As controversy over the potential relocation of the BREC Baton Rouge Zoo intensifies, the Louisiana Legislature is getting in on the debate.
State Rep. Barbara Carpenter, a Democrat whose north Baton Rouge district includes the zoo’s current home in Greenwood Park, has filed a bill for the upcoming legislative session that would prohibit BREC from moving the zoo out of north Baton Rouge.
House Bill 481 would amend the state law that created BREC, prohibiting the commission from “acquiring, leasing, developing, operating or managing” … a zoo unless it is located in a certain 600-acre area in north Baton Rouge.
The proposed legislation describes that area as bounded by Thomas Road, Highway 19, Lavey Lane and Plank Road, which comprises primarily Greenwood Park.
Carpenter says she filed the bill because she opposes the zoo move and believes BREC is ignoring the concerns and wishes of her constituents, who also want the attraction to remain in north Baton Rouge.
“I’ve attended many of the sessions with the dog and pony show, if you will, and BREC never allows the public really to have the input, and people who oppose this move are shut down,” Carpenter says. “I’ve been shut down, too, and I just thought it was a bit disgusting so I decided enough was enough. I might go down, but not without a fight.”
A BREC spokeswoman says the commission has not seen the bill and therefore cannot comment on it.
Previously, BREC’s leadership has said in order for the zoo to have long-term financial sustainability it must be relocated to a more commercially viable portion of the parish. The BREC administration is currently pushing the Fairgrounds on Airline Highway, which BREC owns, as a new site.
Carpenter says her bill has the support of the mayors of Baker, Central and Zachary in north Baton Rouge as well as Mayor Sharon Weston Broome. More importantly, though, she believes she has support from enough of her fellow legislators to pass the measure, which must first be heard by the House Municipal and Governmental Affairs Committee.
State Sen. Regina Barrow, D-B.R., who also represents the area that is home to the zoo, is supporting the bill, Carpenter says.
Carpenter did not speak with the BREC administration before filing the bill March 2 because they have not been communicative with her, she says.
“BREC operates in its own lane, which is quite unfortunate because it’s taxpayer money they’re operating with,” she says.
Carpenter’s bill comes as opponents of the zoo move are preparing to hold the first of several community meetings tonight at 6 p.m. at the Zachary Library.