Daily Report

This Afternoon's Headlines / Fri, October 24, 2014

New CATS bus routes delayed by council deferral, Mirabito says

The three new routes CATS was hoping to implement next month may not be put in place until next year, the transit system announced this afternoon. The delay comes after the Metro Council on Wednesday postponed taking a vote on approving the routes for another 30 days.

“This decision is concerning, since the issues raised at the council meeting were not previously discussed with CATS,” CEO Bob Mirabito says in a news release.

The routes were based on “extensive customer feedback and system reviews,” the release from CATS stresses, and then vetted by three public meetings. But on Wednesday evening, the attorney for Secretary of State Tom Schedler's office, Wade Shows, told the council the new routes would further congest the hub outside the Old State Capitol, maintenance of which falls to the secretary.

Shows said buses are causing a danger by stopping in fire lanes and inhibiting the ability of school and tour buses to drop off visitors. According to the press release, CATS met with city-parish officials to negotiate where to move the hub that was formerly in front of Galvez Plaza. But the state never signed off on the transfer, Shows said Wednesday night. The council instructed Mirabito and Downtown Development District Executive Director Davis Rhorer to work out a better location for the hub.

“Bringing our riders into the heart of downtown is our ultimate goal for the routes served by this hub. The Old State Capitol was always meant to be a temporary solution, and our teams are continuing reviews of alternate sites for the long term,” Mirabito says in the release.

Rhorer suggested the hub move to River Road, but Mirabito said $500,000 would be necessary to finance a study into how that would affect the hub, a study that could take four months. CATS moved to a five-hub route system from a one-hub system in March. The three new routes—an LSU Express Route, a Nicholson Limited Route and a Garden District Trolley—would bring the total number of CATS routes to 33. —Kelly Connelly

'Daily Report' Week in Review: Metro Council OK's more annexations, while St. George proponents submit petition signatures, and much, much more

Big developments took place this week in the ongoing effort by some in the southeast portion of unincorporated East Baton Rouge Parish to incorporate a new city of St. George.

First, organizers of the St. George effort on Monday submitted more than 18,000 petition signatures to the East Baton Rouge Registrar of Voters office, potentially clearing the way for voters in unincorporated East Baton Rouge Parish to weigh in on the issue in an upcoming election. Tuesday was the deadline for submissions to be placed on the December ballot, though the registrar's office must still verify the petition signatures and determine roughly 16,500 are valid in order for a vote on the issue to go forward. (The threshold is slightly lower than previously reported because on Monday the Registrar's Office updated the St. George area's number of voters.) It remains unclear if the issue would appear on the December ballot if the signatures are verified, or if it would be pushed back to a ballot sometime next year.

Mary Olive Pierson, who has represented the city-parish in its legal battle with Woody Jenkins over the annexation of the Mall of Louisiana and other properties, says a suit will be filed soon to challenge the petition. But Metro Councilman Buddy Amoroso is raising questions about the role attorney Pierson is playing in the city-parish's legal attempts to fight the proposed incorporation.

On Wednesday, the Metro Council approved petitions to annex land from L'Auberge Casino & Hotel and the LSU south campus into the City of Baton Rouge, a move that strips at least $7 million from the roughly $80 million proposed budget of St. George. —Steve Sanoski Read the full story here.

'225': Hospital partners with farmer to bring local produce to employees

Imagine leaving work with everything you need to make a healthy dinner. As 225 reports in the current issue, that's the idea at the core of Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center's Farm to Work program, which launches this month. For 10 weeks, participants will bring home a box of seasonal produce grown and harvested by Ponchatoula farmer and Red Stick Farmers Market vendor Eric Morrow.

Organizer Judy Deshotels says the program is an extension of the farm-to-table idea and encourages better eating. In addition, the hospital has already launched its own workplace garden and hosted onsite farmers markets. Unlike other community-supported agriculture programs, the OLOL Farm to Work program functions within an institution, enabling large numbers of people to take advantage of local foods while allowing a farmer to significantly grow this aspect of his or her business. The program is being conducted with help from BREADA.

"Each box is an education piece on what's grown locally," says BREADA Executive Director Copper Alvarez. "We're excited about this project. It could be a real jumping off point for other institutions." Read the full feature.

Key testimony in BP oil spill ruling wasn't excluded, DOJ says

The Justice Department says there's ample evidence for a federal judge's decision that BP acted recklessly in the lead-up to the 2010 Gulf oil spill, and that BP's request for a new trial should be denied. As FuelFix.com reports, in a response to BP's efforts to unravel the judge's 153-page “gross negligence” ruling, the federal prosecutors argued in court documents Thursday that BP had waived its objections to key evidence that BP now claims was excluded at trial.

