Daily Report

This Afternoon's Headlines / Thu, July 31, 2014

Monsour says redevelopment authority funding to run out by end of next year

While the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority is moving forward with plans for the redevelopment of the old Entergy site on Government Street and also getting ready to begin construction on Ardendale—the RDA board is scheduled to approve a contract for infrastructure work at its Aug. 18 meeting—the agency's funding remains in limbo. The RDA has about $1.5 million, which is enough money to keep its doors open through 2015. After that it will have to find a permanent source of funding to cover both operations and project costs. "If we've got 18 months of funding to keep us in business, we—the board and the community—have to collectively identify how the RDA is going to be funded," says RDA President and CEO Walter Monsour. "So far, all of our programs have been funded with grants or Community Development Block Grant funds or Gustav funds, and while RDAs certainly need to have access to grants no RDA can live off of grants alone to fund their programs." As Monsour has said repeatedly over the past two years, the RDA needs a constant revenue stream that can be used to jump-start projects like Ardendale or the Entergy site redevelopment, now called 1509 Government. In the past, Monsour has suggested such a revenue stream could come from tax increment financing, a bond issue or some other sort of dedicated tax. None of those ideas has ever been formally presented to the city-parish, however. Monsour says he believes the RDA board will begin to look at the issue in earnest this fall. "We think we have made a significant impact on the community in the short time we have been in existence," he says. "Now it's time for the community to decide how we should move forward." —Stephanie Riegel

BR insurer being acquired by Calif. company for $35M

Baton Rouge-based Stonetrust Commercial Mutual Insurance Holding Co. announced today that it's being acquired for $35 million by Irvine, California-based Dhandho Holdings LP and Dhandho Holdings Qualified Purchaser LP. Stonetrust is the parent company of Stonetrust Commercial Insurance Co., which provides workers' compensation and employers' liability insurance coverage to over 5,100 policyholders in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas. The $35 million cash acquisition will include Stonetrust Commercial Mutual Insurance Holding Co., Stonetrust Commercial Insurance Co. and Stonetrust Realty LLC, as well as Stonetrust Management Services LLC, the independently owned managing general agent. Once the deal is finalized—which is expected in the next 90 days, pending approval of policyholders and the Louisiana Department of Insurance—the Stonetrust companies will become subsidiaries of a new stock holding company created by the Dhandho partnership. Stonetrust operations will remain unchanged and continue to be headquartered in Baton Rouge under current president and CEO Tim Dietrich. Stonetrust says Dhandho has further agreed to infuse an additional $30 million capital contribution into Stonetrust Commercial Insurance Co., thereby doubling total surplus to over $60 million and providing an immediate boost to its premium to surplus ratio. Stonetrust was founded in 1993. Get more details on today's announcement. —Steve Sanoski

Methanex expects Geismar production to begin late this year

In a quarterly report released today, Vancouver-based Methanex says it continues to make progress in relocating two idle plants in Chile to Geismar and anticipates it will begin producing methnol from the first plant "in late 2014." Production from the second relocated facility is expected in early 2016, says Methanex, the world's largest supplier of methanol. During the second quarter, Methanex reports capital spending on the relocation projects at $100 million, barring capitalized interest. The company reported profit of $125 million, or $1.24 per share, in second-quarter 2014, a more than two-fold year-over-year rise from $54 million, or 56 cents per share, a year ago. In late January, the company announced in a quarterly report that it had met an "important milestone" in the relocation of the two plants, which was having moved all "major equipment pieces" to the site of the first Geismar plant. In late March, Methanex President and CEO John Floren said at the Methanol Policy Forum in Washington, D.C., that the company is considering relocating a third plant to Geismar. However, the quarterly report released today does not mention the possibility of a third plant being relocated. —Steve Sanoski

More La. high school students earning college credits

The number of college credits Louisiana high school students earned this school year through Advanced Placement exams was nearly 25% higher than the previous year, the Louisiana Department of Education announced today. That means more than 1,250 additional college credits were earned by students, compared to 2013, which pushed total credits earned to an all-time high, the department says. Students scored high enough on AP exams to earn 6,410 college credits in 2014, compared to 5,144 in 2013 and 4,112 in 2012. The data released today also show more high school students are taking AP courses and exams, with 28,009 course enrollments in 2014, compared to 23,485 enrollments in 2013. The department says studies show that students who take AP courses and exams are better prepared for college-level courses, more likely to graduate college within four to five years and are more competitive in qualifying for scholarships. The department has more details on AP course participation and exam results. —Steve Sanoski

Jindal sends Obama letter in search of details on immigrant children in La.

