Louisiana loses about one football field worth of wetlands every 45 minutes. By the way, what are you doing with your old Christmas tree this year?
Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced today that the city will once again be collecting Christmas trees after the holidays to help protect the Louisiana coastline. Naked Christmas trees, without tinsel or other trimmings, will be picked up curbside on regularly scheduled recycling days Jan. 9, 10, and 11. The city won't take flocked or artificial trees, and nothing in plastic bags.
According to Tyler Gamble, a spokesperson for the mayor, more than 9,000 Christmas trees were collected in Orleans Parish last year and airlifted into the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge as part of program to create new marsh. The trees trap silt and help encourage the growth of marsh grasses.
"The Louisiana National Guard dropped the trees in pre-selected coastal zones as determined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service," Gamble said via email. "The strategic placement of trees in wetland habitats will stimulate the formation of new marsh, providing vital habitat to wintering waterfowl, wading birds and other wildlife. Over the past few years, this project has reestablished approximately 100 acres of marsh in Bayou Sauvage."
“New Orleans is earning a great reputation as an eco-friendly city, and this service is one of the ways our citizens can help protect and restore our environment," Landrieu said in a statement. "Together, we can save thousands of trees from being thrown out to waste and also provide critical support to help preserve our wetlands."
New Orleans Health Department Commissioner Karen DeSalvo announced she will join the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) next month. DeSalvo has been appointed National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, replacing acting head Jacob Reider, who himself replaced Farzad Mostashari in August.
DeSalvo joined Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration in 2011, and she led the Health Department grow Landrieu's public heath agenda — including expanding hospital and community clinic services through the innovative Greater New Orleans Community Health Connection program, in which Medicaid waivers help low-income patients connect with primary care physicians. DeSalvo implemented programs in the NOLA for Life program, from family and youth violence intervention and prevention and mental health counseling. She also has implemented a renewed domestic violence program, recently profiled by Gambit, and works in concert with criminal justice agencies to help victims and families. The department has secured several yearslong grants totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Before her gig with the Landrieu administration, DeSalvo served as a dean for community affairs and health policy at Tulane University's School of Medicine.
DeSalvo said in a statement, “It has been a tremendous honor and a life-changing experience to serve our community as Health Commissioner. ... Mayor Landrieu has been a true champion for health and I am grateful for his support and leadership throughout my appointment. Knowing firsthand the kind of focus this Administration has had on the public’s health, I remain optimistic that both now and in future generations, the health and lives of New Orleanians will continue to improve.”
Health department deputy director Charlotte Parent will step up to oversee the department.
More than 100 firefighters gathered outside City Hall Oct. 25 before the New Orleans City Council began its budget hearings for the New Orleans Fire Department (NOFD). Wearing yellow shirts bearing the International Association of Fire Fighters union insignia and the phrase “Support New Orleans Firefighters,” the attendees rallied as speakers in the bed of a nearby truck blasted Bruce Springsteen’s cover of “Pay Me My Money Down,” and other firefighters and their supporters waved signs as cars drove past on Perdido Street.
At the crux of the union’s concerns with the NOFD’s $86.2 million budget is staffing, and whether NOFD Superintendent Timothy McConnell is properly budgeted to safely staff stations and engines throughout the city. City Council President Jackie Clarkson’s first question to McConnell was whether he has adequate staff. He answered “yes” — which was met with boos from the firefighters and their supporters in the audience.
(Before the hearing outside City Hall, firefighters chanted, “If you don’t have four, you need more,” referring to fewer than four firefighters operating trucks at first response scenes. NOFD institutes a “two in, two out” policy where two firefighters manage the scene while the others operate the truck.)
“Every department would love to have more staff,” McConnell told the council. “We can keep the city safe in this budget.”
Though Broadway's bright light Kristin Chenoweth tried to steal the show at the grand opening of the Saenger Theatre Saturday - and with her enormous voice and crackling jokes, she certainly could have - the real star of the gala was the building that contained it.
