Let’s Kill The Loop

It appears that Kip Holden’s pet project for the destruction of Livingston Parish is still alive and well. The Capital Area Expressway, generally known as “the Loop”, has arisen from the ashes once again.  Apparently, the first phase of the Environmental Impact Survey has been completed and it is time for another comment period.  I would urge all of you to make your opposition known.  The comment period ends on February 22.  Comments should be mailed to: Raul Regis, P.E., 10000 Perkins Rowe, Suite 640, Baton Rouge LA 70810.

I was also made privy this week to a letter from Congressman Garret Graves concerning this issue.  The tone of the letter seems to read like Rep. Graves thinks the Loop is the best thing since sliced bread. He needs to hear from you as well.  The following is the text of my letter to Graves. Feel free to use any or all of it in your comment to the Expressway Authority or to let Rep. Graves know how you feel.  Thanks for your support!

Hon. Garret Graves
United States House of Representatives
204 Cannon House Office Building
Washington DC 20515

Re: Baton Rouge Loop project

Dear Congressman Graves:

Your correspondence dated January 26, 2016 regarding the Baton Rouge Loop project and the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act has come to my attention. I would like to take this opportunity to voice my opposition the proposed Baton Rouge Loop, which is not the solution to the Capital Area’s transportation problems.

The proposed Loop is the brainchild of Mayor Kip Holden of Baton Rouge and a group of consultants who have already made substantial amounts of money on this project and stand to make a windfall if the project is actually approved. Certainly the traffic and infrastructure problems in the Greater Baton Rouge area have to be addressed. However, the Baton Rouge Loop is not the solution.

I note that your letter describes the Capital Area Expressway Authority as being comprised of “two of the five area parish presidents.” That raises the question of what about the other three? The answer is simple. The parish presidents of the other three parishes have resigned from the Authority because the are opposed to the proposed Loop. In addition, the parish councils of those three parishes have voted numerous times not to support the Loop, including a resolution by the Livingston Parish Council just last week. You may ask why these public officials in the affected areas are so opposed to the loop? The answer is simple. It does not serve the needs of the people of the surrounding parishes and will destroy our communities.

The Loop, as proposed, will solve some of the City of Baton Rouge’s traffic problems at the expense of its neighboring parishes. I, and many other residents, have reviewed the proposed project at length. The primary problem with the proposed expressway is the fact that it will disrupt and carve up existing communities, particularly in the Watson area. One of the primary objections which I have to the project is that if the purpose was to take out as many private homes and public facilities as possible, the proposed corridor could not have been drawn any better than it is now. For example, there are 2 proposed corridors which that cross the Amite River from Central to Watson. One of those corridors crosses the river just north of the existing Magnolia Beach Road bridge. That corridor will require removal of the historic Amite Baptist Church cemetery, will cut off at least 3 subdivisions containing hundreds of homes. And that is only in the first mile from the river crossing.

The other corridor crosses the Amite River north of the Old Greenwell Springs hospital. That corridor will pass directly through the new Live Oak High School property and will also affect North Live Oak Elementary and the Live Oak Ball Park, which recent underwent a multi-million dollar expansion and renovation. That corridor would also pass directly through at least two of the largest residential developments in Livingston Parish. What are we supposed to do about our homes? What are we supposed to do with our dead? Where are we supposed to educate our children or provide recreational opportunities for them.

There are also other alternatives to solving the gridlock in Baton Rouge, without doing so at the expense of the surrounding parishes. For instance, the group Capital Region Industry for Sustainable Infrastructure Solutions (CRISIS) is a business and industry group which has proposed several projects which would make the proposed Loop unnecessary . These include
a. widening I-10 from the Mississippi River bridge to the I-10/I-12 split;
b. creating a commuter route from Ascension Parish along I-10 or Airline Highway;
c. Building an additional bridge across the Mississippi River South of Baton Rouge and widening Nicholson Drive to Gonzales;
d. Upgrading Airline Highway to an expressway from the Old Bridge to Gonzales; and
e. Building a north bypass from Airline Highway to Livingston Parish.

I would also point out that the Hooper Road extension has been approved, which would improve traffic flow in the Central area and provide another bridge across the Amite River to Highway 16 in Watson.

These projects would primarily use existing corridors, which would negate the problem of buying up land and acquiring new right of ways. They would also divert more traffic to the existing U.S. 190 bridge, which even DOTD recognizes as being underutilized. Increasing use of the U.S. 190 bridge would offer a cheaper and more readily available way to move more traffic across the Mississippi River from West Baton Rouge Parish.

These are just some of the reasons why the Capital Area Expressway should be allowed to die a quiet death, once and for all. I am eager to hear from you regarding this subject. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

And First Place goes to…..

