The News-Star

Monroe-West Monroe, Louisiana

Edgar A. Major, Publisher
Kathy Spurlock, Executive Editor
Ken Stickney, Managing Editor
David Barham, Editorial Page Editor

Board prepares to take bids on Georgia Tucker

The Monroe City School Board is preparing the final documents to open the bid process for companies interested in buying the former Georgia Tucker Elementary in the Garden District, board member Mickey Traweek said Friday.

"We are finally in the home stretch of selling this school," he said. "I'm excited that we are bringing closure to the sale — it's been going on for eight years."

Traweek said four buyers have expressed interest in buying the property. That's one more potential buyer than there was last spring.

All of the potential buyers would convert the school to either medical offices or an assisted living facility, he said.

The bid process will be sealed in accordance with state law.

The board shares the title of the property with the city of Monroe, which owns the northern third of the property. The city has indicated it will cooperate fully with the School Board's decision.

After Vantage Health had expressed interest in buying and preserving the building during a board meeting in April, the board considered stipulating parameters for the use of the facility.

They've since abandoned the idea.

"It sounds good, but in actuality, how do you enforce it?" he said.

Nonetheless, Traweek is confident that all the interested buyers will follow the board's wishes.

"Everybody I spoke to has a passion for making sure the building is restored," Traweek said.

Georgia Tucker Elementary was closed in 1999.

4th bridge's cost as unclear as its site
Robbie Evans / City Government Reporter
Posted on November 7, 2002

Ouachita Parish officials pursuing funding for a proposed fourth Ouachita River bridge location aren't sure how much the bridge will cost or exactly how many motorists will use it.
But at least two organizations are working to answer those questions. Both the Ouachita Parish Police Jury and the Monroe Chamber of Commerce - which lobbies for parish projects - are trying to determine exactly how much funding will be needed to build the bridge and how many cars the bridge will carry.
"I'm going to ask the Police Jury at Monday's regular meeting for an updated study on the traffic counts and cost," said Police Jury President Roger Elkin. "It's almost impossible for us to determine at this point what the cost is going to be."
The only study on the project - calling for a two-lane roadway and bridge connecting U.S. 165 in Monroe with White's Ferry Road in West Monroe - was done in 1999.
That study estimates the cost to be around $100 million. However, local officials decided in 2000 the roadway should be four lanes wide and added a portion of the proposed route that wasn't addressed in the study.
Elkin said rumors that the proposed fourth bridge would cost around $65 million to build instead of the $100 million identified in the 1999 Ouachita Loop Major Investment Study were unfounded.
"I've had people say it would cost between $60 million and $70 million, but there's no concrete numbers anywhere to support that," Elkin said. "There's been a lot of people over the last month grabbing numbers out of the hat on how much it would cost. I would say there's no truth to those numbers."
Monroe Chamber Chairman John Schween said local leaders are still going ahead with efforts to identify and pursue federal and state funding for the bridge. However, Schween said updated estimates and other information are needed.
"It seems like we have enough information, but I'm not so sure it wouldn't be prudent to take the study information and do a current update on the vehicle impact and the cost impact at the different site locations," Schween said. "Right now, we really don't know the amount of money we're talking about."

