Port Allen’s interim mayor works to beautify, cleanup city

Interim Mayor Lynn Robertson hasn’t let her brief stint in City Hall stop her from making some visible changes in the city.

The changes are a part of the city’s sweeping initiative to clean up blighted properties, spruce up major traffic corridors and repurpose the Port Allen Depot, a building deemed an eyesore by many city officials.

“I’m calling it ‘a little spring cleaning,’ ” Robertson said. “I just saw that these things needed to be addressed and there were so many issues last year that some of these things were just left unattended. Some of these neighborhoods have had to put up with blight for awhile, and I don’t think that’s fair.”

Robertson said the city spent approximately $10,000 landscaping trees along city streets, repairing broken electrical boxes and damaged street curbs on city rights of way, cleaning up trash in drainage ditches and even replacing the torn American flag that served as the city’s welcoming banner at The Depot.

Most of the beautification efforts, occurring around Court Street, La. 1 and the Old Ferry/riverfront areas, have been performed by city crews to minimize costs.

The city is seeking estimates to add landscaping and replant flowers and shrubs throughout the city — including at Old Ferry Landing Park.

On March 28, a contractor will begin repainting the Port Allen Depot.

The Depot was once a jewel of West Baton Rouge Parish’s tourism industry when it served as a welcome center and interactive railroad museum. The structure, along La. 1, has been on the decline since 2005 and has become an eyesore due to vandalism.

Part of its revitalization includes hiring a new city inspector who will work full-time at the Depot.

The City Council on Feb. 12 gave Robertson the green light to create the position.

“I’m expecting whoever it is to be someone that will work with the schools to bring more programs back to the Depot and really bring it up to code so that it can once again be an education site for the community and for visitors,” Councilwoman Ray Helen Lawrence said.

But the city’s efforts won’t stop there.

The city also mailed out 68 letters ordering property owners to remove dilapidated cars off their properties.

The city’s aggressive beautification and cleanup campaign is driven by its Master Plan Committee, a group of citizens and city leaders, including Lawrence and Councilman Brandon Brown, tasked by former Mayor Roger Bergeron to help Environmental Resources Management develop Port Allen’s ambitious master plan.

The comprehensive document, which was completed in 2012, now serves as the city’s road map for future growth and development. But the committee that helped draft it has been inactive since the document was completed.

Robertson re-engaged the committee after she was appointed interim mayor to help develop a working list of projects she could address while in office.

“The recession played a part in not having the funds to do what we are doing now,” Robertson said. “I have always been a proponent of getting rid of blight in the community. And some of these items are things I wanted to accomplish before I left office.”

Robertson returned to City Hall in December after Gov. Bobby Jindal appointed her as interim mayor in the wake of former mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter’s recall from office.

Robertson served as the city’s first woman mayor from 1993 to 2004.

Her temporary role as mayor is winding down as the city’s April 5 special election to select a new mayor draws closer. Early voting kicked off March 22.

Four people are vying for the mayor’s seat, including Slaughter.

Since returning to office, Robertson stated she had no desire to run for mayor again.

“I was realistic in what I thought I could accomplish in such a short period of time,” Robertson said. “A lot of what I’ve been able to do has involved working with the people and the City Council.”