Advocacy for one is advocacy for all

Staff Report

Below is a heart-felt letter written by Sibley Mayor Jimmy Williams pointing out what he feels is a lack of response to the needs of Lake Charles.

Lake Charles, the city America forgot

By Mayor Jimmy Williams, Town of Sibley

The June issue of the Louisiana Municipal Review is one that should stir each of us as municipal leaders, to action. In 2018, many of us gathered in Lake Charles for LMA’s 81st Annual Convention. The LMR editorial board placed a beautiful sunset image of Lake Charles with a welcome letter from Mayor Hunter on the July 2018 cover. His warm letter to our membership painted a vivid picture of “sparkling Lake Charles next to our beautiful lakefront Promenade, Marina and our unique 9-11 Memorial.”

We were enticed to visit the “extraordinary Millennium Park, built solely by area volunteers,” and to “travel a little to the north and stop by our recently expanded Veterans Memorial Park, commemorating all branches of the United States Armed Services.”

Mayor Hunter’s 2018 welcome letter prepared us, while in southwest Louisiana, “to sail, ski, swim, sunbathe, game, ride in horse drawn carriages, play golf, tennis or beach volleyball, crab and fish, dine on fine foods and soak in the friendliness of our people and the southern hospitality so prevalent in our area.”

Lake Charles welcomed us with open arms, and we had a wonderful time. No, in their time of need, we can use our voices to help usher this incredible region and its residents back to their splendor.

Here we are nearly three years later, and Lake Charles is on the cover of this publication again; but this time, the image and message are starkly different. Still reeling from an onslaught of natural disasters, this picturesque American city on the lake now seems to the city that America forgot.

By the time you read this, it likely will have been more than 300 days since Hurricane Laura hit in August 2020, and there is still no supplemental disaster aid for this region in sight. It is unthinkable that any American city would be forsaken for so long – actually, for a record-setting amount of time.

Just recently, $46 million in funding from FEMA for debris removal reimbursement was announced. While we are grateful for every step forward, that only scratches the surface for a storm that caused an estimated $8 to $12 billion in damage, and which left Lake Charles with a current housing need of more than $230 million.

Consider the four additional federally declared disasters that hit the region over the past 14 months, and it is not hard to see why federal aid is critical.

We should all be alarmed by this snail’s pace in providing supplemental disaster aid and by the lack of urgency from Washington DC. As a Gulf Coast state facing increasingly severe weather events, this could happen to any of us and we must ask ourselves: Could my city survive 300 days afer back-to-back major hurricanes, a winter storm, a 1,000-year flood and a global pandemic? Are we fiscally secure? Do we know how to get maximum reimbursement from damage repairs? Do we have a solid game plan?

We have now crossed into hurricane season, and the warmer Gulf waters become, the less time we have to get prepared. Make sure you are taking all the right steps to secure funding available for municipal governments under the American Rescue Plan Act. Lastly, it is critically important for us to remember that our collective voices can extend beyond the borders of this state. Our colleagues in southwest Louisiana need us to rally DC for swift action. None of us can afford to sit idly by while they fight to recover with finite resources and growing needs.

Advocacy is our mission and now is the time for all of us to take action – not only for the recovery of Lake Charles and southwest Louisiana, but for the future needs of our entire state.

(Reprinted with permission)

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