It’s been an eventful 2016 in Bossier Parish punctuated by devastating weather events, electing new leaders, and improvements to both the business community and the community at large.
The Bossier Press-Tribune’s editorial staff selected their major stories for the past year and compiled our original reports regarding each story.
Below you can read a wrap up of each story to take stock of what happened to us in 2016.
Floods devastate Bossier Parish
A slow moving weather system dumped more than 16 inches of rain in parts of Bossier Parish in early March, forcing residents out of their homes as water reached historic levels.
The National Weather Service in Shreveport reported 18.84 inches of rain had fallen at Barksdale Air Force Base by Sunday, March 13. A total of 16.8 inches were reported at the Red River Research Station.
Heavy rains quickly flooded part of the Tall Timbers subdivision in Haughton. Water reached rooftops on Whispering Pine Drive, one of the first and hardest hit areas in the parish. Around 4 a.m. March 9 is when things completely changed.
Shawnte Chatman said she has only experienced water pooling in the yard during her nine year stay on Whispering Pine.
“I wasn’t expecting this,” she said. “I saw on the news that another subdivision had been evacuated in Haughton before I went to bed. I didn’t go to sleep until around midnight and I didn’t fear any water coming in because there wasn’t any by the door. My friend woke up, stepped out and saw the carpet was wet and saw there was about two inches of water on the floor,” she said. “In a matter of 15 to 20 minutes, it was almost knee deep.”
The friend who was visiting happened to be driving a pickup truck, which was high enough to get them to safety. Chatman returned to her home Saturday, March 12, to begin the cleanup process.
“The water had gone all the way up to the shingles on the outside,” she said. “On the inside it stopped right before the roof.”
In Louisiana, emergency officials said more than 4,958 homes were damaged. That number is expected to rise as more reports come in from areas still battling floodwaters. The National Guard said it had about 1,400 soldiers and air crews at work in flooded areas throughout Louisiana, deploying in high-water vehicles, boats and three helicopters. By Sunday morning, National Guard crews had evacuated more than 3,295 people and 316 pets as part of its round-the-clock operations.
Golden Meadows resident Cheryl Adams has been through it before. However, it was a complete shock to see the water creeping up the yard and reaching both the front and back door of their home on Gold crest Drive.
“It’s pretty bad and I’ve been through a flood before,” she said. “My husband and I are retired and we decided that if it came in the house, it was just material things. As long as our kids are safe and we are safe we will be okay.”
Adams, who decided not to leave her home during mandatory evacuation, was safely boated out with help from her neighbor March 11. She considers them lucky though many others have lost their homes.
Following the floods, estimates of the money needed to repair flood-damaged roads and bridges in Bossier Parish coming from consultants for the parish police jury and representatives of FEMA aren’t even close, said Parish Engineer Butch Ford.
“We hired a consulting firm that has experience dealing with FEMA to drive the same roads. Our consultants say it will take $1.6 million for repairs, FEMA says they will give $200,000,” Ford said. “It’s a battle to agree on an amount.”
Word came in early December that Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration had secured $1.1 million dollars from FEMA for damage caused by the storm. That money will be distributed to the Bossier Parish Police Jury for repairs.
Bossier, Louisiana and the nation elected new leaders in an emotionally heightened election year.
Donald Trump was elected President of the United States on Nov. 8. He also won Louisiana and the majority of Bossier Parish.
State Treasurer John Kennedy was elected ahead of Democratic Public Services Commissioner Foster Campbell in a Dec. 10 runoff.
The U.S. Representative for the 4th Congressional District, which includes Bossier Parish, was also decided in the December runoff when Republican State Representative Mike Johnson (R-Bossier City) defeated Democratic lawyer Marshall Jones.
Judge Jeff Cox defeated incumbent Jay Caraway in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal election. Cox won with 57% of the vote. He also won Bossier Parish with 60 percent of the vote.
The Mayor of Benton was decided in a runoff as Republican Junior Horton defeated Democrat Johnnie Brunson.
