Plan to improve CATS includes new bus lines, transfer centers, expanded service
CATS CEO Brian Marshall presented his long-awaited business plan today for upgrading and improving services to the city's bus system. Among the highlights: establishing three new transfer centers; creating new express lines; bringing service to currently underserved areas; reducing wait times at bus stops; using GPS tracking to make routes and exact arrival times accessible via mobile devices; and increasing the number of bus stop shelters. The three-year plan makes use of the controversial 10-year, 10.6-mill property tax approved last spring by voters in Baton Rouge and Baker. A significant part of Marshall's plan is the hiring of an outside program manager to oversee the implementation of the upgrades and improvements. CATS board Chairman Isaiah Marshall, no relation to Brian Marshall, says that manager might be an individual or a firm. Isaiah Marshall says the board also plans to hire a chief operating officer and a human resources manager. Brian Marshall's plan also calls for hiring a public relations firm, which drew questions today from some CATS board members. The CEO defended the decision, saying a public relations firm is needed to survey the public and help determine new routes and preferred bus shelter amenities. "The easiest way to fail is to not have public input," he says. You can look at the complete report here. —April Castro
Former Stella site to become new restaurant
Plans are under way for a new beer and pizza joint at the site of the former Stella Boutique on Perkins Road, which closed earlier this year. The restaurant will be called Ice House Coal Fired Pizza and Pizzeria and, as its name implies, will feature a coal-fired oven with handmade pizzas and more than 40 brands of beer, according to New Orleans businessman Jack Rizzuto, who hopes to open the new establishment in 90-120 days. Before that can happen, Rizzuto must first renovate the 2,500-square-foot building, which is located in the popular Perkins Road overpass neighborhood. He also has to get permission from the Planning Commission to change the zoning at the site from C-1, or commercial, to CAB-1, which will allow him to serve alcohol on the premises. The Planning Commission is scheduled to take up the matter at its regular monthly meeting in April. "We think it's a great location," says Rizzuto, whose Ice House will be joining nearly a dozen other restaurants in a six-block strip. It will be Rizzuto's first restaurant in Baton Rouge. He owns Jester Mardi Gras Daiquiris in the 200 block of Bourbon Street in New Orleans, as well as a second location in Destin, Fla., and says he's also in the process of opening an Ice House Coal Fired Pizza restaurant on Magazine Street in New Orleans. —Stephanie Riegel
$150M petrochemical products facility to be built in Baton Rouge
Katoen Natie USA announced plans today to build a $150 million plastics storage, custom packaging and distribution facility for producers of petrochemical products in Baton Rouge. To announce the project, Gov. Bobby Jindal joined company officials, who say it will create 210 new direct jobs and 561 indirect jobs. Another 150 jobs in construction are forecast to be created by the development of the complex, whose 2 million square feet will be situated on a 127-acre site off Scenic Highway, just north of the Capital City. CRA Engineering Group of Baton Rouge is designing the complex, which will include an extensive rail yard and 6-acre detention pond, officials say. Katoen Natie—which is headquartered in Belgium but bases its U.S. operations out of Houston—expects to complete the first phase of construction by the end of the year. The entire facility, however, is not expected to be complete until 2018. "This state-of-the-art facility will help absorb the increasing production capacity of our customers, which is in relation to the shale gas growth in the U.S.," says Frank Vingerhoets, Katoen Natie’s president of petrochemicals in North America. "The cooperation with the local authorities has been great, and their efforts have contributed to our decision to invest in the Baton Rouge area." State officials say they began working with Katoen Natie on the new project in February 2012. The company is expected to utilize Louisiana’s Quality Jobs and Industrial Tax Exemption incentives, as well as the LED FastStart workforce development program. You can find more details on today’s announcement at the governor’s website here.
