By Musa Eubanks
Bayou St. John is one of only two bayous in Louisiana designated by the State as a “Historic and Scenic River” … “which because of its unique historical status and scenic character requires protection and preservation…” Greener Bayou St. John Coalition wants to ensure the Bayou retains its scenic beauty and that its ecosystem remains healthy enough to support a wide variety of fish and aquatic organisms, as well as shore birds such as brown pelicans, herons and egrets. It is important to find ways to successfully integrate Bayou St. John’s fragile ecosystem into the surrounding residential neighborhood. It’s also important to find ways to balance the residents’ need for a decent quality of life and the Bayou’s need for a healthy ecosystem with the public’s need to use the Bayou for recreation, relaxation, and green space. In order to meet these goals, we have started an open, inclusive and transparent planning process (see website www.greenerbayoustjohn.org for details).
Bayou St. John is a New Orleans treasure that should be enjoyed by all New Orleanians. These uses, however, should not be harmful to either the health of the Bayou or to the neighborhood residents surrounding the Bayou. Although the bank of the Bayou is a public place, it is also an integral part of a largely residential community. The reality is that people cannot do whatever they want to do on any public space. Civil society exists partly to set up rules of conduct to make sure everyone can get along. Just because the sidewalk in front of your home is public property, does not mean that 10 neighborhood youth would be allowed to set up a basketball hoop and play there for hours.
Unlike the monitoring that takes place along Mardi Gras routes, City Park, Audubon Park, the Lake Front and every other public space in New Orleans, absolutely no monitoring takes place along Bayou St. John. An example was this past year’s July 4th Boat Parade. According to residents along the Bayou, in addition to partying until after 2 a.m., this group left the banks of the Bayou strewn with trash, bottles, and BBQ grills, as well as abandoned homemade boats/rafts in the water. Since the City does not provide clean-up after this event, the neighbors living along the Bayou had to clean up the mess. Certainly some balance is called for and some management of the Bayou is necessary.
Also, the Coalition never stated or implied that activities such as kayaking/canoeing, walking/running, picnicking, fishing, etc. should be restricted.
Charging for use of the Bayou
The article stated that the Coalition disagrees with Councilmember Guidry on the issue of treating the Bayou like a park and charging a fee for uses. It is incorrect to pit the Coalition against Councilmember Guidry. We simply questioned whether this is the best way to manage events on the Bayou. We believe that through the process of creating the Bayou St. John Master Plan, we will arrive at the best way to manage events and activities on Bayou St. John.
Master Plan Meeting
The article made it appear that Greener Bayou St. John Coalition was remiss in not holding a Bayou St. John Master Plan meeting. As was stated in the interview with Ms. Hasselle, the Coalition did not schedule the first meeting of the Master Plan working groups because we did not want to have a meeting without Mid-City Neighborhood Organization representation. MCNO did not appoint their representatives until February 4, 2014. The first meeting is now scheduled.
Characterization of Bayou St. John
It was inaccurate for the first article to characterize Bayou St. John ten years ago as “not the coveted destination it is today” or to state the banks were “overgrown, and pools of trash lay stagnant on water…”. The only time trash and overgrown banks occurred was in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when Bayou St. John, its banks and the surrounding areas were flooded and New Orleanians were kept out of our City for well over six weeks. When the residents were allowed to return, they cleaned the banks and waterway and the Levee District started mowing the grass again.
As for the statement by Ms. Farwell, “Anyone who remembers Bayou St. John before Hurricane Katrina remembers that it was never used, that people were afraid to walk on it at night and that it was dirty because people who came by had no respect for it” –again this is totally incorrect, as any number of people living along the Bayou will gladly tell you. In fact, residents living along and near Bayou St. John were so respectful of the Bayou they regularly picked up trash left by others as they took their morning and evening walks. Every day people picnicked, walked their dogs, jogged, fished, flew kites, threw Frisbees, or just sat and meditated along the Bayou’s banks. People were regularly seen canoeing along the waterway. On any given night, even after midnight, you could see residents taking a walk, a jog or walking their dog, feeling very safe. This is the accurate characterization of Bayou St. John.
Bayou St. John Stewardship
Bayou St. John, our City’s historic and scenic treasure, is clearly in need of stewardship. The Greener Bayou St. John Coalition, along with the four Neighborhood Organizations surrounding the Bayou, is attempting to come to a consensus about what this stewardship will require and what entity would be the best steward. This is being done by way of a Bayou St. John Master Plan. This Master Plan will be created in an open, inclusive and transparent process. No one will be left out of this discussion.
Musa Eubanks is a representative of the Greener Bayou St. John Coalition.