The biggest stories in 2013

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The top stories throughout the last year in Bossier Parish

Today, we say goodbye to 2013. And there’s no better way to eulogize the past year than by looking back at the biggest stories of the year. Below are our editorial staff’s choices for the biggest happenings in 2013 throughout Bossier.

 

DOJ refuses to fund Young Marines over mentions of religion

On Independence Day, the controversy surrounding the perceived assault of religious freedom from the federal government by way of the Bossier Sheriff’s youth programs hit its high point with a rally.

The Bossier Sheriff”s Office 4th of July “In God We Trust” rally was held at the Viking Drive Substation in Bossier City to show support for Bossier Sheriff Julian Whittington’s stance against the federal government denying the Sheriff’s Office federal grant funding. Their Young Marines and Youth Diversion programs have had $30,000 pulled because of the mention of God and voluntary prayer in the programs.

“This is right here in your backyard that the federal government can come in and tell us what we can and can’t say,” said an incredulous Whittington.

The program featured a presentation with speeches by Whittington, Gov. Bobby Jindal, District 4 U.S. Representative John Fleming, State Representative Jeff Thompson and country music legend Lee Greenwood.

“We’ve got a message for our government: In the great parish of Bossier in the great state of Louisiana, our religious freedom is not for sale,” said Jindal. “If we can’t get the funding, if we have to pass around a plate, I will make the first contribution out of my own pocket.”

Whittington received notice that funding would be restored only if he signed a letter “pledging that no prayer or mention of God would be allowed” in the programs. Sheriff Whittington has made it clear that he will not remove God nor voluntary prayer from either program.

For the past several years, the Young Marines program has been partially funded by the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant (JABG) provided by the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement (LCLE).

Jindal underscored “what is at stake” by noting, “This isn’t just a grant, this isn’t the Department of Justice picking on one sheriff — this is Washington D.C. assaulting our rights and our freedoms.”

Jindal went on to pledge his support for Whittington’s stance, saying, “Of all the places we could be on July 4, when I had to pick where I wanted to spend our country’s birthday, I knew I had to be in Bossier and stand with your Sheriff.”

Fleming said this issue is only one symptom of a “major disease” in Washington since 2009.

“We have a broad front of the state pushing the church out of the public square,” said Fleming.

Approximately 1,000 recruits have graduated from the Young Marines program over the past decade and has a graduation success rate of more than 80 percent.

The BSO is still forging ahead with the programs, paying for them out of the department. As of the start of this week, the sheriff’s office had received approximately $2,500 in donations from across the country to support the programs.

 

Margaritaville Opens

Bossier City’s long-awaited resort-casino opened this June after two years.

“Margaritaville Resort Casino will offer a truly unique gaming experience for the Shreveport-Bossier area. The casino floor is like none-other in this market, and the caliber of entertainment, nightlife and dining make Margaritaville Resort Casino a world-class resort gaming experience,” Margaritaville General Manager Barry Regula previously told the Bossier Press-Tribune.

Paul Alanis and William Trotter of Bossier Casino Venture, LLC made presentations to the Bossier Parish Police Jury and Bossier City Council in fall 2011, which led to a public vote for the installation of the new casino. The attraction became a reality when 61 percent of voters approved the Nov. 19, 2011 vote to build the hotel-casino-resort on the Red River north of the Louisiana Boardwalk.

“Seeing how it has turned out and seeing everyone react to it [Thursday] morning was so surreal now that it has all come together,” Wood said.

Ground was officially broken on the $197 million project in February 2012 at the site north of the Louisiana Boardwalk’s Bass Pro Shop.

“You can really see the wow in people’s eyes as they look around the property. It’s just very different from the market,” Wood said. “They’ve seen Facebook pictures and some of the media tours, but to actually see it firsthand really took a lot of people back.”

The grand opening was held July 4 with a special performance by Margaritaville brand owner and legendary singer songwriter Jimmy Buffet July 3.

During last November’s topping off ceremony that symbolized the completion of the tower, Alanis told the crowd gathered around, “Everyone said ‘You’re not going to do it, it’s never going to happen.’ But here we are, it’s a reality.”

Alanis and Trotter presented economic impact studies projecting that Margaritaville will bring in 600,000 additional incremental gaming visits to the area that weren’t seen before, which will result in a $124 million impact on Bossier Parish.

“We’re bringing 1,500 new jobs to the area and an estimated $12 million dollars in local tax revenue to the area and that’s a pretty positive impact for the local economy,” Regula had said.

