Around in the GO Zone in 60 Seconds: WQRZ, Beauvoir, Quick Take & Katrina Relief

As we rapidly approach the 3rd anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the memories of what we lost fade somewhat we are confronted by the need to move away from a recovery/rebuild mindset to the new normal. In the mid 70s as a child I remember having relatives visit us in Waveland. We rode down Beach Boulevard pointing out the still vacant lots and recounting the houses that Camille took. Years later we still knew what once stood on those vacant lots but the fact Camille took them was no longer such an important detail in respects. With the benefit of my adult experiences with Katrina I now recognize that process as one of healing. While we are a long way from being healed as a slabbed community, there is no doubt in my mind we have begun the process.

The process is hard in respects; there is that part of our community forever left behind on August 29, 2005. There is also the post Katrina experiences that we will someday need to put in the past to further the healing process such as being flooded with well intentioned volunteers and their creations like the New Waveland Cafe. I too count eating with the hippies as one of my post Katrina experiences. Nowdy those were the days…..

The fact remains we must move on in order to fully recover and I was reminded of that when I surfed the news this morning and found 4 stories that fit that broad theme. The stories involving WQRZ and Katrina Relief have under currents that I won’t go into great detail about here on slabbed. I do hope WQRZ finds a way to stay on the air but I don’t think it appropriate the county subsidize the station with tax dollars. I hope Brice Phillips is able to change his business model to keep up with the new realities of our post Katrina world. It is with WQRZ and the Sun Herald that we begin our quick tour of the Mississippi GO Zone:

A tiny radio station that helped save lives before and after Hurricane Katrina may not survive without public assistance, a resident told Hancock County supervisors Monday.

Businesswoman Cherie Armstrong said WQRZ Radio will go under soon if its principal, Brice Phillips, doesn’t get financial help. Armstrong said that since the low power, not-for-profit station played a heroic role in the hurricane, supervisors owe it to Phillips to provide financial help.

Phillips has funding until August, she said. “Once that’s gone, he’s gone.”

WQRZ, at 103.5 on the FM dial, is owned by the Hancock County Amateur Radio Association. In the 2005 hurricane, Phillips stayed on the air, sometimes using car batteries for power, to provide emergency information, evacuation directions and updates on where to obtain food, water, ice and medical aid.

In March, Phillips approached supervisors to say the station was in a fiscal crisis. He asked for $25,000 in county funding, which was not forthcoming.

On Monday, county officials denied Armstrong’s contention that they had offered financial help for the radio station but failed to deliver. However, they said the county had provided space and utilities for the station to be located in the county’s Emergency Operations Center, where Phillips is also volunteer public information director.

“He did a great job after the hurricane, no question,” said County Attorney Ronnie Artigues. However, Artigues said, he can find no legal justification for the county to support a radio station.

Next up is today’s good news in the reopening of Beauvoir. We also find out from Kat Bergeron there will be a special birthday party complete with special free booze for the happy party goers:

As Beauvoir celebrates the opening today of the restored 1852 National Historic Landmark, demolition of the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library continues, a sad reminder of what could not be saved from Hurricane Katrina.

But today all eyes are on the amazing rejuvenation of the antebellum home that, before the storm, received more visitors than any other heritage house in Mississippi. The $3.9 million restoration has returned its appearance to the days when the U.S. statesman and Confederate president retired there.

Today is the 200th anniversary of Davis’ birth, and birthday cake will be served. So will libations that survived Katrina.

“We’ll serve the champagne and wine until it runs out,” said Rick Forte Sr., acting director and chairman of Beauvoir’s combined boards. “It was in the Presidential Library, and we’ve been saving it for this special occasion. In addition to the open invitation to the public, we’ve sent out 1,000 invitations, but we can’t predict how many people will come.”

The story reminds me of when my best friend salvaged an un opened bottle of Grey Goose vodka from the mud at his slab in early September 2005. Coupled with a salvaged bottle of vermouth it made the best martinis I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking.

