Sunday, July 29, 2007

Close to home ...

In the following story the pool house where the murder victim lived was where we had stayed on our return from Katrina exile.

By Susan Finch for the Times Picayune

A 54-year-old Pineville engineer working as a construction inspector for the government at two federal buildings downtown was shot to death early Thursday in front of his temporary residence on a quiet block in the city's West Carrollton section.

Anthony "Tony" White had come home to the 8400 block of Panola Street after working his night shift when someone shot him once in the face at close range, then ran over him twice before fleeing in White's vehicle.

The motive behind the murder remains murky. After shooting White shortly before 3 a.m., the assailant took White's keys and fled in White's blue Jeep Liberty, with Louisiana license plate PFV402. Nothing else was stolen, police said.

Police spokesman Sgt. Joe Narcisse said Thursday it appeared the murder was a "random act of violence."

"We haven't noticed any patterns of crime in that neighborhood, certainly nothing that would have indicated we should be on the lookout for this," he said.

The assailant left behind White's expensive watch, wedding band and wallet, according to Brad Robinson, who had rented White the pool house behind his Panola Street residence since March.

"They shot him for nothing but his car keys. Isn't that insane?" Robinson said.

Robinson said he got a call Thursday between 2:30 and 3 a.m. from an elderly neighbor who told him there was someone lying in the street.

"I guess she saw the police," who apparently had been called by a passing motorist who had spotted the body, he said.

Robinson said he went out, knelt beside his friend and felt for a pulse. He detected none.

Employed by Jacobs Engineering, an international firm, White was a mild-mannered family man with grandchildren and was an enthusiastic portrait photographer, a person who never raised his voice, Robinson said.

Brad Barber, a Bernhard Mechanical Contractors project manager who worked on the Hale Boggs and U.S. District Court buildings White inspected, said the engineer was always in a good mood, very professional and very dedicated to his work.

"You could always count on him," Barber said.

Robinson believes that his friend's tendency to be a good Samaritan -- "He'd give you the shirt off his back" -- may have been what left him dead on the street with tire marks across his white shirt.

Robinson, a retired Army Special Forces officer who grew up in New Orleans, said he has seen lots of dead people but seeing his murdered tenant was a totally different experience: "It's the fact that it's in front of my residence. I've got a wife and two kids. It's just too close to home," he said.

It fell to Robinson on Thursday to break the news over the phone to White's wife at their home in Pineville, where the couple had moved from Colorado after the Jacobs firm posted White to Louisiana.

Robinson said that in the military, he counseled the families of soldiers killed in combat. But telling White's wife that her husband was dead, he said, "was the hardest thing I ever had to do."


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Aching for Lost Friends ...

By Susan Saulny for the New York Times and about our former neighborhood:

NEW ORLEANS — “Backwater.” Or “cypress swamp.” That is how antique maps of this city describe what eventually became its far eastern edge, an area that juts out from the rest of the old town, hugging Lake Pontchartrain, and home for centuries to little more than wildlife and trees.

This came as a surprise to me years ago, because by the time my family moved to eastern New Orleans in the early 1990s, it had long been drained and tamed and offered some of the most attractive undeveloped land anywhere in the city. More than anyone else, black middle-class families like mine flocked to it, architectural plans in hand, eager to escape the crime and congestion in the tight neighborhoods of older New Orleans. They wanted to build something new.

And they did, by the tens of thousands, creating the only major upscale black suburbs in the region, although a significant number of white and Vietnamese families lived there, too. If there was already a new New Orleans — in contrast to neighborhoods like the French Quarter — before Hurricane Katrina, then this was it: New Orleans East, as the locals call it, a collection of typically American suburbs for a most atypical American city, born sometime in the early 1970s.

About 20 minutes northeast of the French Quarter, in Lake Forest Estates, the house my family designed was bigger, better-built and higher than the one we left in our old neighborhood, so we thought we were safer, too.

We were wrong. During the storm, the Gulf of Mexico ended up in my parents’ living room. Deep water. Just poured right in to the first floor and stayed for a while.

Hurricane Katrina left most of New Orleans East in a shambles that way, although as a whole, it received less attention than needier black areas or equivalent white neighborhoods. In terms of size — both geographically and in population — it dwarfs the Lower Ninth Ward and Lakeview. It had close to 100,000 residents. As of May, about 30 percent of them were back.

Not everyone in the East was well off. And some areas did not flood. Just like the rest of the city, it had its ridges and natural defenses. But Hurricane Katrina still managed to shred the fabric of the black upper middle class living there, at a time when New Orleans desperately needs its black professionals to have a voice in the recovery process.

Some of our relatives and friends were too old and feeble to rebuild. They are gone from the city for good, and we ache for them. Others were too angry to stay, overcome by the levees’ unnecessary failures. We understand their need to move on.