 

Parish-wide sewer system moves step closer to finishing

Bossier Parish Police Jury’s work to construct a parish-wide utility district will make future residential and commercial development easier to plan and build.

BPPJ Administrator Bill Altimus explained the growing need for the $45 million project:

“The needs of development and the limiting factors to growth in Bossier Parish or any parish … is water and sewer – water and sewer infrastructure. If you don’t have water, decent water, then you’ll never have anyone living out there …they don’t have water – to drink, bathe, whatever. Sewer – you can have individual (i.e. septic or small systems), but that leads to two problems.”Altimus said the first problem is the lack of public sewer hinders commercial development, and pointed to the Highway 80 corridor as an example of that lack of development. “The second thing is at some point in time, DEQ or EPA or a combination of both is going to put the stops on construction in that you have a community system …” said Altimus.

Larry Landry, BPPJ Utilities Director, pointed to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality’s “TDML” (total daily maximum limit) standard, which is being enforced on all streams in the state.“They (DEQ) started south, working north and what they’re going to come to is these people who have these small systems on these small streams, they’re (DEQ) going to say, ‘You’re going to have to put in a system like this – in other words, you’re going to have to make that (wastewater) into almost drinking water before you can put it back in that stream,’” said Landry. Landry explained that such a process is cost prohibitive for most small operators, so the Parish is “… intercepting all (wastewater) that we can, and we’re going to take it to a location that’s better suited for that kind of discharge, which is the Red River. And we’re going to have a really nice plant that treats really, really well and doesn’t have any smell associated with it, and it’ll put water in the river that’s cleaner than the water that’s in the river right now.”

The sewer treatment plant will be built along the Red River in the Cash Point vicinity; plans for the facility are currently on the drawing board. The Jury has accumulated the funding for this $45 million project from several sources. State funding, in the form of $15.6 million in Facilities Planning and Control in capital outlay will pay for the plant. Another $17.75 million in state revolving funds from DEQ (at a .95 percent interest rate for 20 years), and $11.8 million in bonds rounds out the funding for this undertaking.

 

Work begins on Haughton’s new sewer system

The Town of Haughton and other state and local officials celebrated the closing on a loan Wednesday to fund upgrades to the town’s sewer system.

“We’ve got this new loan, and we got it at a good interest rate. It’s certainly going to be beneficial to the growing community,” said Martha McGee, mayor protem.

Residents approved the town’s application for the $3.3 million Department of Environmental Quality loan to fund a sewer system upgrade in a Nov. 6, 2012 election.

The rapid growth and development of Haughton has put a strain on its sewage intake and disposal. This has led to problems with meeting DEQ standards, bordering on the city being fined for non-compliance with regulations.

“We’ve been behind for several years in our sewer plants concordance, so we needed (the loan) badly,” said Mayor Carlton Anderson.

“It was very important to secure the loan because we had to. Over the years we were threatened to be fined, so it was mandatory that we do something with our system,” added McGee. “It’s been a long process, but it’s going to be worth it to benefit the community area and help with the growth of new schools.”

Specifically, the Bossier Parish School Board plans to construct a new Haughton middle school housing approximately 1,500 students.

“It’s going to be a tremendous upgrade, and a tremendous asset to the parish and the town of Haughton because the parish is growing so fast. Last I heard, Bossier Parish is the 99th fastest growing parish/county in the whole United States of America, so that tells you something right there,” said Bossier Parish Police Juror “Coach” Bob Brotherton.

Officials said the loan process has been in the works for five years.

“The Mayor before me requested the loan initially but they were denied. So I reapplied, after becoming Mayor and after a period of time we were granted the loan,” said Anderson.

 

Bodcau Gate opens at Barksdale Air Force Base

The Bodcau Gate at Barksdale Air Force Base officially opened the first week in December.

Base officials worked with Bossier Parish for several years to make this a new access point.

The new gate is located in Haughton and gives east base residents a closer entrance and exit.

The Bodcau Gate is now permanently opened during base hours. Its opening was timed with the closing of the North Gate.

The gate on Northgate Drive closed so renovations could take place to make it appear more like the Shreveport Gate with an over hang and more robust structures for Security Forces.

Those walking or riding bikes will still be allowed through the Bossier Gate. For cars, officials will open the Wilbert Wright Bypass in the mornings to relieve pressure at the Main Gate.

