Daily Report

This Afternoon's Headlines / Tue, November 15, 2011

EPA says B.R. is meeting ozone standards

The EPA today reversed the Baton Rouge area's non-attainment status for meeting ozone standard requirements, saying ground-level ozone in the area has decreased and air quality has improved. "Baton Rouge has shown that when the city, state, and business community work together, everyone benefits," says EPA Regional Administrator Al Armendariz in a release. "Cleaner air is an asset for people's health, the environment, and the economy. Louisiana should be proud of this achievement." On Aug. 31, 2010, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality submitted a request to change the area's designation to attainment from non-attainment. The EPA proposed to approve the plan after a thorough analysis of the state's submission and review of public comments. Preliminary air quality data for 2011 continues to show the area is meeting the 1997 eight-hour standard, the EPA says, as well as the one-hour standard for ozone. Additional information on the eight-hour ozone standard is available here. The EPA says Louisiana has demonstrated the five-parish area will be able to maintain compliance with ozone standards for the next 10 years, adding it will continue to work with state and local officials to ensure the area remains in compliance.

Construction contract inked for wood pellet plant at port

The energy company planning to build a $120 million wood pellet manufacturing plant at the Port of Baton Rouge says it has signed a construction contract. Point Bio Energy Chairman and CEO William New says the Conti Group is expected to break ground on the plant at the end of the first quarter of 2012. "We need to start deliveries in the second quarter of 2013," he says. Contracts with European utilities that plan to burn the wood pellets with coal to reduce the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere are in place, New says, though he declines to identify the utilities. When complete, the plant is expected to be among the largest of its kind in the country, producing about 400,000 tons of wood pellets for fuel per year. The pellets are made from pulpwood and forest thinnings—small trees cut down so others will grow faster. The plant is expected to have 87 workers with a $6 million-plus annual payroll, and bring about $825,000 a year to the Port of Baton Rouge. The port's board approved a 20-year lease with Point Bio last year. The company is currently based in LaPointe, Wis., but plans to move its headquarters to Baton Rouge.

SU chancellor says reorganization goes on, despite lawsuit threat

Southern University Chancellor James Llorens says he's had support from some faculty members about the decision to declare financial exigency and begin reorganizing the institution, and says the possibility of a lawsuit to challenge the declaration from faculty senate leadership has no effect on that process. "Our responsibility is to move forward," Llorens says. "We believe we have done everything that's required of us. We believe we've built the case for exigency." The declaration, granted by the system's Board of Supervisors Oct. 28, allows campus leadership to lay off tenured faculty. According to The Southern Digest, faculty senate President Sudhir Trivedi met with lawyers Friday, including Jill Craft—who represented former system President Ralph Slaughter in his suit against the school's governing board—and Paul Bell. "We are looking forward to reversing financial exigency," Trivedi told the student newspaper. But Llorens says there is some enthusiasm among some faculty, staff and alumni to begin the reorganization process, work together and get it over with. Llorens stresses the campus is not bankrupt, and that its academic accreditation is not at risk. The declaration allows campus leadership to make strategic decisions about which programs must be protected and which can be cut or merged, he says. —David Jacobs

Report: La. industrial spending to top $30B in 2012

More than $30 billion worth of industrial projects are expected to break ground in Louisiana in the coming year, according to a report by Industrial Info Resources, a Sugar Land, Texas-based provider of global industrial market data. Industrial Info Resources will present a preview of its 2012 North American industrial spending and job creation report at 4 p.m. Wednesday at White Oak Plantation, 17660 George O'Neal Road. The preview will focus particularly on industrial spending in Gulf Coast states, including Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas. Combined, $197 billion worth of industrial projects is expected to get under way across the five states in 2012, with $117.3 billion being spent in Texas alone. Florida is expected to see the second-highest spending activity at $33.3 billion, followed by Louisiana at $30.3 billion, Mississippi at $8.6 billion and Alabama at $7.6 billion. The total is significantly more than the $75 billion in projects Industrial Info Resources predicted would break ground in the states during 2011. "In any given year, a certain portion of projects will not start according to schedule," says Michael Bergen, Industrial Info Resources spokesman. "That said, we see 2012 as a more economically vibrant year for the Gulf Coast than 2011 or 2010."

