Inside the Fence

Oct. 26, 2007

The time had come to do an update on post-Katrina Louisiana ...

It’s a place with which I have some history. In the early ‘80s, I spent time producing training videos for companies in the oil patch. If you want to learn Southern Louisiana, the oil patch is a good way to do it. People in these parts live and breathe three things: creative food, the outdoors, and the petrol industry.

Driving west from New Orleans, a detour off the interstate gets one into the middle of sugar cane fields. Further on, one gets to Baton Rouge and its welcoming spirit. I’ve spent my share of time in Baton Rouge. It’s an interesting city in that it is one part the genteel Southern capital; the other part is a massive petrochemical complex situated on the Mississippi.

Drive a bit further west and you run into a deluge that is a Louisiana rainstorm, the kind that casts you off the highway until it passes. In the hours of Katrina, this would have been a breather.

When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, a mass exodus out of New Orleans and Southern Louisiana occurred. The city of Baton Rouge opened its arms. Of all the cities that took in refugees, Baton Rouge may be the one you hear least about, yet they may have taken in the most. I think it’s because they just adapted so well. Consider the airport ... which is the focus of this issue’s cover story.

‘Along Came Baton Rouge’ is more than a headline. It’s a statement of fact.

* * *

In New Orleans, the downtown reliever, Lakefront Airport, is just now getting off life support. It is an intact airfield again, reinforced by concrete bulkheads. The airport, FAA, and two FBOs are into the serious rebuilding phase.

One of the challenges that the folks at Lakefront have had, like so many, is settling insurance claims. You see, water damage is different than wind damage. Must be under the purview of a different god.

But that is only one reason the airport and its two FBOs are only now getting into the serious rebuilding phase, currently underway. It’s been more about permits, it seems. If you know Louisiana politics, not a surprise.

But what was a surprise, and something that sucked the air out of the players at Lakefront, was the abrupt decision this spring by NBAA to pull out its scheduled 2008 convention from New Orleans, moving it to Orlando. Getting ready for NBAA was a target. It was removed with relatively quiet notice — to the point that both FBOs still held out hope the association would change its mind. It won’t.

The official reason from NBAA is that it was concerned Lakefront Airport wouldn’t be ready. The behind-the-scenes word is that NBAA was more concerned about the highly publicized crime rate. Understandable.

As someone who has always loved Bourbon Street, it’s difficult to admit that I skipped it on this trip. The crime rate, you know.

Thanks for reading.