Lake Forest Estates did not have power for five months after the storm. I remember the day the lights came on, though I was in New York City. My phone did not stop ringing with the kind of calls a person might expect from a third world country: “We got lights! We got electricity!”

Now things are moving, but slowly.

One of my parents’ favorite talk-over-the-fence neighbors, Michael Darnell, a lawyer, is not over the fence any more. (Not that there’s a fence any more, either.) Mr. Darnell has been unable to repair his house because of delays hampering the Road Home, the state grant program for people who lost their homes.

“From the perspective of African-American professionals, there’s still a question about where this city is going,” said Mr. Darnell, who is renting an apartment elsewhere in New Orleans. “I’m seeing a disintegration of what this community stood for, and people are still traumatized.”

The Currys, a warm, retired couple who lived two houses away, have moved to Baton Rouge. The minister who lives to our west has repaired his house and is back. The family to our east, who own a computer technology company, moved to Texas.

On a surface level, looking out across the street from my parents’ front door, it is hard to know that Hurricane Katrina ever visited. Every house in sight is redone, landscaped, pristine.

But the neighbors’ view of our house is not as nice, as my parents have put their energy since the storm into a new escape from southern Louisiana’s perils, a home in Forrest County, Miss., about two hours north. They do intend to reconstruct their New Orleans East house, perhaps by Thanksgiving.

People who knew New Orleans East only from the Interstate that cuts through it could easily miss its appeal. From the highway, one could not see the swampy beauty of its park space, or feel how the sky seemed bigger. And I still think some of the best crawfish in town is there, served in humble establishments along Haynes Boulevard.

But the giant Lake Forest Plaza, once a great mall, had badly deteriorated before the storm and was downright dangerous. Now it is mostly torn down, and there is not even a grocery store nearby. Increasingly, however, there is hope.

“All of my neighbors are back, and I see houses being started from the ground up,” said Carrie Phillips, a real estate agent in the area. “I’ve always thought, if New Orleans East can come back, then New Orleans is definitely coming back.”


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Assimilating ...

We have now been in Cincinnati for a month. Certainly the novelty has not worn off yet, but we are beginning to feel that we live here.

A couple of recent purchases have completed our furnishings. Our guiding principle in our purchases has been to buy either something we will use long-term, or something cheap enough to throw away when we move in a year.

We do plan to move in a year, but expect to remain in the Cincinnati area. There are some attractive condos on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River that have their advantages. We went to a cocktail party in one such condo development and enjoyed a beautiful view of the river and the Cincinnati skyline.

We really miss our friends in New Orleans. We try to stay in contact by phone but it is, of course, not the same or even close. We have done passably well at meeting people here, but it is hard to find people our age that are retired. “Retired” seems to be an important characteristic for compatibility. Our neighborhood seems to be mostly younger people, working hard and raising kids.

Otherwise our neighborhood has been a real positive. The other day we walked to our dentist, then lunched on Hyde Park square, and stopped at the library on the walk home. Our house is at a relatively high elevation, and walking the last block to our house is good exercise.

Our real exercise is done at the Cincinnati Sports Club. We are on a 3-times a week program, and on other days often ride the stationary bike at home.

We still keep up with New Orleans news via and a couple of Times-Picayune newsletters. Louisiana politics and government are so much more interesting than here. The Cincinnati area is so governmentally fragmented that everything seems like a neighborhood issue.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Some oil firms leave New Orleans ...

By Bruce Nichols for Reuters via Yahoo News:

The boom in Gulf of Mexico oil exploration since the 1970s made New Orleans a hub of the U.S. energy industry, but the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 has led some oil companies to move out, a mini-exodus that could grow.

A recent survey by New Orleans CityBusiness magazine found that 12 of 23 publicly traded companies headquartered in New Orleans had left since Katrina, including four energy-related firms.

Tidewater Inc., the world's largest operator of oil industry service vessels, recently became the latest to say it is considering moving its headquarters to Houston, the U.S. capital of oil and gas.

Others are moving but staying closer. Chevron Corp. is leaving its downtown tower for offices in Covington, 26 miles north, across Lake Pontchartrain. Louisiana Offshore Oil Port also plans to relocate its offices to the north shore.

An important player, Shell Oil Co., is still downtown and insists it will stay. "We extended our lease ... for another 10 years, until 2017," spokesman Fred Palmer said.

Others departing are leaving some operations. Deepwater U.S. Gulf activity near New Orleans is, after all, increasing. "They keep whatever minimal stuff they need to keep here," said Eric Smith, an energy industry expert at Tulane University.

The exodus is not entirely a post-Katrina trend.

Mining employment, the relevant U.S. federally defined category, fell from 16,000 to 8,000 between 1990 and August 2005, before Katrina struck, said Janet Speyrer, associate dean of business research at the University of New Orleans.