“And 1st place goes to….”. Every year at the Annual Watson Bird & Sausage Gumbo Cook Off, the crowd waits for those words. The anticipation is nerve racking. Everybody wants to know who won; who, on this day, had the best gumbo around. When the announcement comes, the celebration is boisterous and vocal. But, much like a beauty pageant, for the other competitors, it is bittersweet. You applaud and smile politely, giving a friendly nod to the winner. But in your heart, you are a little disappointed that it wasn’t your name that got called. I’ve been in that also ran group every year since this thing got started. But, that changed Saturday, January 30, 2015. Turns out that was OUR day!

The Annual Watson Bird and Sausage Cook Off is the brainchild and pet project of my friends Bobbi Jo and Berlin. They thought this up 6 years ago, mainly as just a way to get some friends together, have a good time, cook some good food and raise a little money for charity. The first year, it took place in their backyard. A total of 12 teams competed and the crowd was somewhere just south of 500 or so. Over the years, they built this event up. Four years ago, it got so big they had to move to a bigger venue. Now that venue is looking too small. This thing has grown to be “the” event of the Watson social season. (I know, I never thought I’d write that sentence either, but hey, times are a changing.)
Everybody looks forward to the event. It is a microcosm of what makes Louisiana, and Watson in particular, such a great place to live and raise a family. It brings together the three great cornerstones of what we are about around here. Good food, good friends and helping someone else who needs it. If you want to know more about the history and what happens at the cook off, you can read some of it here in my blog from last year.

COOK OFF BLOG 2015.

Our team name Is Los Amigos, which is Spanish for “the guys”. My friend and partner in crime Calvin Jones and I cooked in the very first cook off and have made every one of them since. We have always had a lot of fun, but the closest we ever came to getting the brass ring and gumbo immortality was the second year, when we took second place. Calvin and I make a good team. I do all the planning and cooking and he brings all the beverages and handles the PR. This year our team also included my youngest son Joel, and some very useful technical help and advice from my son Matt and his friend Rich, who are both excellent cooks in their own right.

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The funny thing is, I almost didn’t cook this year. After 5 years, there were a number of reasons why I thought I was going to sit it out this time. First, believe it or not, cooking in this thing Is hard work. There is all the prep work of getting everything together and getting it up there. Then on Saturday, you start before daylight, work all day and then have to clean up and pack up. Second, this is a very busy time of year for my wife, Jo Ann and I. The weekend of the cook off was looking like the only ‘free’ weekend we would have for about 3 months. And, to be honest, after 5 years of not winning, I was feeling a little sorry for myself. But that changed one night when Calvin asked me if we were cooking this year. I explained what I was thinking. His response was simple and to the point. “This will be the first year we ain’t cooked in it” Touche’ my brother. So the decision was made. Sign us up.
For the participants, the cook off experience usually starts on Friday evening, when you bring your tent and chairs to the grounds and claim your spot. Then, on Saturday morning, check in starts at 7:00 a.m. This year there were 50 teams competing. It looks like a small army, outfitted with all manner of cast iron pots, stainless steel boilers, propane burners and stoves, barbecue pits, ice chest full of chickens, ducks, sausage and onions and celery by the truckload. Thanks to Bobbi Jo and her dedicated staff, it is well organized and before 8 o’clock, everyone is in place and ready to go.
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We got set up and were ready to get started. We were around some good people again this year. We were right next to our buddy Jeff Gill and his Daddy.

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On the other side was Melissa, Heidi and “the girls”. Right on the other side of the Gills were some of my favorite local idiots. Jeff Betz and his crew, which this year included none other that “Big Sexy” himself, LOHS head coach Brett Beard.

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As the siren announced it was time to start cooking, everyone got into action. Not long after that, the spectators started drifting in. For a contribution of $10, they got to stay all day, eat all the free food they wanted and pass a good time. And they come, young and old. If you want to see pretty much anybody and everybody in Watson, you should come on out to the Gumbo Cook Off.
Our recipe this year was simple chicken and andouille, with a little duck sausage. We took it slow, being patient and not rushing things. We boiled our chicken and used the broth to brew our own homemade stock. Then it was time to really start cooking and make our roux. Ask any Louisiana cook and they will tell you that making a roux is both an art and a science. It is just flour and oil, but it is the most important part of making gumbo. Like the foundation for a house, everything else rests on it and if you get it wrong, everything else is going to suffer. You have to get the fire hot, but not too hot. It needs to be dark, but not too dark. We got it going and started to stir. I even managed to get Calvin to stir the pot and he did a masterful job. I sort of felt bad that I had to keep stirring during the opening prayer and the National Anthem. But our roux was at a crucial stage, and everybody knows when that is happening, you keep stirring even if the house catches on fire.
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Once the roux was just right, we started putting all the other ingridients together. Before long we had simmering pot of some of the best stuff you’ll ever put in your mouth. Then the trick was to be patient and not rush things. Go slow and let everything meld together. As we did that, we did some tasting and, with the help of Rich and Matt, made a few minor adjustments to the formula. After about 3 hours of simmering, we finally decided we had it right. Cut off the fire and put the lid on it. It’s ready.
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While we were cooking, there was a steady procession of friends old and new. We went about our work, stopping often to visit and do a little talking.

