May 2007

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Road Home despair

The Independent Weekly's cover story this week chronicles the backstory of how the contract for the bungled Road Home program was awarded to ICF International. The story went to press before yesterday's announcement that ICF has now put a July 31 deadline on Road Home applications, partly to ensure that more payout funds aren't added to the estimated $2.9 billion shortfall in the program. The New York Times' coverage today of the program and its latest decision contains this sentence:

But it has stirred something close to despair among some Louisiana residents, who were already bemoaning the sluggish way the program has given out the money it does have; only 22,000 families statewide, out of 140,000 applicants, have received grants so far, for a total of $1.3 billion.

Something "close" to despair? Consider the case of New Orleans' Basin Street Records' founder Mark Samuels, who's been chronicling his Road Home trials on the Basin Street Records blog:

I spoke with Samuels this morning; he still hasn't received his Road Home funds. "My main criticism is of Gov. Blanco," says Samuels. "And I'm critical of ICF, too, because they obviously weren't equipped to handle this program. … If the Road Home program isn't fully funded, Gov. Blanco needs to figure out how to take care of the promise she made and get us our money, or businesses like ours are going to fold or leave. I had a meltdown with Road Home on March 29 and broke into tears on the phone. I told the rep, ‘I have three talented children in the city. I'm going to leave if I don't have my money before the end of the school year. I'm not going to live another year like we did this year, with no furniture, cooking in a microwave and a toaster oven.'

"The next day I got a phone call from a Road Home rep who was very helpful," continues Samuels. "I sent her a bunch of additional photographs, and she told me she's done what she needed to do so I can now get the full $150,000 award amount. But it's now two months later, and I haven't gotten a letter or any more calls – nothing. And I'm one of the fortunate ones who can conduct his business on a computer, and can spend time emailing and calling Road Home constantly. I can't imagine what it's like for someone who's in Jackson and has to work a 10-hour job.

"I love New Orleans and I really don't want to leave, but I feel like I need to take a stand," says Samuels. "I don't know what that might be – maybe shutting the doors to my business for a few months, or staging a hunger strike on the steps of the Capitol. I don't know what I'm going to do."

by: Scott Jordan 10:30 AM

UL's Landry "strongly" eyes top post;
state's Savoie non-committal

Steve Landry, UL Lafayette's vice president for academic affairs, says he's "strongly considering" applying for the university president's job, but the state's commissioner of higher education maintains it's "much too soon" to talk about his potential interest. E. Joseph Savoie, who has served as commissioner for the past 11 years, says he is focusing his attention on the current legislative session, which comes to a close at the end of June. "This could be a historic session for us," Savoie says. "I'm not going to let rumors avert my attention."

Before becoming commissioner, Savoie was vice president for university advancement for five years. Now 53, he was the youngest commissioner in the country when he took over the job — he's now the third longest serving.

Landry, however, isn't as distracted. "I'm watching for the ads and the timeline," he says. "I'm getting encouragement from some of my colleagues … from faculty." Landry has served in his current post since 2000; prior to that, he was vice president for research after having been director of research and sponsor programs. In the 1980s he was a faculty member in the computer science department and head of the department.

Both Landry and Savoie have doctorates and classroom experience, which is favored by members of UL's faculty. While a nationwide search is under way, they are viewed as top contenders for the post, but many believe they may represent the status quo due to their loyalty to retiring UL President Ray Authement. Whether the search committee will seek candidates who represent significant change in the direction of the university has yet to be determined.

Long considered the heir-apparent, Savoie acknowledges such "rumors have been around for several years." Saying he is "flattered" by the speculation, Savoie is adamant there is no basis for it. "If there have been any arrangements made, I haven't been a part of them," he says.

(Photos: Landry, top; Savoie, left)

by: Leslie Turk 10:14 AM

Opelousas bans 24-hour booze, again, kinda

For now, the 24-hour party in Opelousas is off - again. The Daily World reports:

For a first time in four years, Opelousas residents living near late night bars will not hear noise, revelry or commotion past 2 a.m. after the city's latest amendment to its liquor ordinance went into effect Wednesday.

The law, which now forbids liquor sales and consumption from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. at establishments where 15 percent or more of its sales are derived from alcohol, was temporarily placed on hold last week by 27th Judicial District Judge Donald Hebert until he could review arguments on the constitutionality of the law.

Bar owners contend that the 15 percent rule is being used to allow Evangeline Downs to serve alcohol throughout the night and force other bars to stop serving at 2 a.m. The Advocate reports that Police Chief Perry Gallow says enforcing the ordinance will be difficult and that tax records, sales records, and liquor purchases will all have be analyzed to determine which establishments fall within the 15 percent exclusion.

Gallow also said violence in the city has increased with the all-night hours allowed under the 2004 ordinance. Most of the complaints filed are in connection with a group of establishments in an area of Opelousas known as "The Hill."

Gallow said police don't receive similar complaints about the casino.