New emissions rules take effect at Big Cajun II
A record-setting agreement over pollution emissions from the Big Cajun II coal-fired power plant in New Roads becomes effective today, following U.S. District Judge James Brady's signing off Tuesday on the settlement between NRG Energy's subsidiary Louisiana Generating, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice. The largest Clean Air Act settlement in state history requires Louisiana Generating, which has owned Big Cajun II for more than a decade, to spend $250 million to reduce air pollution through 2015, with further reductions by 2025. The company will also pay a civil fine of $3.5 million—half of which will go to Louisiana for environmentally friendly measures—and spend $10.5 million on environmental mitigation projects. Officials say a combination of new pollution controls, natural gas conversion and annual emission caps will eliminate 27,300 tons of harmful emissions, such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, each year. "The Big Cajun II Power Plant is the largest source of illegal air pollution in Louisiana," Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division, said when the consent decree was drafted in November. "The settlement will secure substantial reductions in harmful emissions from the plant, which will have a beneficial impact on air quality for residents of Louisiana and downwind states." The EPA began its investigation of Big Cajun II, one of Pointe Coupee Parish's largest employers, in 2004. The government filed its civil complaint in Baton Rouge federal court in 2009. —Penny Font
B.R. gets $45M loan from DEQ for sewerage upgrades
Baton Rouge received a $45 million loan from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality today for sewerage work planned as part of the city-parish's $1.55 billion Sanity Sewer Overflow program. Specifically, the loan will fund the repair of leaking and broken sewer collection lines, as well as the construction of the Choctaw Sewer Collection Maintenance Facility, which will consolidate several operational facilities within the sewer system, DEQ says. The project also includes improvements at the North Wastewater Treatment Plant. The loan carries a 0.95% interest rate on a 20-year repayment term. "This low-cost loan is the result of our continuing efforts to find inexpensive financing to rehabilitate the sewer system," says Mayor Kip Holden in a press release. Like conventional bonds that are also being used for the SSO program, city officials say the loan obtained today via DEQ's Revolving Fund Loan Program will be paid back with revenues from monthly sewer fees and the half-cent sales tax dedicated to sewer improvements.
Jindal sidesteps questions about sinkhole visit
Gov. Bobby Jindal today dodged questions about whether he'll visit the site of a massive sinkhole that has swallowed 9 acres of land in swampy Assumption Parish, The Associated Press reports. Residents displaced since August have criticized the governor for never having traveled to see the sinkhole or speak with the families. Asked today if he'll go to the site, Jindal reiterated that he is getting constant updates from state agencies overseeing response efforts. He pledged to hold Houston-based Texas Brine accountable for the damage and to make sure people are compensated for their losses. But the governor wouldn't directly answer repeated questions about checking out the sinkhole in person. Scientists say the sinkhole formed following the failure of an underground salt cavern operated by Texas Brine, which extracted brine and piped it to nearby petrochemical facilities.
Make your nominations for the 2013 Influential Women in Business awards
Nominations are open for the 2013 Influential Women in Business awards, presented by Business Report, and they'll be accepted online here through April 5. Nominations submitted in another format will not be considered. To be eligible for selection, a nominee must be a business owner or top manager; must have a noticeable impact on the business or her industry; must have a clear vision for the future that has been communicated to staff members; and the business, industry or organization should fit into one of the following categories: retail/wholesale, health care, finance, professional, telecommunications/technology, manufacturing/industry, transportation, communications, nonprofits, government or education. The winners will be featured in the May 28 issue of Business Report. You can read the profiles of the 2012 Influential Women in Business honorees here, and see a listing of all the award winners dating back to 1997 here.
News roundup: Groovin' on the Grounds announces 2013 lineup …. SeNSE hosts Pitch Night event Thursday … No pressure to cut corners, BP veteran testifies in Gulf oil spill trial
Feelin' groovy: This year's annual Groovin' on the Grounds concert on the LSU Parade Ground will feature a heavy dose of hip-hop and rock music. Rapper Lupe Fiasco will headline this year's free concert, while rock band Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Alabama rapper Yelawolf and LSU Battle of the Bands winner Levee Daze will also perform. The lineup was announced today, and the concert will take place on Saturday, April 13.
Here's the pitch: Three local entrepreneurs will have 10 minutes to pitch their best business idea to a panel of judges and live audience on Thursday as part of a SeNSE Pitch Night event at The Lyceum in downtown Baton Rouge. Entrepreneurs from BetterNumbers.net, iPAR and Pixel Dash Studios will compete. The event is from 6 to 8 p.m. You can get complete details and reserve a spot here.
Under oath: Despite indications that the ill-fated Macondo well was over budget and behind schedule, BP's most respected presence on the Deepwater Horizon testified today that he was not under pressure to pick up the pace or cut costs, The Times-Picayune reports. "I am out there to do a job, and I don't believe in pushing people to keep schedules, and I'm just not going to do it, especially when safety's involved," BP veteran Ronnie Sepulvado told the court. Read the full story here.