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Progress in Bay St. Louis, But it is Slow

Editor - The following was sent to GCN's Mark Proulx from Mike Cuevas at the Mayor's office in Bay St. Louis (Mike is female)

Filed 1/23/06 - GCN
The President's visit was very welcome - it always means FEMA and the CORPS kick into high gear!  It's a "feel good" to just not be forgotten - and the fact that he "like's our down-to-earth mayor's - Eddie in his Bermuda shorts and Tommy in his jeans and boots!

The best thing to come out of the visit, besides a boost in morale, was the number of calls from people from throughout the country to see what they could do to help.  One call came from a couple from California that will be sending a bobcat and two operators for three months to help with whatever work they are assigned, then leaving the bobcat as a donation to the city to continue with the clean up work.  Thank you, Mr. W for reaching out to this couple to help us with your call for volunteers and help for this region - and not just New Orleans.

The visit itself was staged by Secret Service and we provided all the appropriate assistance they required.  Of course, St. Stanislaus was very proud to host his visit on their campus.

The audience was pretty hand picked and not opened to the general public, that I am aware of.  There were 150 members of the media and 300 in the audience.  I choose not to go, just because I had too much other stuff going on to be there, but the city was well represented.

I met with the Bay High Principal and some other community members this morning and our Bay High class of '06 is at full strength.  Our high school numbers are almost back to pre-Katrina numbers.  I was very impressed with their progress and the numbers of students who have returned.  No numbers for the lower grades yet.

North Bay must be rebuilt from the ground up.  Waveland Elementary has one wing that must be rebuilt.  Second Street Elementary will re-open, but probably not in the original Bay St. Louis School building (I think it is being considered for a community/arts center, not confirmed), the Middle School campus is great and the High School is quickly on the mend, as far as the physical plant is concerned.

They do have a lot of things that will need to be replaced, but at this time, the school system is stable, and that is great news for everyone.

The Library System is also on the mend and reaching stability, every where but financially.  A large portion of their operating budget is received from the Hancock County and Bay Saint Louis taxing efforts, based on ad-valorem collections.  It is going to be slow going for them, just as for city-government, financially.  Physically the headquarters location on Highway 90 and Ulman Avenue is under repairs, but they are offering internet, fax and copy services to the public free-of-charge, even if book check-outs are not at 100%.

The Kiln Library facility is fully operational, Waveland must be rebuilt, as well as, the public partnership library in Pearlington.  But I have no fear that all of the services will be up to 100% in a fairly short time, with adjustments being made as needed, like a current bookmobile being used for the southwest portion of the county.

The city administration is preparing for Hurricane season 2006, as we are re-building and recovering from Katrina and the 2005 season.  Police, fire, public works and administration, the city's four departments are now on regular time schedules, but the work is focused on recovery, with a team effort for storm preparation.  Oh, the lessons we have learned!  Our hope is that we won't repeat any of the same mistakes, but make new mistakes, if we have to make mistakes at all.

The city, and its citizens, have received great gifts from the American public.  Everything from a cup and spoon to teams of people repairing existing housing.  Without the generosity and back breaking efforts of other Americans out of the zone we may quite possibly still be four months behind.

Our initial efforts were to return city services to as many home and business sites as possible and we have reached this goal.  The next focus area, and one that will be ongoing for some time is the clean up of neighborhoods.

Next we have focused on repair of our current building stock, to get as many families back in their homes as possible, and re-opening as many businesses as possible.  Hooray for McDonald Hardware and Bailey Lumber!  Once again, volunteers are helping us make this a reality by providing labor and many materials that we can't afford or find for ourselves.

Our next area of focus will be the final development and implementation of our re-building plans, concentrating on areas of total destruction, new comprehensive plan, new zoning ordinance, a whole new way of looking at the Bay Saint Louis community as a whole.  This is a real opportunity for business not to go on as usual, for citizens to be empowered and an active part of the process of developing a new community.

Bay Saint Louis, as we knew it, grew up in it, and lived in it, is primarily gone, salvaging our memories is prominent, but realizing that the pre-Katrina Bay Saint Louis is physically gone, is an important step in recovery.  With this in mind, we get to be part of the creation of a new, more perfect Bay Saint Louis, no longer, A Place Apart, but a Part of Every Place!

I am very optimistic about our future, but the key to success will be to really build a community with a sense of place with a future of rebuilding what is important.  Everyone who is here and is returning loves Bay Saint Louis and our memories will be powerful, but our energy has to be placed towards our future.  I hope to see more young people empowered to help in the decisions that will form their future and not just take care of our immediate needs.

Mike C.

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