Just Imagine: McNeese Resilience District can benefit whole community

Published 5:33 pm Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Richard Rhoden is the assistant director of facilities and plant operations for McNeese State University.

If you are a local resident, you are keenly aware of the issues that have created challenges in Southwest Louisiana due to Hurricanes Laura and Delta as well as other federally declared disasters that hit this area between August 27, 2020 and May 17, 2021.  While those events were devastating, they have also led to opportunity.  One opportunity is the Just Imagine 50-Year Resilience Master Plan which includes the McNeese Resilience District as a catalytic project.

While the McNeese Resilience District may sound as if it will only benefit the University, it is only named this due to the geographic location. The McNeese area and the University itself, a valuable anchor for SWLA, are a natural place to make a significant impact to not only McNeese but the entire community.

Email newsletter signup

Contraband Bayou, a natural drainage artery, meanders through campus where nearby residential and business development harmoniously exist. The University’s current Contraband Bayou erosion control and beautification project is the first example improving resiliency while providing access to water.  This project is the first phase of Bayou Greenbelt, an initiative picking up steam with an effort to create a 23-mile recreation loop around the city of Lake Charles. We believe Bayou Greenbelt will bring access to the beauty of the outdoors to residents while becoming a tourist destination for outdoor enthusiasts, in addition to providing drainage solutions.  Bayou Greenbelt will develop public spaces for walking/biking paths and access points to recreational water activities along our waterways.

McNeese and its Foundation have a variety of improvements planned that are included in the McNeese Resilience District. These improvements include additional student housing, the LNG Center for Excellence, Urgent Care and Student Health Center and other retail plans.  Connecting these improvements with the overall McNeese Resilience District project creates a well-rounded approach to social and economic resiliency for both the University and the entire community.

Improving drainage of the surrounding area is part of this plan. Where water may, at times, seem like a negative, this initiative will show how it can be a valuable resource both during and after major rain events. An excellent model is the Gentilly Resilience District in New Orleans.  The Gentilly District initiative took a holistic view of water management strategies and investments in the community allowing them to aspire to greater resilience, safety and social equity.  New Orleans is creating space within the public realm managing water where it falls, completely away from the norm of moving it out as quickly as possible to lower areas or by the use of pumps. The Gentilly District focuses on rebuilding and strengthening all aspects of the district. Their overarching goals are to reduce flooding and subsidence, improve energy reliability, enhance community quality of life and encourage economic and social vitalization. Their funding sources, received through various grants, also allowed them to use portions of their funding for non-storm water items such as playgrounds, better bicycle and pedestrian facilities, and water features in a park setting.  This created an environment where people want to live, work and play. They strive to have a park atmosphere within a 10-minute walk anywhere in the district.

The McNeese Resilience District when completed, can act as a blueprint for other areas (both here and outside SWLA) facing similar challenges. Learn more about the McNeese Resilient District and the other catalytic projects by visiting www.justimagineswla.com and attending a community meeting:

Monday, June 6, Cash and Carry, Lake Charles, 6-8 p.m.

Tuesday, June 7, West-Cal Event Center, Sulphur, 6-8 p.m.

Wednesday, June 8, Grand Lake High School Gym, Grand Lake, 5-7 p.m.