One of the great paradoxes emerging from the devastating flood of 2016 is the manner in which a group of volunteers calling themselves The Cajun Navy, with no budget and no centralized organizational structure, can materialize and mobilize almost instantly in times of crisis to rescue thousands of victims from inundated homes while the inept and corrupt politicians of this state cannot or will not take the steps necessary to prevent or at least mitigate damages from the swollen waters of the Comite and Amite rivers.
At the same time, it’s beyond criminal how some people will seize upon the selfless benevolence of these heroic volunteers and upon the generosity of donors in order to satisfy their own greed-driven motives.
Take Sidney Ray-Bazan for example, a New Orleans woman who was soliciting funds on behalf of The Cajun Navy. But her name suddenly disappeared with no explanation from The Cajun Navy’s Facebook page. Previously, on the Navy’s page she was identified “as the woman running the Cajun Navy Facebook page and “making sure donations go to the right place.”
Apparently Ray Bazan’s idea of the “right place” did not parallel with that of the Navy’s.
Its Facebook page is now saying it does not raise funds. A cursory check into Ray-Bazan’s past track record in fund-raising probably explains why she was abruptly removed as the go-to person. http://cfozarks.org/attorney-general-directs-settlement-funds-to-cfo-for-rebuild-joplin/
Ray-Bazan reached a plea agreement with Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster in March 2014 after she was accused of diverting money collected for Joplin tornado relief to her personal bank account.
Sidney Ray-Bazan collected more than $133,000 in donations for rebuilding efforts in Joplin. She allegedly diverted more than $39,000 of the donations for personal use. She allegedly made frequent cash withdrawals and transfers to her personal account from the charity’s bank account and spent donated funds on restaurants, clothing boutiques, veterinary offices, grocery stores and childcare.
Her charitable organization, Relief Spark, also never applied for recognition as a tax-exempt charity with the IRS.
“In 2011, good-hearted people across Missouri and the nation donated money to help the citizens of Joplin recover and rebuild,” Koster said. “Unfortunately, we know that some individuals diverted charitable donations for personal gain. I am pleased that today we return a portion of that money to the people of Joplin.”
Under the terms of the agreement, Ray-Bazan was to have paid $39,200 to the Community Foundation of the Ozarks and no longer solicit funds for any charitable purposes in the state of Missouri for five years.
Meanwhile, The Cajun Navy continues to rescue victims trapped by the rising waters that seemed to come from nowhere, silently concealing streets and highways and soaking residents’ homes, autos, carpeting, furniture and appliances. Many of those rescued were the very young and the very old. Some were sick, others disabled by other maladies.
Members of the Navy who manned bass boats, ski boats and ordinary bateaus did so without pay and without benefit of the photo ops so tempting to presidential candidates who breeze through disaster relief center just long enough to be photographed handing out bottled water to evacuees to show they do, after all, care for the little people.
Steve Hardy and David J. Mitchell, writing for the Baton Rouge Advocate on Saturday (Aug. 20), did a stellar job outlining the sorry history of the never-to-be-built Darlington Reservoir and the Comite River Diversion Canal. http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/article_fc9f928c-6592-11e6-bad5-d3944fe82f0e.html
The two Advocate writers wrote, correctly, that “no one has suggested that the proposed Comite River Diversion Canal or the Darlington Reservoir would have prevented the flood,” but the canal by itself could have spared up to 25 percent of those whose homes were flooded. Like the Ross Barnett Reservoir in Mississippi, the project was not designed as a flood control reservoir. But taken together, projects could have mitigated hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.
A 1986 LSU study estimated that had the Darlington Reservoir existed during the historic 1983 flood, the Amite River would have crested at a level six feet lower than the 41.5 feet at Denham Springs. The river crested at 46 feet last Sunday (Aug. 14). Flood stage at Denham Springs is 39 feet.
In 1992 the U.S Army Corps of Engineers said that the $154 million cost of Darlington and $222 for the Diversion Canal were not cost efficient and the last year the Federal government appropriated funds for the Canal project was in 2006.
Meanwhile, Bobby Jindal and state legislators went about their primary objective as Louisiana public servants: soliciting campaign contributions even as damages from the 2016 flood far exceeded (by a factor of at least five or six) the cost of building the reservoir.
Now there will be the usual indignant finger pointing and official promises that action must be taken to protect life and property. Then, just as quietly as the murky waters of the Amite River rose and receded, it’ll all be forgotten—until the next flood.