Juror: Give voters call on bridge
Posted on November 1, 2002

Ouachita Parish voters may get their first opportunity to decide the location of a fourth Ouachita River bridge after nearly 40 years of failed debates.
Ouachita Parish Police Juror Grady Williams will introduce a resolution at the jury's Nov. 11 regular meeting that would allow voters to decide which of three proposed bridge locations they support. Williams' resolution would request the state Legislature to call an October election for voters to make their choices.
The three sites that would be listed on the proposition include:
n A bridge connecting U.S. 165 North in Monroe and White's Ferry Road in West Monroe;
n A bridge connecting Forsythe Avenue in Monroe to Claiborne Street in West Monroe;
n A bridge connecting Hudson Lane in Monroe to Stella Street in West Monroe.
"Any big decision like this should be brought before the people for a parishwide vote," Williams said. "For too long, there's been too few people who had too much influence over decision-makers, and things were changed that weren't in the best interest of the citizens. I want to take it out of the politician's hands."
Williams said the resolution calls for an Oct. 4 election because the state Legislature would have to approve the election call during its spring legislative session. Williams said he chose the locations because they have been the most significant site proposals discussed in the past.
If the proposition is approved for an election, there would not be a subsequent runoff election between the two sites that received the most votes. Also, the proposition would not prevent any governmental body or elected officials from pursuing funding of a different site.
In early October, Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo and West Monroe Mayor Dave Norris began expressing skepticism for the possibility of the parish being able to get $100 million in federal and state funds to pay for the proposed two-lane bridge site north of Monroe. The site, which would connect U.S. 165 North and White's Ferry Road, was chosen two years ago by local representatives as the preferred location of the bridge.
Norris said he fully supports Williams' efforts to take the decision-making out of politicians' hands and let the parish voters decide on the location. Norris said an informational campaign must be undertaken to fully explain to voters what each proposed bridge site would cost and would accomplish.
"I think the public can make a very reasonable selection on what would be the best for the community," Norris said. "The key is factual information. There's been a lot of misinformation about the various bridge sites, and if people know the facts, they can make a good choice."
Mayo said allowing voters to decide the issue is premature despite 40 years of indecision and debate by elected officials. Mayo said he believes the local governments can still come to a consensus on the issue, despite comments Wednesday by Ouachita Parish Police Jury President Roger Elkin that the police jury would continue to pursue funding for the northern bridge and that if the jury "can't get the two mayors' support, maybe they should get their own bridge."
"I think it's premature," Mayo said. "I think it's ironic that he would want to take it out of the politician's hands when he selected the sites within the city limits of Monroe and West Monroe with no input from those municipalities."
Mayo said future meetings with Norris on the issue are being planned, but wouldn't elaborate on when or how those discussions would take place.

'Maybe they should get their own bridge'
Elkin driving ahead to get bridge funding without mayoral support
Robbie Evans / City Government Reporter
Posted on October 31, 2002

Ouachita Parish Police Jury President Roger Elkin has decided to continue pursuit of funding for a fourth Ouachita River bridge north of Monroe with or without the support of Monroe and West Monroe officials.
Elkin said Wednesday the parish government will continue working with state and federal officials to get the estimated $100 million needed to build a bridge connecting U.S. 165 in Monroe to White's Ferry Road in West Monroe, even if the mayors of Monroe and West Monroe won't support the proposal. Earlier this month, Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo and West Monroe Mayor Dave Norris expressed skepticism the bridge would ever get funding.
"If we can't get the two mayors' support, maybe they should get their own bridge," Elkin said. "It's a parish project, and we need the cities' help. But if not, we've still got to go forward with our funding efforts."
Both mayors said they don't believe a $100 million, two-lane connecting road and bridge built over wetlands is feasible or in the best interest of the entire parish. Mayo said attempts to get bridge funding without the support of Monroe and West Monroe won't likely pay off for anyone.
"I think (Elkin's) statement is bold and not practical," Mayo said. "I don't see a consensus, and I'm not going to support what I don't believe in."
Norris decided not to attend a meeting with Mayo and Elkin called Wednesday by the Monroe Chamber of Commerce to discuss several parish infrastructure issues, including the proposed fourth bridge. Norris said he chose not to attend because of the Monroe chamber's exclusion of the West Monroe-West Ouachita Chamber of Commerce and the media from the meeting.
"I felt like it was too important of an issue to exclude those two groups," Norris said. "The Police Jury should have the opportunity to pursue funding, but they should also be held accountable if they waste any more time and it doesn't happen."
Both Norris and Mayo said they support a bridge site south of the proposed location, which would be built north of Monroe's River Oaks subdivision.
They said a more southerly site would better address the Twin Cities' traffic problems because the proposed bridge would carry little more than 11,000 cars per day, one-quarter of the traffic currently carried by the Louisville bridge.

