it wasn’t until ’72 until that IMCAL started. They pulled together the entities throughout our five-parish area, set up a set of by-laws to govern itself and it’s made up of political officials from each entity — mayors, council members, police jurors and so forth. And what it actually is is a conduit between federal dollars that is needed in these small rural areas and it provide checks and balances for them to have public input. And so that way, if federal dollars are coming through here, IMCAL gives it that public hearing process to allow the public to voice its views. I think that is how it was really set up for.
To the person on the street, what do you do in terms of day-to-day operations.
I try to explain to people — because a lot of times you get the planning side of things and a lot of times you have to explain what planning is — from my experience going through city planning and parish planning and now IMCAL planning, we do a lot of what I call documentation management on the MPO side. We conduct the public hearing process with our MPO representatives and we manage the system of the TIP (Transportation Improvement Program) long-range plan and UPWP. The Unified Planning Work Program which basically is the budget system for the MPO. The TIP is the five-year plan, the short-term plan, of long-term plans. The long-term plan is about a 20-year plan. And it’s updated every five years.
Within that plan is Stage 1, Stage 2 and Stage 3. Stage 1 is the TIP and the TIP is the five-year plan where we work out of the most. We get an average of $3 million a year to try to process their projects at an 80/20 cost match. That’s more of a management system whereas IMCAL is little more planning.
Recently, we did a plan for Merryville where we gave them ideas and thoughts behind the education and training we get out of conferences and workshops, and past experience, to show them things they might can do in the community and give them some implementations and some funding opportunities that are available if they are to secure certain businesses that would help spur those activities on. That’s where the (SWLA Chamber-Economic Development) Alliance comes in. They might work with those big businesses to find a location. We work in there behind them to say here’s some other ideas that you can do to work with your new businesses and create a better community. So, that’s the planning side of things, where other things that IMCAL does, like the grant-writing process for them if they don’t have the ability in their offices or searching now for new and different technological advances to help out.
Do you find that most of what you do is geared toward smaller communities because they don’t have the planning staff that the City of Lake Charles or Calcasieu Parish Police Jury has?
Exactly. That’s why it was created too because they don’t have those resources in their offices. We make up their consultants. They pay a membership fee to join and in turn we go out and assist them at their request. Grant-writing would be one of the problems, planning efforts would be another — whatever those services they are lacking and that was why IMCAL was pretty much created.
How many employees do you have?
Right now we have seven.
You also have a board of directors that oversees your activity?
Like I mentioned earlier, we’re made up of the membership from the five-parish area. You take the Allen Parish Police Jury, you take Oakdale, you take Merryville, you take the City of DeRidder, Cameron Parish, Lake Charles, Sulphur, Westlake, Iowa — all of these make up our membership and they have certain amount of representation such as the mayor and two council members and that body makes up the IMCAL Board and out of that board is elected an executive committee. We have a quarterly meeting with the full board and we have a monthly meeting with the executive committee. And then the MPO has its own committees — a Technical and Engineering Committee and a Policy Making Committee. And so those are the numbers of meeting that we host on a regular schedule.
How are you funded?
We’re funded by the Federal Highways, Federal Transit, the (EDA) Economic Development Administration, and then we get some funds from what’s called the Delta Regional Authority and also the Louisiana Planning District. Those are the types of funds we get in.
What is your annual budget?
Our annual budget is about $500,000.
What is your background?
After spending 15 years as a bullrider, I went back to college and wound up with the City of Lake Charles in their planning section and then I went onto Calcasieu Parish as a senior planner where I helped with the creation of the Nelson District which got its first award for Calcasieu Parish by the LPA. And then I was recruited to IMCAL as the transportation director and then was named interim executive director. And since then we’ve gotten awards from the state on our long-range transportation plan and our transit committee creation. That’s where we’re at today and trying to see where we’re want to go in the future from what we’ve done in the past.
What are two or three of the biggest accomplishments that IMCAL has had or influences that it has had over the past 40 years.
Well, every 10 years we do a resource guide. We have a new one out in 2012 and what it does, it kind of focuses exactly that: what has happened? What you’ll see is a lot of what I would call community development projects where we’ve helped out the smaller communities with water towers, transportation enhancements like sidewalks projects and refurbishments to their government buildings, boat ramps, all of those type of things. Whereas the MPO we’ve assisted with locals paying 20 percent for some of the projects in transportation over those years. That’s been a big reductions in cost.