 

New workforce training center at BPCC breaks ground, funding secured for STEM building

To secure the Benteler Steel/Tube facility at the Port of Caddo-Bossier, LED offered Benteler a customized incentive package which included the development of the 65,000-square-foot BPCC Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Technology now under construction on the campus of Bossier Parish Community College in Bossier City.

The BPCC Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Technology will focus initially on meeting the training needs of Benteler. Once initial training needs have been met, the facility will serve the broader needs of growing manufacturers throughout the region. The total value of the new training center will be approximately $22 million, including land, infrastructure, building and equipment. The Greater Bossier Economic Development Foundation, the City of Bossier City and the Bossier Parish Police Jury will contribute a combined $1 million, of the $22 million total, to provide road and other infrastructure improvements needed for the new training center.

“We are proud to call Benteler Steel/Tube our area’s newest corporate partner,” said Bossier City Mayor Lorenz Walker. “This is a landmark investment in our economy, the benefits of which will be enjoyed for generations to come not only in terms of good-paying jobs but also with the additional economic development that this state-of-the-art facility will generate for North Louisiana.”

Meanwhile, a bill authored by Louisiana Senator Robert Adley, R-Benton, sees $251.6 million in financing and construction for 29 projects at Louisiana Community and Technical College campuses.

“Through this investment, we’ve improved campuses and learning environments for students across the state because we know the community and technical college system is a critical pipeline for ensuring that we have highly skilled workers in Louisiana,” said Jindal.

Locally, BPCC will benefit in the form of a new $18 million STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) building. The building will focus on the fastest growing, highest paying, and highest in demand fields — healthcare, cyber technology, and engineering.

“We have nationally recognized programs like our cyber programs, nursing programs, and allied health programs, that require quality spaces. Our ability to provide a workforce that will meet the need of our employers is only limited by our ability to create physical access for our students,” Chancellor Henderson previously told the Bossier Press-Tribune.

 

Parkway High School makes state finals, falls to Acadiana

The Parkway Panthers’ dream season ended Saturday night with a 70-41 loss to the Acadiana Wreckin’ Rams in the Class 5A state championship game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.

Parkway, the first Bossier Parish team to play in a title game in the Superdome, closed the season 13-1 Acadiana, which won its third state championship since 2006, closed 14-1.

“My overall thought was how amazing it was our team was able to play so well every week,” Parkway coach David Feaster said. “You saw what we had out there. We had a bunch of little guys that played extremely hard.”

Feaster was asked if the loss tarnished the season.

“No, it didn’t he any way,” he said.

As lopsided as the score was, the Panthers made the Wreckin’ Rams sweat in the third quarter.

Acadiana kicked off to start the second half. Parkway failed to cover the ball and the Rams went on to score for a 49-13 lead.

The Panthers weren’t ready to throw in the towel, though.

William McKnight ran 31 yards for a touchdown and Harris hit Austin Roth for the two-point conversion.

The Panthers then recovered an onsides kick, and Harris hit Brodrick Jefferson for a 30-yard score.

Parkway recovered yet another onsides kick and McKnight went eight yards for a TD. All of a sudden it was 49-35 with 1:10 left in the third quarter.

Parkway couldn’t recover three onsides kicks in a row, and the Rams scored quickly. On Parkway’s next possession, Harris threw an interception. Acadiana scored again and that was it.

The difference in the game was Acadiana’s powerful rushing attack.

The Rams rushed for a Class 5A game record 393 yards in the first half alone, building a 42-13 lead.

Acadiana finished with 623 yards rushing. The Rams had four backs who gained 140 yards or more.

Harris set the Class 5A single game for passing yardage with 355 yards. He completed 13 of 27 with three touchdowns and three interceptions.

McKnight, a junior who was named Parkway’s MVP, rushed for 87 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught two passes for 110 yards and two TDs.

 

Exploration begins on Jimmie Davis Bridge rehab

State Senator Barrow Peacock has gotten the state working on an environmental assessment for the Jimmie Davis Bridge expansion. Residents met in August to hear preliminary plans from state officials to potentially construct a multi-million-dollar replacement.

Peacock said there could be another project update with a proposed plan for where the project will go. Once a plan is in place, Peacock said it’s just a matter of gathering funds.

Another plan in the works is to install street lights along Barksdale Boulevard, from the west gate at Barksdale Air Force Base to the Jimmie Davis Highway. Peacock said a design engineer has been hired by the City of Bossier City and once a design is made, it will go to the state for approval.

“We should begin seeing work in the early spring of 2014 so that’s a positive thing,” Peacock said.