 

 

 

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We spooned out plenty of gumbo during the afternoon and got some good compliments. I also had a chance to walk around and check out some of the competition. They were all good and after tasting 7 or 8, it is hard to say which one you think is best. Finally 2:00 o’clock rolled around and it was time to submit our gumbo for judging. We spooned it up, dark and steaming hot. At that point, all you can do is just wait and see.
Bobbi Jo, Berlin and the wonderful staff they put together work really hard to make this event one of the best. The amount of work they put in is amazing, both before, during and after the event. The funny thing is, most of those folks are the same old Live Oak High people we’ve known all our lives. Makes me proud to be an Eagle. And, there is a lot more going on around here than just cooking gumbo. The staff runs a 50/50 raffle, sells t-shirts, aprons, caps and other ‘logo’ merchandise. They sell beverages and other stuff, the profits of which all go to designated charity. These people rock!
Finally about 3:30, it was time. The winners were going to be announced. The crowd gathers around the bandstand and dance floor and it begins. First, they announce the winner of the raffles. Then they give out awards for the best decoration and other special prizes. Then they introduce the judges. You never know who the judges are until they announce the winners. But, over the years, Bobbi Jo has done a great job of recruiting a roster of celebrity judges who know gumbo and Louisiana cuisine. One year, Chef John Folse was a judge. Others have included renowned cooks, food writers, media personalities and just plain folks who love to eat.
This year’s judges included some of my local culinary heroes. Duke Landry is a former neighbor of ours, whose family started the Don’s Seafood eateries, is a World Champion Oyster shucker and recently opened Watson’s newest restaurant, Duke’s Seafood. Kendall Day is a former cook off participant and owns and operates Day’s Smokehouse, one of the finest specialty meat establishments around. Ramona Addison manages and operates the deli at Oak Point Fresh Market in Watson. Each of these folks know food and put out some of the best tasting stuff I have ever put in my mouth. Other judges included Richard Condon, a food writer and a representative of Tony’s Seafood. Quite a line up if you ask me.
Then it was time. I have always told people that the announcing of the winners goes something like this: When the announce third place, everyone cheers and claps. When they announce second place, everyone cheers and claps, slapping the second place team on the back. Then they announce first place. Most of the crowds cheers and applauds, while 49 other cooks are saying “this is bulls**t!” Only in Louisiana!
Third place this year went to Donald Lambert and his team, Faithful Companions. Donald is married to one of my old schoolmates, Linda.

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Second place went to Tom Peak and his team, Curve Ballers. Tom is an old Live Oak alumni and long time friend.

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And then, they were making “the announcement”
“And 1st place goes to LOS AMIGOS!” Oh WOW! You gotta be kidding me! After six years we finally did it. It felt pretty good being up on stage, folks cheering, knowing that we were the winners.

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Of course, some of my fellow competitors we happily yelling “this is bulls**t!” Hey man, it is what it is. It felt really good and we spent the rest of the evening celebrating and accepting congratulatory words from the patrons and other competitors. And we celebrated some more.


I was also proud that 1st, 2nd and 3rd place went to some old Watson folks. But what I was most proud of was the opportunity to participate again in such a wonderful event. I am pretty sure that the final donation this year, which goes to Quad Veterans Transitional Housing Program, will be in the 5 figure range. We might have taken taken home the plaque for first prize, but believe me, everyone was a winner!

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I Believe…

I believe!  (Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Trust the Beard)

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To say it has been a Cinderella season for Live Oak High football would be an understatement.  Forty  years ago, as a youth, I remember standing on the sideline of a makeshift football field in a drizzling rain as Live Oak played its first football game. Last Friday night I traveled to Monroe to watch Live Oak play a 5-A playoff game and upset the No. 8 team in the state. There has been a lot of football played around Live Oak since that first game in 1975.  Little did any of us standing in the rain that  day know how far Live Oak football one day would go.

