Just when you thought it was safe . . .
A new hurricane season officially begins this Thursday, even as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers scrambles to complete repairs and upgrades to levees and floodwalls throughout the New Orleans area. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration predicts four to six major hurricanes will form during the season that begins June 1 and ends Nov. 30. The experts foresee a “very active” season in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, including 13 to 16 tropical storms, with eight to 10 of those becoming hurricanes. Several could rise to Category 3 strength or higher, NOAA said.
Starting over
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and three members of the City Council will sign on for another round of governing this week, and several newcomers will begin their first terms. Nagin and three incumbent council members — At-Large member Oliver Thomas, District D Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge Morrell and District E representative Cynthia Willard Lewis — are returning for another four years, following a compressed election season that wrapped up with the May 20 runoffs. Joining the council’s incumbents will be the four newbies who prevailed in that election: At-Large representative Arnie Fielkow; in District A, Shelly Midura; Stacy Head, representing District B; and in District C, James Carter.
Still waiting
We were hoping to have the bucks in the bag before Memorial Day, but Louisiana officials will have to continue pressing through the holiday recess for more attention from Congress. The state is awaiting action on the requested $4.2 billion in federal funding for Louisiana housing and $3.7 billion for New Orleans area levee repairs. Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran said last week that he believes the House and Senate are close to an agreement on the overall appropriation, which currently includes about $92 billion for military operations in Iraq and hurricane relief and $2.3 billion to combat bird flu.
The appropriation, when it ultimately arrives, will enable the Louisiana Recovery Authority’s “Road Home” housing rehabilitation program to finally kick into gear. The program would pay flooded-out homeowners up to $150,000 each to fix their houses. Congress will take up the matter again when it reconvenes on June 6.
Blight be gone
New Orleans badly needs to grow its housing inventory, and investors will get a shot at helping this week. Mayor Ray Nagin is beefing up efforts to bring some 2,500 blighted properties back to life. The city is resuming sales of abandoned houses that have been “adjudicated,” or legally taken over by the city because of unpaid property taxes. Persons interested in acquiring one or more properties for the purpose of renovating should contact the housing unit of the city attorney’s office, at 1340 Poydras St., Suite 1116, or download an application form at http://www.cityofno.com . Nonprofit and for-profit developers are welcome to apply.
Come watch the waddling
New Orleans tourism officials are hoping that “cute” and “exotic” will again work their magic to draw visitors back to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. Long one of the city’s top attractions, the aquarium has reopened in its repaired and restored riverfront site after being shuttered since Hurricane Katrina. The lengthy power outage following the storm resulted in the loss of more than 4,000 animals at the facility. But many creatures that were saved and evacuated to other aquariums have returned, and the facility received generous donations of new animals and money from around the world. Among the can’t-miss highlights will be collections of penguins and sea otters that have returned to the city from Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. In addition, the aquarium has amassed an impressive collection of large sharks and other unusual deep-sea denizens for the 400,000-gallon Gulf of Mexico exhibit. The aquarium’s adjacent Entergy IMAX Theatre also has reopened and is offering three movies this week.