1. Public says no to open burn at Camp Minden
Tailing the end of 2014, the public overwhelmingly said no to open burning nearly 16 million pounds of M6 artillery propellant at Camp Minden, and in February of this year, the Environmental Protection Agency was forced to sponsor a dialogue committee to seek alternative methods to safely dispose of the improperly stored material.
For two months, scientists, community members, the EPA, the Army, National Guard, and other federal and state agencies discussed methods of disposal given the short time frame before the material becomes unstable.
In the end, the committee offered six safer alternatives including the contained burn, which is the method chosen. In June, a contract for $19 million was signed with Explosive Service International out of Baton Rouge to oversee the disposal of the M6 and clean burning igniter stored there. The cost is still expected to increase to roughly $34-35 million to account for the additional requirements set by the EPA.
A bill that would ban open burning statewide has been pre-filed for the 2016 legislative session by Reps. Gene Reynolds, D-Minden, and Terry Brown, I-Colfax. Reynolds and Brown have filed House Bill 11, which says the secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality can’t grant a “permit, license, variance or compliance schedule that authorizes, nor shall the secretary allow in any manner, the open burning of any munitions or waste explosives.”
The contained burn unit has a pollution abatement system attached to it that will dispel any gasses or harmful materials, essentially making the air cleaner than hospital air.
The unit is expected to arrive at Camp Minden Jan. 8, after traveling for four days on a heavy hauler to an awaiting barge at the Port of Catoosa in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The chamber will be barged to Natchitoches and then trucked to Camp Minden.
The first live fire is expected to take place Feb. 27.
2. Minden’s Downtown Director
Minden Mayor Tommy Davis fired Pattie Odom, Economic and Downtown Development Director on Dec. 30, 2014. Odom, who was hired in 2009 by the late Mayor Bill Robertson, said she was asked to resign by Davis. After declining, Davis said the city was reorganizing and fired Odom.
The firing was under intense scrutiny in early 2015. Many said it was political after Odom’s son, Chad, ran against Davis for mayor in the fall 2014 election. Davis defeated him by 225 votes.
On Jan. 8, the Minden City Council met in special session to address Odom’s formal appeal to the firing and unanimously denied her appeal.
Despite not having a downtown director, the Minden Downtown Development District Commission continued with downtown development, festivals and events.
In February, State Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell issued an opinion at the request of the commission saying they have the authority to hire and fire the Downtown Development District Manager.
In March, Davis said the board was never a duly constituted board because it was never appointed according to the statute.
According to the state law at the time, “The commission shall be composed of seven members, all of whom shall be qualified voters of the city of Minden, and shall have their principal place of business or profession in, or own property in, the Downtown Development District. The seven members shall be appointed by the mayor of the city of Minden with the approval of the city council.”
That language affected four of the seven members who were not registered to vote inside the city limits or did not own a business in the downtown district.
Ultimately, all seven members of the Downtown Development Commission/Minden Main Street resigned – citing unwillingness from the mayor’s office to work with the commission – at a special board meeting, leaving the city with no board and no director.
Before the city could replace the board or director, it had to await changes in the legislation.
Rep. Gene Reynolds, D-Minden, drafted a bill at the request of Davis. Under the new language, the law reads, “The seven members shall be appointed by the mayor of the city of Minden upon the approval of the city council with due consideration being given to the needs and desires of the commission. The commission shall appoint sub-committees for various needs and events with no limitations to residence.”
It also gave the mayor, with council approval, all power concerning hiring and firing of the director. The bill passed in April.
In August, the city moved forward and hired James Graham as economic director and Becky White as downtown development director. New Downtown Development Commission/Minden Main Street members were approved at the September city council meeting.
3. Harper Elementary Challenges
Infrastructure issues at J.E. Harper Elementary School began to be addressed in January regarding several issues that are making it difficult for kindergarten and first grade students to learn.
The school offers an open-air classroom setting, and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Dan Rawls began releasing preliminary information as to the many infrastructure issues that continue to plague both students and faculty.
In March, teachers made impassioned pleas to the board to do something about the facility, and in April, talks began in earnest on how best to fix the issue both physically and financially. Several options were thrown into the hat over the next months leading to the choice board members voted on over the summer – to move the students to J.A. Phillips Middle School and move the sixth graders to Webster Junior High. Several public meetings were held throughout the year, with two final meetings at both schools affected. But they weren’t without concerns.
Some faculty members and parents took issue with the reduced number of classrooms in a wing that will be added to the junior high school, while others took issue with the cafeteria schedule at Phillips.
Funding was also an issue. Using money from district 6 maintenance funds was one option to fund the project, while going before the bond commission to finance the project was the other.
In November, voters in bonding district 6 voted roughly 60 percent in favor of a proposition to extend the current 29-mill ad valorem tax to fund the project at a cost of about $7 million.
Construction of the two additional wings and renovations at both schools is expected to take 18 months to two years to complete.
4.Two die at Muddy Bottoms
Two deaths within 24 hours Labor Day weekend at Muddy Bottoms ATV and Recreation Park sparked discussion about drinking and driving on ATVs.
United States Air Force Senior Airman Dustin Reinhart, 24, died around 2:40 a.m., Sunday, Sept. 6, in an apparent accidental ATV crash. Sonya Turner, 30, of DeQueen, Arkansas, passed away around 11 p.m. to midnight Monday, Sept. 7, Webster Parish sheriff’s officials said.
Concerns of the mix of alcohol and driving ATVs came to the forefront, and while Muddy Bottoms officials remained silent on the issue, their website clearly states the rules and regulations by which enthusiasts must abide, including all applicable statewide laws regarding alcohol. Everyone must also sign a waiver before entering the premises, adults and minors alike.
Following the announcement of Sen. Robert Adley’s retirement earlier this year, the door opened to a race that heated up before qualifying.
Rep. Henry Burns, a long-time state politician, and Ryan Gatti, an attorney in Shreveport, became the front-runners for the District 36 seat. New to politics, Gatti ran his campaign on the notion that Louisiana citizens are tired of the same politics in Baton Rouge. Burns ran on the notion that he was familiar with the system and could better represent the constituents of District 36.
On Nov. 21, the voters cast their ballots overwhelmingly in favor of the new face that will head to Baton Rouge in February.
While Gatti prepares himself to begin the new job, Burns gracefully bowed out, saying he will spend more time with his children and grandchildren, as well as continue to serve his community in any capacity he’s led to do.