The seats were nearly full for the opening gala, which celebrated the $5.2 million restoration that brought the theater back after Hurricane Katrina and the levee failure of 2005. Though a soft opening invited Comedian Jerry Seinfeld to the newly refurbished stage at the end of September, Chenoweth reigned over the grand opening with a set of show tunes, both new and old, that audiences could have sung along to if they'd wanted (and many did). It was a set perfectly timed invoke nostalgia, with songs like "Que Sera Sera," and "Feed the Birds." Many were back in the Saenger for the first time since the storm, delighted by its plush seats, stellar acoustics and cloudy, twinkling sky.
Casey Dietz, who came to shows at the Saenger as a kid, said she was impressed by how crisp the old venue looked. "I hoped it would look this good," she said. William Sonner and Michael Gallaugher were also in the building pre-Katrina, and neither could believe how well the renovation turned out. "It didn't disappoint," said Gallaugher.
Chenoweth is a national act, but she was remarkably deft at appropriating her show to a local audience. She name-dropped local venues, like the bar Oz, and she ended the show wearing the number 37 Saints jersey of Steve Gleason, who was also in the audience. She fought on stage with a puppet claiming to be the queen of carnival and she repeatedly applauded the rebuilding efforts that reconstructed the Saenger and the city as a whole.
A series of almost embarrassingly sincere moments took hold of Chenoweth's second act. First, just before performing the song "Popular," which the former Glenda the Good Witch sang in English, Japanese and German, Chenoweth invited two fans on stage. The entire audience watched as a man in tears got down on one knee and proposed to his longtime partner (who said yes). Next, Chenoweth called out for a duet partner for the song "For Good," also from Wicked. That honor was granted to the 14-year-old Brogan Hausknecht, a student at St. Mary's Dominican High School.
Chenoweth declared that she had not only fallen in love with the City of New Orleans, but also the mayor of New Orleans, though "not in a naughty way." In a surprise grand finale, Mayor Mitch Landrieu took the stage, accompanied by the Tony award winner Michael Cerveris, to sing the Epilogue from the musical Les Miserable. Landrieu held his own in a short solo, before being joined by the Delgado Community College Choir, the Gay Men's Choir and the Symphony Chorus of New Orleans.
The Saenger Theatre opened its doors today for the first time since Hurricane Katrina closed the Canal Street landmark in 2005. Under new twinkling fiber optic ceiling stars — part of a $52 million renovation — Mayor Mitch Landrieu proclaimed the project a symbol “of resurrection, redemption, resilience, of building the city not back the way she was but the way she should have always been.”
The Saenger was built in 1927 and the team of public-private entities responsible for its renovation, including the Canal Street Development Corporation, Ace Theatrical Group and the City of New Orleans, restored the building to reflect the original, with modern accoutrements like an expanded stage. The inside is complete with the dashing red carpet reminiscent of the original, and everything from the chandeliers to the paint scheme was researched for historical accuracy and constructed to reflect the building’s original interior. “All of the work that you see here is a reincarnation of the original designs and the original paintings,” Landrieu said.
The Saenger will host a slew of Broadway shows, musical, comedic and stage acts, including a grand opening performance by Kristin Chenoweth and the Louisiana Philharmonic Oct. 5. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld performs three shows during this weekend’s soft opening. New Orleans is the third largest producer of Hollywood films, behind New York and Los Angeles, thanks to film credits offered by the state and will have an originating tax credit for Broadway productions as well, Landrieu said, “because, in order for this thing to work, these seats have to be full, and the productions have to be great.”
Broadway Across America President Lauren Reid said “New Orleans will now be a destination for Broadway’s best and brightest.”
Though the opening is one of the most anticipated post-Katrina rebuilding efforts and a linchpin of the Canal Street corridor rehabilitation, Landrieu said “there’s other stuff going on. This is not the only thing that’s happening as you think about what is occurring just in this general space, in these two square miles. You have the VA and UMC hospitals, $2 million coming out of the ground as we speak.”
New Orleans City Council President Jackie Clarkson was in the Saenger for her fifth birthday, before World War II. “Thanks for the memories,” she said. “Many a tale has been woven in this edifice.”
After dozens of stakeholders squeezed behind a gold ribbon for a photo-op, the curtains of the Saenger opened to display its historic SAENGER letters, lighted and floating on the newly revealed stage. “You have this before you today,” Landrieu said. “It’s a gift to the people of the city of New Orleans.”
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