It has held close to 8,000 since operations resumed after Katrina, she said. And oil refining in greater New Orleans, a different U.S. federal employment category, is expected to remain strong.

Still, "it's not a good thing for New Orleans" that top executives are leaving, Speyrer said. "They have a very big secondary impact because of who they are."

More non-energy firms than energy firms appear to be leaving, according to the CityBusiness survey. Energy companies are more accustomed to difficult environments and less dependent on local markets than restaurant chains or banks.

But among energy companies, Newpark Resources, a small exploration and production company, and McDermott International, an energy-oriented engineering and construction firm, also relocated, both to the Houston area.

Sandra Gunner, CEO of the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce, said she tries to keep companies but is realistic.

"If you look at the aftermath of any storm, it's just a practical reality," she said. "That's not something you can fix overnight."

Tidewater, which has 8,000 employees worldwide and a total of 75 in New Orleans, has made no final decision, spokesman Joe Bennett said.

"We are still assessing the possibility of moving maybe five to eight people to Houston," he said.

Chevron spokeswoman Qiana Wilson said "some safety issues related to the next storm" drove that company's move to higher ground after Katrina, but Chevron had reasons to stay close.

"We just couldn't leave south Louisiana because of those great opportunities we have in deepwater operations," Wilson said.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Sunday, July 01, 2007

A new life post-Katrina ...

By Becky Bohrer, Associated Press, via the Philadelphia Inquirer:

For New Orleans families displaced by Hurricane Katrina, the streets are quieter 150 miles away, in Simmesport, La.

SIMMESPORT, La. - When her husband first told her about Canadaville, Dawn Charbonneau worried it might be a cult.

A place in the country, built by a Canadian industrialist, where hurricane-displaced families could live rent-free if they followed the rules. It sounded too good to be true.

Yet she was taken with Canadaville, a sprawling property where squirrels scurry in open fields and the songs of birds carry on the breeze. It was a curative tonic for the cramped FEMA trailer park where the Chabonneaus and their three children had lived after Hurricane Katrina.

The slower pace of life, uncrowded nearby schools, and corn-country peace have been good for the children, ages 5 to 13. "They can sleep at night without hearing gunshots," said Dawn Charbonneau, whose family fled both Katrina and the violence of New Orleans about 150 miles away.

Her initial reservations about Canadaville, she says, were long ago put to rest.

Canadaville, with its goats and chickens, gardens and fishing holes, is the brainchild of Frank Stronach, chairman of the Canadian auto-parts maker Magna International. After Katrina hit in August 2005, Magna sheltered hundreds of evacuees at its Palm Meadows thoroughbred-training center in Florida. But Stronach also wanted land in rural Louisiana, outside the hurricane zone, where families could start over.

"It's a hand up, not a handout," Magna spokesman Dan Donovan said.

Stronach bought 900 acres in September 2005, and Canadaville opened three months later. Total initial investment was estimated at $7.5 million.

Officially named Magnaville, the site was dubbed Canadaville as a nod to its benefactors. Canadian and U.S. flags fly side by side at the welcome center. "This is just neighbor helping neighbor," Magnaville president Dennis Mills said.

People can live at Canadaville rent-free for five years if they follow a "charter of conduct." Among other things, they must work or go to school, volunteer at least eight hours a week, participate in the community council, and stay away from drugs, project manager Shane Carmichael said.

There are after-school and tutoring programs for children, computer and job-training classes for adults, and plans to operate an organic farm. While Magna provides housing and other activities, residents do not receive cash payments.

Canadaville's population stands at about 210, mostly black and from New Orleans. More than half the original residents are still here.

Quiet, paved streets with names such as Pelican Place and Honey Bee Road wind past the 49 three-bedroom modular homes. It's a very different life for most of the former urban dwellers.

Eli Bryant sees Canadaville as a blessing, with the laid-back lifestyle and outdoors work he longed for.

For Barbara Stewart, it has been a culture shock: A Wal-Mart several towns away is the nearest major shopping venue.

The influx of Katrina evacuees also was culture shock for nearby Simmesport, a town of 2,200 where outsiders are easily spotted.

That was a big deal when plans for Canadaville were proposed, Carmichael said. Some Simmesport residents worried murderers and rapists would be coming to their town, he said, alluding to reports of violence in New Orleans after Katrina.

So Magna pledged to buy patrol cars for the Simmesport police, pay for three more police officers for five years, and build a sports complex and a recreation center that would double as an evacuation center.

Though there is still some friction between town and Canadaville, Carmichael said he hoped the relationship could mend.

Many in town have welcomed Canadaville residents, and the dollars they spend on groceries and at general stores. Some have hired the newcomers. Jackie Quebedeaux, a convenience-store manager, said it did not matter to her where the Canadaville residents came from, "as long as they're honest, and want to work."


jbv's Competitive Edge