Maginnis: Jindal should not forget job basics

Being governor of Louisiana is a hard job not to love. Gov. Bobby Jindal appears under no pressure, following his landslide re-election, to share details of what he plans to tell the Legislature to do in his second term. Legislators he has tapped to be Senate president and speaker of the House are checking with him before naming committee chairmen. The abrogation of the separation of powers, traditional in Louisiana, is unheard of in other states. What is heard here is the hum of Jindal's PR machine, polishing up the record of his first term. Along with real accomplishments were included some specious claims that admiring opinion writers in other states have swallowed as fact. The most glaring was Jindal's campaign claim of slashing $9 billion in spending from the budget he inherited in 2008 to the one he signed this year. In truth, the vast majority of the decrease came from the federal government's ending its hurricane recovery payments. The $34 billion Jindal claims as the 2008 starting point was a revenue projection, $6 billion of which the feds ended up not sending. No matter, a Philadelphia Inquirer columnist held up the fictitious 25% budget reduction as proof of what other governors could do if they were as resolute as Jindal. Or if they hired his communications team. In the real world, however, his first term is ending with complaints about the administration's basic performance. Read the full column here.

(John Maginnis publishes LaPolitics Weekly, a newsletter on Louisiana politics, at LaPolitics.com.)

Led by B.R., Louisiana home sales jump 20% in 3Q

Louisiana's residential real estate market showed a significant increase in sales activity during the third quarter, with sales up 20.2% over the third quarter of 2010, according to Louisiana Realtors. Year to date, the number of houses sold in the state is up 2.7% over last year. "Our market has generally followed the national trend over the past year, but our employment numbers have held stronger than the national average, and real estate activity now seems to be bouncing back from the ongoing effects of a slow economy and the BP oil spill," says Louisiana Realtors President Malcolm Young. While sales were up, the average sale price slid 0.9% in the third quarter to $184,971, compared to the same period in 2010. Nonetheless, the average sale price was up 1.5% compared to three years ago. The Greater Baton Rouge market showed the greatest increase in sales activity in the state, with home sales up 31.9% over the third quarter of last year. The Houma-Thibodaux metro area posted a 26.8% sales increase on the quarter, while Lafayette saw a 24.3% increase, Greater New Orleans a 21.3% increase, Lake Charles a 21% increase, Monroe a 19.4% increase, and Alexandria an 11.6% increase. The northwest Louisiana market, which had cooled somewhat in the second quarter, remained flat in the third quarter. Sales in the Shreveport-Bossier area were down 0.9% on the quarter. Read the rest of the Real Estate Weekly newsletter here.

News roundup: Comite Drive project completed … Another $390M coming to La. from FEMA … BP loses two big Gulf oil spill rulings

Getting the green light: Mayor Kip Holden will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Comite Drive project at 10 a.m. Thursday in front of Rite Aid in the Brookwood Village Shopping Center, 12308 Plank Road. The ceremony marks the 22nd completed roadway construction project for the Green Light Plan. With a total construction cost of $11.8 million, the completed Comite Drive project widens the previous two-lane open ditch roadway and provides a two-lane, curb-and-gutter roadway with a continuous center turn lane from Plank Road to the Comite River. The project includes sidewalks on both sides of the Comite Drive, a widened six-foot shoulder for enhanced bicycle access along the roadway, and the installation of a new public sanitary sewer system to address current and future capacity needs for the area.

Getting the green: Louisiana is receiving another $390 million in federal hazard mitigation money to raise homes and make other improvements to protect against future hurricanes. The money comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu says Louisiana had been shortchanged in the hazard mitigation program after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. She says the state has received about $1.4 billion in hazard mitigation money for the 2005 storms, before the latest add-on funding. Gov. Bobby Jindal says the money will be divided among parishes based on their level of damage, and local leaders will decide on spending plans. The dollars can be used for home elevation, installation of storm shutters and hurricane-proof windows, levee and drainage repairs, and other storm-related projects.

One-two punch: BP has lost two big rulings in its fight to shield itself from potentially having to pay billions of dollars more in damages related to the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. A federal judge ruled today that BP is not entitled to coverage under insurance policies totaling $750 million held by Transocean, owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig that BP was leasing at the time of the April 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster. The same judge ruled Monday that Alabama and Louisiana can pursue punitive damages against BP and other companies. A civil trial addressing hundreds of spill lawsuits is scheduled for February to assign shares of fault to the companies involved and determine whether Transocean can limit what it pays those making claims under maritime law.

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