Cassidy listens to concerns for schools amid hurricane, flood recovery

Rita LeBleu

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy made four stops Friday in Lake Charles and also visited Cameron to find out how he can help with hurricane recovery.

The visit comes on the heels of a speech Cassidy delivered on the Senate floor about the impact of Hurricanes Laura and Delta, as well as recent flooding in Baton Rouge and Southwest Louisiana. He ended the speech with a request for a disaster supplement. The bill would provide additional funds for recovery from disasters across the nation in 2020.

“We cannot afford to allow the impact of a years’ worth of natural disasters go unaddressed,” he said.

Cassidy’s last Lake Charles stop was at the McNeese State University Jack Doland Fieldhouse.

There he listened to the concerns of McNeese State University President Daryl Burkel and Karl Bruchhaus, superintendent of Calcasieu Parish Schools. They wanted to know if Cassidy could help expedite at least a portion of FEMA reimbursement for repairs, and they told how the wait has created not only frustration, but the need for additional work. “We had about 150 million of remediation right after the storm, Bruchhaus said. “We’re going to have another 230 million in construction. The first $150 million was for drying out 76 campuses with no electricity for the month. It got very expensive, 700,000 squarefeet of temporary roofing.”

The recent rain event flooded the LaGrange Library, which could have been avoided if the school board could have received funding sooner to repair the roof.

Bruchhaus submitted $140 million of documented need with 20,000 photos to FEMA two months ago. No one has come to visit Calcasieu Parish schools because of COVID.

“We’re cash poor,” Bruchhaus said. ”If we could just get a percentage of that reimbursement we could move ahead.”

“They’re not on the ground, FEMA is not here. They’re relaying on ICF (school’s consultant) to submit that paperwork to them, then they start assessment,” said McNeese State University Facilities and Plant Operations Director Richard Rhoden.

“Our Health and Human Performance Center, a $44 million facility was damaged to the tune of $25 million dollars, Burkel said. “They came in and remediated the facility and it sat for six months, no air conditioning, no nothing because the state didn’t have any money to fix it. “We finally got the money to fix it and now they’re coming back again because it sat for six months.”

Rhoden said the look of a university campus impacts the student’s choice to attend, which is another reason repairs need to be expedited.

Cassidy committed to making a phone call to follow up on what he heard at the meeting.

While Cassidy’s visit addressed immediate recovery concerns, he also explained what needs to happen for the state to have the opportunity to receive additional, supplemental assistance for hurricane recovery.

“First, the President needs to sign it,” Cassidy said. “When he was here, Nic Hunter and the governor both mentioned it to him, I met him in New Orleans and also mentioned him to it, so he’s aware of it.”

Cassidy is also speaking to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, key to making the decision.

“It helps if we get a lot of senators who are likewise supportive,” Cassidy said. We’ve already sent a letter to the President but we’re now trying to get a letter drafted signed by multiple senators who have experienced disasters in their states.”

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley is co-leading with Cassidy. Cassidy said he met with Sulphur Mayor Mike Danahay and Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter.

They could be instrumental in helping deliver this additional assistance.

“Mayor Hunter and Mayor Danahay are on this,” Cassidy said.

In an earlier broadcast, Cassidy said individuals having problems with FEMA may call his Baton Rouge office at (225) 929-7711.

 
 

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Calcasieu Parish Schools Superintendent Karl Bruchhaus greets U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy. In the background is Charles Kleckly, former Louisiana Speaker of the House.
 

Rita LeBleu

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