Daily Report

This Afternoon's Headlines / Thu, June 13, 2013


News alert: Fifth Circuit to hear Perkins Rowe appeal

The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to hear oral arguments in the nearly four-year-old foreclosure case of Perkins Rowe. The court today said it will set a hearing for the week of Aug. 5 to decide whether the U.S. district court had jurisdiction in the case. Attorneys for developer Tommy Spinosa, who owes some $200 million on the mixed-use development to a consortium of lenders led by KeyBank National Association, have argued repeatedly that the foreclosure suit should have been tried in state court. “We are glad we will have a chance to appeal our case and that our arguments on the issue of jurisdiction will finally be heard,” says Spinosa’s spokesman Jeff Wright. Officials with KeyBank could not be reached for comment. Perkins Rowe is scheduled to be put up for auction June 19 at a foreclosure sale. Sources familiar with the case say that auction is likely to be postponed for reasons unrelated to the appellate court’s actions. —Stephanie Riegel

News alert: Deceased identified after chemical plant explosion

Louisiana State Police have identified the person who was killed today in a chemical plant explosion at the Geismar facility owned by The Williams Companies, based in Tulsa, Okla. Zachary Green, 29, of Hammond, died in the blast. Troopers and company representatives have notified Green's next of kin. State Police have opened most roads in the area surrounding the affected plant. The section of La. 3115 between La. 30 and La. 75 near the plant remains closed as emergency personnel continue to investigate this morning's incident.

'Mass hysteria' follows explosion at Geismar

Details continue to emerge following this morning's ground-rattling explosion and major fire at a Geismar chemical plant, and the reported number of resulting injuries continues to climb. The Houston Chronicle reports one person died while dozens more have been injured. A previous wire report said at least two people had been killed.At least 37 people were taken to area hospitals by helicopter or ambulance, and another 24 with minor injuries were taken to a hospital by school bus, Clay Henry of Acadian Ambulance Service tells The Associated Press. State police Capt. Doug Cain confirms one body was found by hazardous materials crews going through the aftermath of the blast at the facility owned by The Williams Companies, based in Tulsa, Okla. The plant is in a sparsely populated area about 20 miles from Baton Rouge, with few homes nearby. Cain says it was unlikely anyone lived within a couple of miles of the plant. The company says the blast happened at 8:37 a.m. at the plant in an industrial area of Geismar. The cause was not immediately known. The FBI says terrorism is not suspected. A contract worker, Daniel Cuthbertson, 34, described a scene of "mass hysteria" immediately after the explosion, with workers scrambling over gates to get out of the plant. "God was with me today because I know when I looked back, I barely made it. I know somebody was hurt. There's no way everybody escaped that," says Cuthbertson, who was interviewed at an emergency staging area about two miles from the plant. More details can be found in the full story here.

Editor's note: This story has been changed since its original publication due to updated information.

Will anyone save LA Swift?

The LA Swift Baton Rouge-New Orleans bus service is scheduled to end at the end of June. There's still time to save it, but someone's going to have to come up with the money. DOTD says a $750,000 annual local match is needed to replace a reduction in available federal funds. No state money has been allocated for that purpose. "If a local entity would like to enter into a contract to continue services starting July 1, federal funds may be available to them," DOTD says. "Additionally, Greyhound provides a self-sustaining bus service between New Orleans and Baton Rouge." Callen Hotard, CEO of service provider Hotard Coaches, says adjustments to the contract could slash the local cost in half. So far, no funding source has been identified, but supporters of the service say they haven't given up. "A lot of people still see LA Swift as something that came after Katrina so people could commute into New Orleans," says BRAC spokesman Phillip LaFargue. "It's about connecting these two economies. It's one prong in a super-regional approach to economic development." Round-trip tickets on LA Swift are $10, although a recent survey indicates riders would be willing to pay more. By Greyhound, a round trip costs $24 in advance or $44 standard fare. —David Jacobs

Council OK's private sewer district for Harveston subdivison

Despite some objections, the Metro Council has overwhelmingly approved the creation of a private sewer district to serve the 1,600-acre Harveston development being built at Nicholson Drive and Bluebonnet Boulevard. Creating a separate sewer district, which would be the first in the parish, will allow developers to avoid paying sewage impact fees to the city-parish. Councilman Ryan Heck, who cast the lone dissenting vote, questioned why the developers could not tie into a new city parish sewer line that runs down Nicholson and serves residents of the nearby University Club Plantation development. That recently completed line was constructed with the intention of serving future developments along the Nicholson corridor. But Harveston developers Mike Wampold and John Fetzer say the initial phase of the Harveston sewer district is not close to the existing sewer lines. "There is no requirement, on the part of the developer, to tie in," says Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards. "And so why are we even debating this? It should be the election of the developer. … If we as a city have no liability and no losses … why are we even debating it?" Councilman John Delgado says forcing Wampold and Fetzer to tie into the city's system would be "like a greedy city chasing after impact fees." "Quite honestly, I think that we can't put it any other way," he says. "We're trying to get this developer's money if we force them to tie into our sewer system." The Metro Council on Wednesday also approved three new property tax renewals, still to be approved by voters on an Oct. 19 ballot. Those taxes would be dedicated to the Department of Emergency Medical Services and fire protection districts in Central and Brownfield for the next decade. —April Castro

