The fight over whether to relocate BREC’s Baton Rouge Zoo is once again ramping up, this time at the state capital, as two lawmakers prepare to present bills to prevent the proposal.
Rep. Barbara Carpenter, D-Baton Rouge, has already pre-filed a bill that would make it illegal for BREC to relocate the attraction from its current location in north Baton Rouge. She says it's a move to help those in her district. “People feel that they really have not been heard,” said Carpenter.
Carpenter says she has done a lot of listening over the past several months and has had enough. The last straw for her was when BREC started taking another look at the State Fairgrounds on Airline Highway. The site was originally taken off the table due to severe flooding there in 2016.
“BREC is trying to spend all this money to shore up that area to make it 'safe,' and that’s just not going to work,” said Carpenter.
BREC has commissioned a study to see if the location is still viable and says engineers are fleshing out a way to eliminate flooding in the area. In addition, the group has held a number of public meetings and surveys to gauge interest.
Carpenter calls the legislation necessary because she says she's not pleased with the process and believes neither she nor the public have been given enough updates to keep pace with changes to the proposal, despite BREC saying they have been transparent throughout. “I never got satisfactory answers,” said Carpenter. “I didn’t get it at all and so I’ve decided I’m done.”
She is not the only lawmaker who feels that way. Sen. Regina Barrow also plans to file a bill this session to give the legislature more say over appointments to the BREC commission. She too points to a lack of information from the group and says many of her updates have come from just about everywhere else. “I have gotten most of my communication from you guys and there have been people in the community who have gotten wind of certain things and they’ll come back and share things with us,” said Barrow.
Despite the less than positive special session that just ended, Barrow believes they may have the support to get the bills through. She says because several area mayors, including in Baker, Central, and Zachary are on board, hopefully they can get lawmakers there as well. East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome has also said she's in support of keeping the zoo at its current location.
“I hope that transfers over and we’re able to get our other colleagues to understand the importance of this and what it means to the community,” Barrow added.
While this latest effort is just gaining steam, BREC leaders say they are committed to doing what is best.
Carpenter says she too is concerned about doing what is right and win or lose, she says her fight is focused on the kids. “I think these children deserve it as much as children across town,” said Carpenter.
A BREC spokesperson released a response statement Thursday afternoon. The statement reads:
A recent parish-wide survey shows 88% of residents believe BREC is doing an excellent or good ratings for the job at carrying out its duties as outlined in Louisiana Revised Statute 33:4570.3. We will continue to make responsible decisions and operate in the trusted manner that residents have come to expect of BREC by being diligent about any park, recreation, and facility development or construction activities. We believe legislation that seeks to dictate where specific recreation facilities are located sets a dangerous precedent for future development in our community and state. This is a local issue that is already being studied in-depth by the BREC Commission, staff, and qualified third-party engineers. Our duty as public employees is to serve as many people across East Baton Rouge Parish as we can with the resources we have been entrusted with by the public. Staff’s recommendation to relocate the zoo based on the criteria for success of successful zoos across the nation and improvements to create a regional park at Greenwood fulfills this duty to serve as many people as possible at both locations. We are talking about a major investment in our community and it is critical that we do it the right way and in the place that this investment stands the greatest chance of long-term success.
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