General Downer offers update of barracks recoveryMar 1st, 2010 | By admin | Category: News
Assistant Adjutant General Hunt Downer, commanding officer of Jackson Barracks in New Orleans, told the St. Bernard-Arabi Kiwanis Club Feb. 23 that a portion of that facility will be dedicated in July.
Downer first offered his thanks to St. Bernard Parish for supporting the National Guard installation and updated the group on the facility’s recovery post-Katrina.
Downer made it clear that Jackson Barracks and St. Bernard share a common effort in their struggle to recover from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“Many of you I saw at the [St. Bernard] Courthouse that day,” Downer said to the Kiwanis Club members and guests, which included Parish President Craig Taffaro and Chief Deputy Sheriff James Pohlmann.
Downer said Katrina floodwater at Jackson Barracks ranged from 5 to 23 feet. The sprawling military facility is located in Orleans Parish but shares its eastern boundary with St. Bernard Parish. Jackson Barracks stretches from the Mississippi River to the Forty Arpent Canal.
Like most other residents struggling to recover from Katrina, Jackson Barracks, Downer said, has had to fight for recovery dollars.
“The challenge we’ve all faced is the bureaucracy,” Downer said, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “It was not set up to handle a catastrophic event.”
What sets Jackson Barracks apart from other recovering individuals or agencies is the shear enormity of the challenge.
“Jackson Barracks is being reconstructed to the tune of $300 to $350 million to rebuild 108 acres,” he said. “As an entity, Jackson Barracks has one of every FEMA issue, other than coastal erosion, and they could probably find some of that.”
Downer said creativity has been key to getting projects rolling at Jackson Barracks. For instance, when recovery agencies would not fund rebuilding the facility’s museum, Downer said they redesigned the project and termed it a “multi-purpose building.”
Downer said another challenge is to change the design of a building. FEMA, he said, requires facilities to be rebuilt as they were before the storm.
“We don’t want to built it as it was, because we’ve learned,” he said.
Downer also said he and his staff have had to take action quickly with regard to rebuilding projects. Instead of a typical design-bid-build process to large rebuilding projects, Jackson Barracks leaders prefer a design-build format, which shaves months off a project’s timeline.
Because of that, Downer said Jackson Barracks will probably celebrate a building dedication in July.
“And we have four other buildings in the design phase that should be under contract by then,” he said.
All the work is focused on getting soldiers and families back to the Barracks.
“The longer a citizen is displaced, the less likely they are to come back,” he said.
Before the storm, Jackson Barracks employed between 700 and 750 full-time employees and hosted between 3,000 and 3,500 soldiers in training each year. That translated into about a $100 million impact on the area. Within a few months, Downer said 90 to 100 families will be able to move onto the compound.
He said he looks forward to putting those people back to work and welcoming soldiers back to the facility. Employment opportunities are available online at www.la.ngb.army.mil.
Several Kiwanis members asked specifically about the antebellum homes located near the river. Thanks to a grant, Downer said the homes are being completely rehabilitated. Once complete, experts say the houses will survive another 200 years.
“I figure 200 years is okay for me right now,” Downer said.