Republican David Smith is the new mayor of Plain Dealing after winning with 78 percent of the vote to Donna Canales’ 22%.
Todd Gibson was elected Haughton’s new police chief with 55% of the vote.
Incumbent Ronnie Murray was reelected as Plain Dealing’s Marshal with 73% of the vote.
The “Parishwide Health Units Proposition” that would renew a .82 mills property tax for 10 years that would go towards equipping and maintaining the services of the parish health units was approved with 58% of the vote.
The renewal of a 1.99 mills property tax for 10 years that will go towards building and maintenance of roads and bridges in the parish was approved with 64%.
South Bossier residents approved a Fire District No. 2 Proposition that would levy 13.78 mills property tax for 10 years to go towards “acquiring, improving, operating and maintaining fire protection facilities and equipment in the District” with 65% of the vote.
The Town of Benton approved a 4.96 mills tax that will go towards maintaining the town’s streets with 65% voting yes.
Money promised to fund new I-20/220 gate for Barksdale
A new East Gate that would lead up to the base right off the I-20/I-220 interchange has received backing to be funded from Gov. John Bel Edwards.
The gate has been on the back burner for 40 years. Plans were developed in 1975, but due to cost, concern over access to the base, and designation of the roadway, the gate wasn’t built.
“Everybody locally didn’t want any road to go through the base and some people in the Federal Highway Administration and DOTD said this entrance would be a new I-20. Well, it’s not a new interstate, it’s just a ramp and it’s not going through the base, just up to it. Now everybody has come around to that position and we’re all on the same page,” Bossier City Mayor Lorenz “Lo” Walker explained.
An environmental study is already complete and the interstates are already stubbed out to allow for the new proposed entrance.
The last major hurdle was money and that appears to have been solved. Mayor Walker said Gov. Edwards stated he was seeking federal funding with as much as $100M set aside for that gate.
The timeline on construction is something “we can’t control” according to the mayor. His educated guess is that within the next year or two, all the necessary documentation will be completed and and construction can begin. He did warn, however, that the Air Force has been cautioning local leaders that they still have to go through their own procedure.
Barksdale charter school application approved
In June, the Bossier Parish School Board approved the application for a Type 1 status school.
The Louisiana Department of Education states that the local school board is “responsible for the oversight” of Type 1 charters and that “each charter school or charter management organization has a board of directors which governs school finances, operations and administration.”
Earlier this year, the Barksdale Global Power Museum Association asked the Bossier Parish School Board to grant the local charter.
The next step according to Terry Snook, president of the Barksdale Global Power Museum Association (which sponsored the school) is to “raise a lot of money.”
The Barksdale charter school will be the second on-base school in Louisiana and only the ninth in the United States.
Construction begins on downtown reenvisioning project
Bossier’s downtown reenvisioning project began construction on April 17.
Project officials estimated 14 months completion time for all of the scheduled projects, spanning from Traffic Street to Hamilton Road.
Mike Boggs with Boggs & Poole Contracting Group in Bossier City said they are trying to make this process as easy as possible for business owners along Barksdale Boulevard.
“We’re going to do our very best to make this as painless for you as it can be, but there is going to be a little pain,” Boggs said.
When construction began, Barksdale Boulevard went from a four lane roadway down to a two lane roadway, with traffic being diverted into both northbound lanes.
A downside is that businesses will lose all street parking during the construction process. Project Architect Mike McSwain said this reenvisioning project will give downtown Bossier new roadway surfaces, new and upgraded utilities, bicycle lanes, new landscaping, LED lights, and a new plaza space across from the Bossier Arts Council. Once the construction is finished, Barksdale Boulevard will go from four lane roadway down to two lanes.
“We’re going to make a colossal mess out there,” McSwain told business owners. “We’re digging a really deep ditch down Barksdale to redo these pipes, but our intention is to maintain access to the businesses. There will be times where sidewalks will be replaced in front of your businesses, but we’re willing to work around you and the best times that work for you to make this happen.”
CSRA opens ITC building in Bossier City
CSRA, the next-generation information technology solutions leader, held the ribbon cutting for its Integrated Technology Center at the National Cyber Research Park on Nov. 15.
