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La. Port Proposes Hurricane Shelter for First Responders

NEW ORLEANS -- A St. Charles Parish Council committee will meet tonight to hear a plan by the Port of South Louisiana to seek federal money to build hurricane-resistant shelters for first responders in St. John the Baptist, St. Charles and St. James parishes.

And even though the structure could be used for proms and weddings in between storms, please don't call it a civic center, said port director Joel Chaisson.

"This is a building that would be able to withstand a Category 5 hurricane, that would be elevated so that it wouldn't be damaged by a storm surge, a place where first responders and people with special needs could ride out the storm.

"It is not a civic center," Chaisson said.

Chaisson is proposing that the parish use a site across from R.K. Smith Middle School that was donated to the parish for what is billed as a multipurpose center that also could house the parish's emergency operations center.

Port officials point to reinforced assembly buildings near Mobile, Ala., and on the Florida Panhandle where federal money was used to build similar buildings.

Port officials have been floating the idea for months and originally proposed levying a property tax to build a structure. But the Alabama and Florida projects have suggested another way to pay for the bulk of the construction costs using a combination of money from federal and nonprofit sources, plus some local government money.

Chaisson said he doesn't want the port's proposed project to be confused with a proposal to build a traditional civic center that St. Charles voters resoundingly defeated in 2004. That proposal was criticized as being poorly thought out.

The meeting of the council's Special Projects/Public Safety, Health and Environmental Committee is set for 6 p.m. in the Parish Council chambers at the courthouse in Hahnville.

Matt Scallan can be reached at mscallan@timespicayune.com or (985) 652-0953.

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