Looking ahead, what are the challenges that this region faces over the next five years that IMCAL is focused on and can assist in?
One thing that we all see inside and outside of this office is costs escalating so much. Projects that we would normally put into our TIP, we’re having to find smaller projects because the money is just not there. We’re having to find creative financing ways to do those. So that’s going to be a challenge when we do need certain type of capacity improvements like new projects and new roads. That’s going to be one of our big challenges. We continue to face the I-10 Bridge replacement and what that would mean for an economic impact for downtown and the future of our area.
As far as the IMCAL side of things, as a region, we’re showing signs of a lot of businesses coming in. We’re showing signs of needing to house people and things like that. Our challenge now would be to see what we could do out of our office to assist them with just that. I’ve been doing need assessments with our IMCAL members to find out what they need. And, of course, housing is always one of them.
We talked about short-term. What about long-term, 20 years out, what do you see in terms of the challenges for this area.
Long-term would be obviously very similar. We’d probably want to project what I haven’t seen done here is a long-range plan for IMCAL. I haven’t seen one done that’s been here so I assume they haven’t been done. We do one for the transportation side of things, but we need to do one from IMCAL’s perspective and the five-parish region and plan something like a comprehensive plan. The parish has been doing one, Lake Charles has been doing one. I remember when I was at Lake Charles we called for one and we (IMCAL) didn’t have one. I think IMCAL should be thinking of a long-range plan for the five-parish area.
What are the public’s misconceptions about IMCAL?
Well, first, the acronym. It doesn’t seem to ring a bell, so you have to explain that. What do you do is the big question. It’s kind hard to explain to people sometimes that you are somewhat of a conduit between federal dollars and locals. And that’s the best way I can describe it. We’re in place to be that vehicle for them to receive those funds. Federal tax dollars have to go through a public process. That’s why IMCAL was created so it wouldn’t just be from the feds to the city or the parish and it actually has some type of vehicle for it to through. That’s how I try to explain it to people.
You are located here on the fourth floor of the Pioneer Building, temporarily. You are eventually going to move out to the SEED Center (on McNeese’s campus). Is that correct?
Yes. The plan has been for some time, even back when I was in other offices, for us to have a one-stop shop we called it, where we would have a lot of different agencies together. Now that we’re constructing the SEED building, we had to make a move to a temporary location which we were very fortunate to get and then prepare for a move in late spring or next summer to the SEED building where we will be on the same floor as the Alliance and the Chamber. We’ll be able to consolidate some of our efforts.
Will it make it easier for everyone to be located in one place?
It will because even if they are a couple of blocks over or across the street, sometimes it’s not always easy to get together at a lot of the meetings you need to be at. So this will be a lot easier for us when somebody will run by the office and say, ‘‘Hey, you need to come to this meeting.’’
It will make it easier for us to be all on the same page.
What is the future of IMCAL?
Every so often, Congress talks about planning districts. The state and the Legislature has recently looked at commissions. Commissions are broad. I don’t know how many of the planning districts they are talking about here. There’s been talk of Louisiana having a statewide planning office which has not come about yet. There was some fear that the MPOs would start to being reduced under the new Transportation Bill. MAP (Moving Ahead for Progress) 21 has been completed and will start effect October 1 and will not be eliminating the smaller MPOs like we had thought. But in the future what will that continue to mean? We will see the reductions of planning commissions? We will see the reductions of MPOs? We will say consolidations?
I did some research and found that Georgia Tech had published a report on megaplexes. We talk about metropolitan areas and regions but never thought about megalopolitan areas. They do include this area into a megalopolitan area and that boundary is from basically Lake Charles to Victoria (Texas) with Houston being the central area and then up toward College Station. They put us as a growing community of petrochemical and port activity.
What does that mean to us as we continue on, especially if we have to either consolidate our efforts or we stay intact and we have to plan with that? That’s the vision we need to think about. I feel confidant if we continue to strive in that mindsight, we’ll probably stay here and be able to benefit.