Gov. Bobby Jindal is blasting President Barack Obama's administration for providing few details to Louisiana officials about the more than 1,000 unaccompanied immigrant children who have been released to sponsors here. The Associated Press reports Jindal sent a letter today to the president, saying placement of the children in Louisiana could have "potential negative ramifications." The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services posted data on its website showing that sponsors in Louisiana received 1,071 of the more than 30,000 unaccompanied children who crossed the U.S. border from Jan. 1 to July 7. Jindal says state officials should have been consulted, to deal with child safety and welfare issues, including where the children will be housed in a hurricane evacuation, whether they received medical screenings and how many more Louisiana may receive.

551 new laws take effect Friday in La.

Slug a referee at your child's sports game? You'll face jail time. Sixteen and trying to improve your tan? You'll have to head outside because minors are barred from the tanning bed. Want to snoop in your employee's social media accounts? You'll hit roadblocks. The Associated Press reports those are among 551 new laws on the books that take effect Friday, passed by lawmakers in the legislative session that ended in June. Many laws are minor, like naming the mayhaw tree as Louisiana's official state fruit tree and offering new specialized license plates for U.S. Army Rangers, supporters of artist George Rodrigue, Louisiana "master gardeners" and NRA members. Other new or rewritten statutes impact health care options, change educational programs and reach into people's everyday activities. Many of the laws focus on crime. Louisiana's ban on cockfighting has been broadened to sweep in more types of birds and to criminalize the buying and selling of the spurs and knives used in the chicken-fights. Aiming a laser at an aircraft and flying drones over chemical plants are newly prohibited, carrying possible prison sentences for violators. Jail time is now required for parents who attack referees at their children's football games, soccer matches and other athletic events. The bill by Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, set a minimum sentence of five days in jail—or 10 days if the referee is seriously injured. A package of law changes were aimed at helping domestic violence victims in a state that leads the nation in domestic abuse deaths. Read the full story.

News roundup: Water Institute of the Gulf expands partnerships in Latin America … Baton Rouge area among best in US for construction jobs in June … Public Service Commission signs off on $315M in bond sales

Across an ocean: The Water Institute of the Gulf announced plans today to expand its partnership with international peers and provide viable solutions to community resilience challenges—primarily regarding disasters—in Latin America. The Baton Rouge-based institute says the objective of the partnership is to establish a program to improve community resilience in Latin America by developing tools for communities to use to cope with extreme events like floods and landslides. It is also focused on developing and discovering methods to sustain coastal communities, as well as developing tools that are exportable to other places around the world. The institute has more details on the partnership.

Building it up: The Baton Rouge metro area added 5,900 construction jobs in June—the fourth largest employment gain among the nation's 339 largest metro areas—and an increase of 13% over total construction employment in June last year. By percentage increase, Baton Rouge was ranked No. 18 in the nation. Construction employment expanded in 215 metro areas, declined in 80 and was stagnant in 44 between June 2013 and last month, according to the latest analysis of federal employment data released today by Associated General Contractors of America. See the complete ranking of U.S. metro areas for June construction employment.

Here's the deal: The Louisiana Public Service Commission announced today it has authorized the sale of $315 million worth of bonds to be issued by the Louisiana Community Development Authority. The bonds were sold in two separate transactions on Tuesday, the commission says, adding the proceeds of the sales will be used to finance non-shareholder capital contributions to Entergy's system restoration costs in Louisiana from Hurricane Isaac and for the funding of reserves for future storms. The commission has more details on the bond sales announced today.
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