The center currently has approximately 400 employees with 400 more to be added by June 2018. As a precursor to this ribbon cutting was the news in late October that CSRA had been awarded a $166.9 million contract by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) that will help fill the remaining jobs at the ITC.
Going from an announcement of what would become the anchor tenant made just shy of 3 years ago, to a new state of the art building that was previously an open lot outside the Cyber Innovation Center, CSRA ITC Director of Operations Ashley Rockett said it’s a symbolic last step in their journey.
“To go from designs and concepts to brick and mortar and having people working in the building, it takes that cooperative endeavor agreement and really solidifies it so we can truly deliver our services to our customers.”
The ceremony came on the heels of announcements of a new contract that will ad jobs towards its goal of 800 at the ITC, and an expansion that will see hundreds of additional jobs overall.
Scott Smith elected new superintendent
The Bossier Parish School Board has elected Scott Smith as the new Superintendent of Schools to succeed D.C. Machen, Jr., who is retiring.
Smith was one of three finalists for the position. He received nine of the board’s 11 voted. Sherri Pool received two votes. David Thrash had zero votes.
Smith, who has been Assistant Superintendent of Administration for Bossier Parish Schools since 2009, has 36 years’ combined experience in education, teaching and serving in administrative capacities at the elementary, middle and high school levels and at the district level.
Smith served for 14 years as Principal of Benton High/Middle School before assuming the duties as Assistant Superintendent of Bossier Schools. Prior to that position, he was Assistant Principal at Benton High/Middle and Acting Assistant Principal at T.O. Rusheon Middle School.
“I love the Bossier School System and am both honored and humbled to accept this appointment,” Smith said. “I want to thank this Board for its strong vote of confidence in me. I look forward to working with our educational community, which includes our students first, teachers, administrators, support personnel, business community, governmental bodies and Barksdale Air Force Base as we continue to move this great school system forward.”
Despite uproar, Bossier City approves new Walmart in north Bossier
The Bossier City Council’s Sept. 14 vote to rezone the land for the future site of the store at Wemple Road and Airline Drive means the major retailer can begin construction.
City officials have heard from resident opposition every stop of the way, including the final step at its Tuesday, Sept. 6 meeting. Residents near the proposed site wanted the council to reject the Bossier Metropolitan Commission’s favoring the rezoning of the land from Residential/Agriculture (R/A) to B-3.
The process to rezone the land for the Walmart has come under fire for almost a year. It was first proposed last September and was beaten back over residents’ concerns of traffic, crime, and a decrease in home values.
In May, the issue resurfaced and the City Council annexed the 99-acre plot in a measure to protect their sales tax collections. The proactive move was made out of concern over the existing store on Airline Drive, a mere three miles from the new site, could be shuttered.
City officials said this would cause a hole the size of millions of dollars in sales tax. Bossier City Public Information Officer Mark Natale previously told the Bossier Press-Tribune he couldn’t disclose the exact amount due to state law, but said it would equate to funding roughly two dozen positions with public safety (i.e. fire and police officers).
“(That’s the reason for) the annexation issue, because we don’t want to lose that sales tax if the Walmart on Airline Drive closes. Walmart said they’re not going to do that, but we don’t want take that chance,” Natale previously told the Bossier Press-Tribune.
Walmart officials have maintained the entire time that both stores will be in operation. That was reiterated at the recent meeting with officials saying the Airline Drive store is in the top five performing stores statewide.
“…That store will never close. They’ve stated in public multiple times they have no plans to close that store,” MPC Director Sam Marsiglia assured the council.
Civil Engineer Kainen Leblanc of Duplantis Design Group, has represented Walmart throughout the process and maintained at previous meetings, “These are completely separate deals for Walmart tracts…these are completely separate markets, they are looking to capture the growth that has been on the north side of I-220.”
Regardless, residents have been very clear and vocal about their concerns and have pleaded with the MPC to not recommend the rezoning and asked the Council to officially vote it down.