Mayors to meet on bridge
Robbie Evans / City Government Reporter
Posted on October 29, 2002

The mayors of the Twin Cities will meet Wednesday to discuss the future of a fourth bridge across the Ouachita River.
The controversial bridge will be a subject of discussion by Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo and West Monroe Mayor Dave Norris, who are scheduled to meet with Monroe Chamber of Commerce officials to discuss hiring a Washington lobbyist to help secure federal transportation funding for various local projects.
The meeting will be held behind closed doors because chamber officials do not want public access to the meeting.
"I think this is a priority in the community, and it will be the first opportunity I have had as mayor to talk about it with Mayor Norris," Mayo said. "I want to look at revisiting past studies and talk about ultimately getting us all on the same page about a feasible location for the bridge."
Earlier this month, Mayo and Norris said they were skeptical Ouachita Parish governments could get federal and state funding for the proposed $100 million bridge linking U.S. 165 North/Finks Hideaway Road in Monroe to White's Ferry Road in West Monroe.
Monroe Chamber of Commerce Chairman John Schween said the primary
purpose of the meeting is to discuss the possible hiring of former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater as a lobbyist to help with transportation funding in Washington Schween said the fourth bridge is one of the projects that will be discussed.
Schween also denied a News-Star request to attend the meeting, which will include discussions of how Monroe and Ouachita Parish taxpayer monies may be spent on lobbying efforts.
"No matter where it goes, we've got different pools of money we've got to start getting in line for," Schween said. "It's not a newsworthy meeting, just a coordination meeting."
Norris said he believes the decision whether to pursue funding from state and federal sources for a $100 million bridge should be decided locally and not with the help of a Washington, D.C. lobbyist.
"I think it's time we put all our cards on the table and talk about things that are doable and will make a difference," Norris said. "I'm a little skeptical talking to a lobbyist about whether a project is feasible. Surely we don't have to hire a consultant to determine whether it's feasible from a funding point of view."

'CAVE' people should have their questions addressed
Saturday, June 17, 2000

  ° The watchdogs of our communities may sometimes be wrong, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't get answers from their elected representatives.

  We agree with the Monroe City Council.
  We agree with the mayor.
  We agree that the city should have title to the Forsythe Boat Dock.
  But can anyone really fault the so-called "CAVE" people of north Monroe for being worried? We certainly can't.
  Some have taken to calling those neighborhood watchdogs who live inside the Monroe city limits north of Louisville Avenue "CAVE" people ­ Citizens Against Virtually Everything ­ because many of them have opposed refiring the old Entergy plant near Forsythe Park and building abridge connecting Forsythe Avenue to West Monroe and ... wait, this editorial board opposed those things as well.
  No matter. We have a sense of humor, just like most of those in the Garden District.
  But, it was interesting to see the shock ­ SHOCK! ­ of city officials when their motives were publicly questioned. Some of the watchdogs ­ they scan the newspaper every morning for public notices about their community and they demand explanations from officials of detailed, maybe even trivial, matters ­ accused the city of fast tracking a proposal to take title to the dock.
  (The Corps of Engineers several years ago began divesting itself of property it no longer maintained. After failing to find any federal
agencies interested in the dock, the city approached the Corps and the Department ofInterior about gaining ownership of the property.)
  Some city officials were to be in Washington at the next regularly scheduled city council meeting, so the council met June 9, on a Friday night.
  "First we heard there would be a public hearing June 13 and then we learn from the media that the meeting had been rescheduled to June 9," said Mike Cappel, chairman of the Garden District Neighborhood Alliance. "Rather than rely on members of the City Council, perhaps we should rely on the media."
  A few council members grumbled about that remark. They weren't trying to push through anything. And the rumors going around town about conspiracy theories are unfounded.
  And we believe them.
  But it is so easy to see why some people don't trust them.
  From "the lottery will go to education" the FBI investigation of former Monroe city officials to many of the things that have happened on the federal level recently, who trusts government anymore? Even on a local level, when "the government" official may live next door?
  It is always better to question those who make the decisions in government than to let them operate thinking no one really cares.
  Too many questions are better than too few.
  These watchdogs of the community are not a pain in the side. They are an important part of keeping the government in check ­­ and communities all across the nation need more of their questions, not less.

The editorials in this column requesent the opinions of The News-Star's Editorial Board, composed of Publisher Edgar A. Major, Executive Editor Kathy Spurlock, Managing Editor Ken Stickney, Editorial Page Editor David Barham, community representatives Roosevelt Rankins and Gordon Harvey, yourh representative Mandy Wade and newsroom representative Leisha Bounds.

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