Baker residents leave meeting with few answers on plane wreckage

Residents seeking answers to the city’s plans for a house wrecked by a plane seven months ago left a City Council meeting Tuesday night with more questions than answers, including whether their property was safe from spilled jet fuel.

Condemnation of the property at 5404 Rue Jennifer was on the agenda for discussion and possible action.

However, council members voted to defer the issue because the council voted unanimously in December to give the owner 90 days to provide the city with a plan for action for the home.

The house and property are owned by the Rev. Michael L. Smith, pastor of the New Covenant Christian Center on East Myrtle Avenue in Baker. The city asked Smith to attend Tuesday’s meeting but Smith did not show up. City officials called Smith and sent him a certified letter asking home to appear at Tuesday’s meeting, City Inspector Jack Gleason said.

Mayor Harold Rideau and residents who live in the neighborhood where the June plane crash occurred voiced concerns that nothing has been done to the house since the crash. The house’s garage is torn off and boarded up, and more than half of the roof is crushed in. The left side of the house is charred from fire and the backyard is littered with appliances and garbage bags filled with the personal belongings of the former residents.

Neighbors have complained about the house calling it an eyesore that is affecting their property values. They have also expressed concerns about possible safety issues the severely damaged property could produce.

Nobody in the neighborhood was injured as a result of the crash but the pilot, John Cary Fowler, 71, of Mississippi, was killed.

City Council member John Givens, who represents the neighborhood where the plane crash occurred, told the audience Tuesday that the issue would be dealt with as soon as possible and they were deferring the matter so city officials could talk to Smith.

But Givens also asked city officials Tuesday what the status was of leaked jet fuel from the plane on the soil.

That comment sparked alarm from neighbors Talona Wright, Vanessa Turner and Charles Jones.

Wright lives next door to the Smith property and her home was damaged in the plane crash as well.

Wright and her family, including two children, had to move out of their home over the summer while their house was renovated and repaired.

Wright and her family just moved back into the house in December but she said Tuesday nobody ever told her the status of jet fuel on the soil or whether it was safe to move back there.

“I have two kids, Nobody said anything about jet fuel,” Wright said after Tuesday’s meeting.

Turner, who lives behind the Smith property on Rue Nicole, said the plane did not hit her house but it landed in her yard leaving a gigantic hole.

She said Tuesday her insurance company would not take care of the hole and neither the plane’s owner or insurer has been in touch with her to address the issue.

Jones, who lives directly across the street from the Smith property, said he was not happy with the city’s decision to defer Tuesday because the house has been damaged for so long.

City Attorney Ken Fabre said in the meeting that he received a partial voice mail over the weekend from someone in New Orleans asking if the city took soil samples of the land.

Fabre said he didn’t have any other information about that call.

Baker Fire Chief Danny Edwards warned Rideau Tuesday that the city shouldn’t take a soil sample in the neighborhood because that would lead to the city having to deal with possible mitigation at the site. Edwards said the plane’s owner should be responsible for any possible clean up.