Bossier Parish Police Juror Jack Skaggs even went before the city council on behalf of the residents, as they are not a part of the city and have no representation.
“People feel like they are being imposed upon and have no vote in the matter. So I think that’s another frustration — imposition without representation,” Skaggs previously told the Bossier Press.
Opposition spokesperson Kayte Hollowell previously told the MPC that they “should be concerned with the welfare of the people and the community’s feelings,” while Renee Sawyer also accused the MPC of “selling out” the residents and being “greedy.”
Resident Kyle Sawyer passionately addressed the council at its last meeting and told how the existing Walmart store recently had an incident of a purse snatching of a 70-year-old woman and said, “that sort of thing happens and will go on near where we live.”
His sentiments were echoed by Howard Davis, Providence Classical Academy headmaster, saying, “If you don’t think (crime) is going to affect this store, you’re playing games with yourself.”
Sawyer went on to say the roads won’t be able to handle the increased traffic, “Not everyone is going to go down Airline…They’re going to take the path of least resistance.”
In response to these concerns, Walmart has made several concessions. These include $200,000 to go towards the widening of Wemple Road, an 18-hour operation time instead of the usual 24-hour, a school zone for Providence Classical Academy on Wemple road, landscaping, alternative routes to direct truck traffic off Wemple Road, and a fence in the rear of the store facing residential developments.
More importantly, Neil Erwin, special legal counsel for the city regarding this issue, told the council Walmart would be bound to make the proposed concessions. He said that when Walmart made a site plan and the rezoning approval is conditional upon that plan, Walmart will have to perform those improvements or come back before city council as the approval would be void.
The first step is that the city will begin making $3.6 million worth of investments on the property, with $1.6 M of that going specifically to road improvements. There is no timeline yet for this to begin.
CHRISTUS Health Shreveport-Bossier breaks ground on new ER
The faith-based health system is bringing a new model of healthcare to the region in the form of a “micro-hospital.”
CHRISTUS Bossier Emergency Center will be located on Viking Drive, and will include an emergency department, six short-stay inpatient beds, advanced imaging and diagnostic laboratory services. Outpatient imaging and lab services will also be offered at the center.
This innovative model is more like a hybrid emergency room with inpatient, short stay beds versus a traditional hospital model.
CHRISTUS Bossier Emergency Center provides 24/7 access to board-certified emergency physicians and can accommodate patients with emergent illnesses and minor trauma. The short-stay inpatient beds provide brief hospitalization for patients who require further monitoring, treatment, diagnostic testing, antibiotic therapy or post-operative care and can be discharged as soon as clinical conditions are resolved. Patients may be admitted through the emergency room or directly from the physician’s office. The location also brings an additional point for outpatient lab services and radiology testing to include X-ray, MRI, CT, 3D digital mammography and ultrasound.
Earlier this year, CHRISTUS Health Shreveport-Bossier announced an expansion to the Bossier Healthplex facility. The 10,000 square foot expansion is expected to be completed by fall 2017 with Bossier Family Medicine occupying the majority of the extended space.
New Jimmie Davis Bridge plans announced
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development announced June 22 the cancellation of the long gestating rehabilitation of the Jimmie Davis Bridge in order to divert that money towards the design and construction of a new bridge.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a news release. “The rehabilitation project would have spent more than $20 million and would not address the overall problem.”
Louisiana Senator Barrow Peacock (R-Bossier City) has been advocating for a new bridge or repair for years.
“A new modern four-lane Jimmie Davis Bridge will continue to allow our community to grow and prosper,” Peacock said.
While a final estimate for the new bridge isn’t available, funding will need to come from a combination of state and federal resources.
“We always knew that the investment in maintenance of the current bridge would make the request for a new bridge less competitive,” DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson said. “The step to forgo the rehabilitation project allows us to start the design process as soon as possible with the money we have.”
There is no timeline available for the new, four-lane bridge complete with a bike path and lighting.
Federal funding will be sought to match the reserved amount, something that officials assure is all but a done deal.
In the meantime, the department will continue to perform maintenance.