Walmart Super Center to break ground this month

Walmart will break ground later this month on a long-planned Walmart Super Center on Bluebonnet Boulevard and Burbank Drive. A company spokeswoman tells Daily Report that Clark Construction Inc. of McComb, Miss., has been awarded the contract to build the 150,000-square-foot structure, which is scheduled to open in summer 2014. Construction for the project was previously estimated at around $7 million, with a total project cost of more than $11 million. Spokeswoman Erica Jones could not confirm those estimates today. The Walmart Super Center—which is the latest of several key retail and residential projects in the burgeoning south Baton Rouge area—was first announced in 2008 but tabled for several years because of the recession. Earlier this year, Walmart put the project out to bid, though sources tell Daily Report that it was later re-bid because the initial estimates came in too high. Clark Construction has considerable experience building Walmart outlets. According to the company's website, it has completed 57 Walmart stores since 1987, totaling more than $265 million. —Stephanie Riegel

Jenkins bids colleagues at LSU goodbye, comments on session

As Interim LSU President and Chancellor William Jenkins prepares to hand over the reins to F. King Alexander—who begins the job on July 1—he sent out a "final message" today to his colleagues and updated them on the recently ended legislative session. While Jenkins says there is still post-session work to be done on House Bill 1, the state's general appropriations bill, it appears LSU's state support will be about what was envisioned in Gov. Bobby Jindal's proposed budget. "The documents reflect an increase in LSU's overall budget of some $4.6 million, but in actuality, the university faces an approximate budget shortfall of $20 million due to financial aid, mandated costs, and other adjustments," Jenkins says. "The Legislature has appropriated an additional $10 million to the LSU System for distribution, but it is undetermined how those funds will be allocated at this time." In the email, Jenkins also touches on several other bills affecting the LSU System and its employees. You can see the entire email here. In bidding goodbye to his colleagues, Jenkins asks that they "take personal action to share the good works of LSU with the rest of the world." He says it "simply is not enough to wear purple and gold and cheer—you must speak with people to let them know the importance of having a flagship research university. Without your participation, LSU will never have the resources or the support it needs and deserves to truly thrive."

Sen. Mary Landrieu's son arrested on DWI, hit-and-run charges

Frank "Connor" Snellings, 21, the son of Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, was arrested this morning on charges of driving while intoxicated, hit-and-run driving, and driving the wrong way on a one-way street in the French Quarter, the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office tells The Times-Picayune. The car Snellings was driving hit a pedestrian, who was not seriously injured, according to the sheriff's report. Snellings and a passenger in his car were not hurt. "We love our son wholeheartedly, but we are extremely disappointed by his irresponsible actions last night," Sen. Landrieu said when reached by the newspaper today. "These actions have serious consequences both at home and in our legal system." Landrieu is asking people "to respect his privacy as we work through this challenging time for our family." The passenger in the vehicle has not been identified. The sheriff's report says Snellings also was charged with possession of an alcoholic beverage in the car and with not maintaining proper control of the vehicle.

Sports roundup: Tigers said to be good enough to go 5-0 in College World Series … Cam Cameron receives Super Bowl ring, says he's focused on leading LSU offense ... Round 1 of U.S. Open hit with delays

Get right to the heart of matters: In a preview of the College World Series published today, ESPN says readers "need not be told the Tigers are talented enough to go 5-0 in Omaha and turn the event into little more than a few innings of sunbathing for seven other fan bases. You knew that already." However, ESPN also says fans can't ignore the obvious: that the No. 2 spot in LSU's pitching rotation "walks on stilts" and is going to be key to the Tigers' success or lack of success in Omaha. You can find the complete preview, which includes LSU and the seven other teams traveling to Nebraska this week, here.

Past, present and future: The small but heavy package arrived in Baton Rouge on Tuesday and was delivered around lunchtime, reports The Baltimore Sun. Cam Cameron ripped it open and gazed at his championship ring from Super Bowl XLVII—the one the Ravens went on to win after relieving him of his duties in December. While appreciative of his time in Baltimore and the gesture from the Ravens, Cameron says his total focus is now on the LSU Tigers' offense. "My family has adjusted. This is a great, great, great place," he says. "I have great memories from Baltimore, and I look forward to having great memories down here as well. It's all good." You can find the full story here.

Opening day: Clouds gave way to sun, squeegees gave way to putters, and the 13th hole gave way to birdies during the first round of the U.S. Open's return to Merion Golf Club. Drenching storms caused a 3.5-hour delay early today, halting play less than two hours after it began. When the golfers returned to the course, one thing was evident: A 102-yard hole was easy pickings for the world's best players. Nearly a quarter of the first 108 birdies scored were at the par-3 No. 13. The Associated Press has the full story here. Through 11 holes, LSU alum John Peterson was four-over-par and tied for 47th place overall. The full leader board is here.

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