BELLE CHASSE, La. - Libraries are important centers for any community.
But nearly nine years after Hurricane Katrina, Port Sulphur still doesn't have one. At least, not one that is permanent.
Currently, the only local library for children like Jaynee Saik, 8, of Port Sulphur, is housed in a small trailer.
Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser admits it’s not in good shape.
“I'm hoping the library could get bigger so we could have the yearly summer-reading program there instead of the YMCA,” said Saik.
The temporary trailer was set up after the library was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina. Since then, the Plaquemines Parish government has fought a long internal battle over where a new library should go and how much it should cost.
Dozens of communities members packed a special council meeting on the topic Wednesday night. It grew so heated that deputies had to step in.
Passions flared over how to use $2 million in FEMA funding set aside in 2009 for an extension of the library.
The parish was set to lose the money by the end of the month if it couldn’t show that the library was under design and approved for construction. And the council said, it couldn’t make that timeline.
The other option was to reallocate the funds to another parish project.
The council ultimately voted 7-1 to move the funds to help build levees in Braithwaite.
Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser had hoped to use the money toward construction of a new governmental complex in Belle Chasse.
“Every time we get some money, we put it to use in renovating one of those buildings,” said Nungesser.
Councilman Burghart Turner represents District 6, which includes Port Sulphur. His was the only “no” vote.
“This is criminal. It's shameful. Only in my district,” said Turner.
Turner said Nungesser has repeatedly taken money from his district and used it elsewhere in the parish.
But Nungesser said Turner is to blame for blocking plans to rebuild the library in its original location in favor of a bigger, pricier proposal at a different location.
“There's one reason there's no library in Port Sulphur,” said Nungesser. “Councilman Turner.”
The council sued Nungesser several years ago over the proposed library location and won. Turner was named as the FEMA applicant for the Port Sulphur library, which was proposed for construction near the alternative school in Port Sulphur.
Turner voted against a council proposal to build a $250,000 library, which could have been eligible for the $2 million extension with FEMA funds.
Turner said $250,000 was not enough to build an adequate library for the area.
Nungesser said District 6 has lost about half of its population since Katrina.
Meanwhile, as officials squabble over the site and size of a new library, those like Jaynee Saik are left without one.
Nungesser said, despite the vote, he’s hopeful Port Sulphur will get a new library in the future.