To be honest, there were a lot of tough times and lean years around Live Oak.  We started out as a small country basketball school that decided to add football.  It takes time to build a team and tradition.  I played football for 4 years in High School and finished my senior year with a team that had 20 players total that  finished 2-8.  One of the problems over the years has been the unbelievable rapid growth at Live Oak.  When I graduated in 1980, there were probably less than 250 students in grades 9-12.  Today, there are over 1,200.   It seems that every time Live Oak moved up to a new classification, it took time to be competitive. Then when we did, we got moved up again, and the process started all over again. At one time, Live Oak held the longest active losing streak in the State of Louisiana at 25 straight games.  But, those days are apparently behind us.

Enter Coach Brett Beard. Coach Beard was named Head Coach at Live Oak in 2015.  He came to Live Oak after two successful years at Woodlawn High in Baton Rouge.  Who knows what makes the right coach the right fit for the right team at any given time. But, whatever it is, Coach Beard seems to have it.  In one season he has taken the Eagles into the “Golden Era” of Live Oak football.  The team believes.  The student body believes.  The community believes. I believe.

The student body at Live Oak has a cheer that comes from the student section at each game.  It goes like this, repeated several times:  “I BELIEVE THAT WE CAN WIN..I BELIEVE THAT WE CAN WIN!…”  Apparently, under the direction of Coach Beard, Live Oak’s football team also believes they can win.

The Eagles finished the regular season with a record of 6-4 (actually they really finished 7-3, as everyone with half a brain and two eyes knows, but that is another story).  Along the way, they have been competitive, motivated and fun to watch.  This season also saw a few firsts for Live Oak. In week 6, they beat upset Denham Springs, for the first ever win over the neighboring Yellow Jackets.  I guess the days of them referring to us a “Live Joke” are over for good.  Then, in week 10, the Eagles pulled another upset by beating Central, the perennial powerhouse right across the Amite River.  Another first.  Then, on Friday, the Eagles went on the road for the opening round of the playoffs and picked up their first ever post-season win by beating Ouchita Parish High 33-28.  Or, as one of my Facebook friends put, “Live Oak Shocks the World, Part 3!”

The game against OPHS was a barn burner and one of the best games I have ever seen at any level.  The Eagle fans traveled well and were there to cheer on the team.  The game started with Live Oak receiving the opening kick off.  The return man fumbled the ball and OPHS recovered it around the Live Oak 30 yard line.  Not exactly the way an underdog wants to start out on the road.  However, from the first play from scrimmage, it was apparent that the Eagles came to play.  The Eagle defense held, without giving up a score.  And from that point on, Live Oak brought the wood all night long. The Eagles pounded it out on offense, wearing down OP’s defense and keeping its high powered offense on the sideline. As the Monroe paper said on Saturday, Live Oak used its starting QB Dylan Wang like “a human battering ram.”  The Eagle defense was stout and stingy all night long. By the beginning of the second half, the OPHS coaching staff realized they were NOT going to run the ball on Live Oak.  Unlike some coaches at LSU, they knew that if you can’t run, you have to pass.  OPHS’s passing game opened things up in the second half and lead to some big scores.

Read more about it here:

Late in the second half, Wang was shaken up on a pass play and had to come out of the game.  Enter Ryan Morris.  Morris was Live Oak’s starting QB for most of the season, until he suffered a concussion in a very scary episode a couple of weeks before. Morris came in and was able to open up the passing game.  The leadership and change of strategy was just what the Eagles needed at that point.  The lead changed hands in the 4th quarter 4 times. The Eagles scored midway through the 4th, to trail 28-27.  The Eagles came back with a successful onside kick on the ensuing kickoff and drove 45 yards for the go ahead score to lead  33-28, with three minutes left to play.  But the game was far from over.

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The Eagle defense was still laying the leather to ’em, but along the way OPHS managed to convert on a 4th and 13 and eventually drove down to a 1st and goal at the 2 yard line, with :30 left. After a game which saw a total of 51 points scored, it was going to come down to whether or not the Live Oak defense could hold on 4 downs to seal the win. And they did. On first down, a dive on the middle was stopped for a one yard loss. OPHS clocked it on 2nd down to stop the clock. On 3rd down, they tried the middle of the line again, only to be stopped for no gain. At that point, OPHS called time out with :07 left in the game. The season was going to come down to one play. On 4th down, OPHS put in the “elephant package” and tried one more dive up the middle. Not only did the Eagles hold, they stopped the play 3 yards in the backfield and caused a fumble. Time expired. EAGLES WIN!

WATCH THE FINAL PLAY HERE!

So now, Live Oak, for the first time ever, gets host a home playoff game.  Friday night, the Eagles will line up against Number 9 ranked John Ehret right here in Watson!   People are paying attention now.  Even The Advocate published a nice story about the new feel around Live Oak.

Live Oak soars to new heights with playoff victory

Who knows what will happen Friday night.  Win or lose, it has been a great season at Live Oak High.  But my take is this:

I BELIEVE THAT WE CAN WIN!