That evidence played prominently in the judge's finding that BP, owner of the Macondo well, was grossly negligent, a ruling that raises the stakes for the oil major; if the judge later sides with prosecutors on how much oil spilled into the Gulf, BP could face $18 billion in pollution fines. Earlier this month, BP had argued U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier couldn't rely on testimony by petroleum engineer Gene Beck, who said data showed production casing at the bottom of BP's Macondo well was hit with 140,000 pounds of compressive force and was breached. The Deepwater Horizon disaster claimed the lives of 11 workers and spilled millions of barrels of oil into the ocean.

The London oil giant said it had objected at trial to that testimony because it wasn't included in the expert report Beck submitted as evidence on behalf of Halliburton, and its objections were sustained by the judge.

But the Justice Department attorneys wrote Thursday that at a trial in New Orleans last year, BP's attorney brought up the testimony in a cross examination, waiving its objections and re-introducing it as testimony. Halliburton argued the same in separate court documents filed Thursday. Read the full story.

Refiners along US Gulf Coast tested by weakest margins in a year

The weakest U.S. refining margins in a year are threatening to curb fuel production at plants in the nation's biggest refining corridor just as gasoline prices are nearing $3 for most Americans. Margins based on the Gulf Coast's benchmark oil, Light Louisiana Sweet, are the lowest this month since October 2013, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Gasoline in the region is near a four-year low and diesel is selling for the least since 2010, when seasonally adjusted. Refining profits are under pressure as competition from Russia and the Middle East threatens to reduce U.S. exports and a shortage of pipeline capacity shrinks the volume of fuel the Gulf can send to other parts of the country. The smaller margins may force refiners to cut output, slowing a decline in pump prices that has brought U.S. drivers closer to $3 a gallon gasoline than they've been in four years.

“We're building up inventories on the Gulf Coast,” says Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates LLC in Houston. “With the decline in gasoline and diesel margins, refiners on the Gulf Coast are going to look at whether they should be cutting crude rates.”

The 3-2-1 crack spread on the Gulf Coast, measuring the profitability of refining a barrel of Light Louisiana Sweet crude into two parts gasoline and one part diesel, has averaged $7.72 a barrel this month, the lowest since October 2013, and shrank to $4.43 on Oct. 22. Read the full story.

This year's La. soybean yield reported as one of the best

Most Louisiana farmers harvesting this year's soybean crop are reporting one of their best years, according to the LSU AgCenter's soybean specialist.
“This will be another record year in Louisiana for soybeans,” says Ron Levy, who recently spoke at the Evangeline Parish Rice and Soybean Advisory Committee meeting.

It's the third consecutive year that a record has been set. The state average yield will be 53-54 bushels per acre, Levy says. Louisiana farmers grew 1.4 million acres of soybeans this year, up by 300,000 acres from 2013.

Levy says several growers in north Louisiana have reported yields of 80 bushels an acre, and in northeast Louisiana some have even broken the 100-bushel mark on some fields. Prices for soybeans have fallen below $10 a bushel, but AgCenter economist Kurt Guidry says strong demand from China continues. The LSU AgCenter has the full story.

News roundup: Hollingsworth Richards Ford undertaking $2.1 million renovation … Harvey firm ranked No. 1 on new LSU 100 list … La. rig count declines by one on the week

A new look coming: Crews have begun work on a $2.1 million renovation of the Hollingsworth Richards Ford dealership at 7787 Florida Blvd. Work began earlier this month to modernize the exterior of the dealership, as well as its showroom and service areas. The dealership remains open as usual during the renovation. See a rendering of the renovated dealership.

Tigers to the top: Harvey-based Global Commerce and Services LLC, or GCS, a secured technology solutions company, has been revealed as the No. 1 firm on the new LSU 100: Fastest Growing Tiger Businesses for 2014. Entrepreneur and LSU Flores MBA Program graduate Joaneane Smith established GCS 14 years ago. She serves as president and chief executive officer. Smith is the first female to hold the top spot in LSU 100 history. LSU 100 is a listing of the top 100 businesses created or led by LSU graduates. See the complete 2014 LSU 100.

On the losing side: Oilfield services company Baker Hughes Inc. says the number of rigs exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. rose by nine this week to 1,927. In its weekly report, released today, the Houston firm says that 1,595 rigs were exploring for oil and 332 for gas. A year ago there were 1,738 active rigs. Of the major oil- and gas-producing states, Texas gained eight rigs, New Mexico increased its count by five and West Virginia was up three, while Arkansas, California and Ohio gained two apiece. Alaska was up one. Kansas declined by four, Pennsylvania was down three, Wyoming lost two and Colorado, Louisiana, North Dakota and Utah decreased by one each.
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