Next up is a rare slabbed post on a non insurance state political issue but one very worthy of inclusion here as it helps move along the construction of new water and sewer systems to serve the population migration away from the immediate shoreline. It was introduced in the special session as HB 6 by our friend J.P. Compretta. While we are very sensitive to the issues surrounding the use of imminent domain having new water and sewer constructed is vital to our recovery which is why Governor Barbour included it in his call. Michael Newsom filed the Sun Herald report:

In hopes of speeding up the work, the governing board of a massive post-Katrina water and sewer project wants legal authority to require South Mississippi property owners to turn over rights of way.

But House Bill 6, sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tem J.P. Compretta, D-Bay St. Louis, which would give the board that power, is stalled in a House committee.

As part of the $640 million federally funded plan, about 600 miles of new water and sewer lines are to be installed. Two years into the project, not a single water or sewer line has been laid and almost none of the more than 65 projects planned are under construction.

Gov. Haley Barbour recently told the utility authorities that the work, which has been contracted to numerous firms, should be moving faster. The governor chose to include the bill in the special session.

“This will be the fastest and most fair way to get these projects moving quickly,” said Pete Smith, Barbour’s press secretary.

The work, which will be done in Harrison, Hancock, Jackson, Pearl River and Stone counties, is aimed at bringing water and sewer infrastructure to places that were using septic tanks before Katrina. Elected officials hope to make the areas better able to handle the post-storm population shift to north of Interstate 10.

Finally is the hard decisions that must be made to move the slabbed community along in the post Katrina healing process I spoke of earlier. Katrina Relief has helped numerous coast families into new homes but at times has been engaged in controversy, especially in the battles between it’s director Kathleen Johnson and  Waveland Mayor Tommy Longo. The animus between the volunteer organization and the city is head scratching in respects and we will keep slabbed steered clear of that brier patch except to remind Ms Johnson that our southern coastal culture is not the problem.  Too many other volunteer organizations have managed to deliver services to the needy without constant public displays of displeasure with city leaders.

In this latest installment as reported by Al Showers of WLOX, neighbors of the relief group want to experience some post Katrina new normality.  Doing that means the eyesore need to go (h/t to Kathleen Johnson and her C-L blog for the link):

It’s not likely to win yard of the month. But the people who run Katrina Relief never set out win any beauty awards.

Property owner John Mailhes said, “Katrina Relief has been here a year and a half and has done nothing but help people.”

Mailhes has allowed the relief group to operate from his house on Tabor Street, free of charge. Until recently he’s had no complaints.

“Two months ago, I received a letter that they were in violation of what they were using the house for. That two of the aldermen had constituents that complained,” Mailhes said. “There’s nothing between my house and Dick Street. And I have two clip boards of petitions from Edna Street that people are not complaining.”

But Judy Roth, who owns property on Tabor Street, is complaining.

“The condition of that property was appalling, especially being in a neighborhood,” Roth said.

She calls the Katrina Relief operation an eyesore, and made her feelings clear to the Waveland Zoning Commission.

“This group has been down here helping probably a lot of these people in this room, and all of a sudden we’re jumping on them. I’d like to know why?” Zoning Commission Chairman Gary Catalano asked.

“I think it’s having your neighborhood get back, some timeline of how long all of this stuff is going to be in the yard. And I think that’s a lot of the issue, the quote un-quote eyesore,” Zoning Commissioner Mary-Beth Benning said.

“There’s a lot of stuff right around the corner, and nobody’s saying anything about that,” Catalano replied.

Zoning Commissioner Steve Hand said, “We appreciate what you were doing, the city did. And they are basically saying, ‘Enough already.’ When is there an endgame, an end plan for this amount of activity on that site?”

Kathleen Johnson is the director of Katrina Relief. She promised change, but also asked for a little understanding.

“It took us a long time to put it up. It’s going to take a long time to move, and we are going to get it done,” Johnson said.

Zoning commissioners gave Katrina Relief two months to clean up the property and remove the stuff from the front yard. They voted to give the operation 18 more months in that location before it must leave for good.

Johnson said most of her operation is in the process of being moved to Pass Christian. But she’d like to keep the case management part of her operation on Tabor Street.

The Board of Aldermen will have the final say on the compromise zoning commissioners reached with Johnson.

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