Resident Reginald Tatum told the Daily World that he's only 500 signatures short of submitting a petition to the St. Landry Parish Registrar of Voters that seeks to ban on all sales and consumption of alcohol every night at 2 a.m. until 10 a.m.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:04 AM

AMI juvenile center could be derailed

Despite widespread opposition from area residents, it had appeared that a 36-bed juvenile rehabilitation center to be built on Hoffpauir Road in Judice by Associated Marine Institute was a done deal. Located in rural west Lafayette Parish, outside of existing city zoning jurisdiction, the site was grandfathered into automatic plat approval. However, at a special two-hour public hearing on the issue at Tuesday night's council meeting, attorney Jimmy Davidson raised a legal technicality that could ultimately bring the project to a screeching halt. Davidson, representing residents opposed to the issue, said the site has one sole right of way granted that connects it to Hoffpauir Road – which he believes should require it to be re-platted. He says AMI obtained other rights of way, which have since been rescinded, under false pretenses. City-parish attorney Pat Ottinger concurred with Davidson, and Chief Administrative Officer Dee Stanley said the planning commission will have a public hearing to either grant of deny the facility's plat. The issue could also be appealed to the council.

AMI is seeking to build the 10,000 sq. foot facility, to be called Acadiana Marine Institute, on 40 acres of land it acquired on Hoffpauir Road. Earlier this year, the state Office of Youth Development agreed to terms to pay AMI $1.75 million a year to house adjudicated juveniles, deemed to be nonviolent offenders, at the facility once it is built. Residents in the area have been opposed to the project because they believe it threatens safety in their rural neighborhood and say that AMI officials have not been upfront with them about the facility.

by: Nathan Stubbs 9:50 AM

No Lake Peigneur drilling ban

Despite the recent bubbling activity at Lake Peigneur, yesterday the House Committee on Natural Resources voted against House Bill 617, by a vote of 2 to 9, which would have banned future drilling at the lake. Residents believe the bubbling activity may be related to the natural gas storage facility in the salt dome beneath the lake, but the state hasn't been able to determine the source of the bubbles.

by: R. Reese Fuller 9:42 AM

Acadiana food bank joins statewide lobbying effort

The Second Harvest Food Bank of Acadiana has teamed up with other food banks around the state to lobby the Legislature for operational cash – and they picked a good year to do so, with more than $3 billion in surplus money on the state's books thanks to recovery activity and oil prices. On the agenda is $15 million from the state's spending plan, found in House Bill 1, to help fight hunger. Sidney Arroyo, one of the political consultants overseeing the drive, says the money will be used to purchase food from Louisiana farmers, fishermen, manufacturers and vendors. As part of National Hunger Awareness Day next Tuesday, the Louisiana Food Bank Association will hold a rally at the State Capitol to push for the funding.

In south Louisiana alone, the food system has been severely compromised, says Natalie Jayroe, CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of Acadiana. School lunches are inconsistent, emergency feeding programs no longer exist, food stamp offices are closed and many of community centers that served seniors and children prior to the hurricanes have been destroyed. "Thousands of families who have lost everything and are struggling to rebuild, who may never have needed our help before, deserve our help now," she says. -- Jeremy Alford, Independent Weekly contributing writer

by: admin 8:30 AM

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

FEMA's 4,000 no-bid contracts

The Federal Emergency Management Agency recently reported having awarded nearly 4,000 no-bid contracts, one of the highest numbers ever disclosed by any government agency, according to CongressDaily. The revelation came out of an inquiry into the agency's dealings by the House Appropriations Committee. CongressDaily also reports "Neither FEMA nor the House Appropriations Committee would release the list or discuss its contents in detail, leaving it unclear what time period the list covered, what the contracts were for or how much the contracts were worth." The paper quotes House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman David Price stating that FEMA submitted a list of approximately 4,000 sole-source contracts to the committee. Price says "There may be a place for non-competitive contracts in certain emergency circumstances, but FEMA needs to anticipate its emergency procurement and services needs and competitively award stand-by contracts before disasters occur." The story goes on to quote an unnamed rep from FEMA:

A FEMA spokesman said the majority of the no-bid contracts were awarded under emergency conditions in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The list probably totals about 3,600 contracts, he added. He said FEMA has greatly improved its contracting practices under the leadership of Director David Paulison, who replaced the embattled former chief, Michael Brown. "We share the frustration of the number of no-bid contracts that were awarded in the heat of battle during Hurricane Katrina," the spokesman said.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:25 AM

FBI investigates La. film industry

The Times-Picayune reports that the FBI has been interviewing individuals in California and Louisiana to determine if there have been abuses in the generous tax credits the state's given to the film industry in order to lure them here.

Under state law, bricks-and-mortar film projects, such as studios and soundstages, are eligible for state tax credits worth up to 40 percent of the value of the project; investors backing productions of films and videos in Louisiana may receive credits of up to 25 percent. Additional tax credits are available for hiring Louisiana resident workers for film production.

Bernie Cyrus, former director of the Louisiana Music Commission, filed a whistleblower lawsuit in February "alleging that his former boss at the Department of Economic Development took bribes from a New Orleans film production firm in exchange for steering more tax credits toward the company."

The most explosive allegation in Cyrus' suit is that representatives of the New Orleans production company, known as LIFT, paid kickbacks to Mark Smith, who until 2005 headed the economic development department's film division and who was Cyrus' boss. Smith steered film productions and tax credits to LIFT, the suit says.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:24 AM

Pine Leaf props from Rolling Stone

Acadiana's fastest-rising Cajun band, the Pine Leaf Boys, just earned some nice props from one of the most respected music critics in the country. Rolling Stone Senior Editor David Fricke, who's interviewed everyone from Marvin Gaye to Kurt Cobain and also writes the "Fricke's Picks" column for RS, was in New Orleans for Jazz Fest and singled out the Pine Leaf Boys for praise in his May 19 column. Here's Fricke's take:

The Pine Leaf Boys are a biracial Cajun band — no common thing — steeped in tradition (singer-accordionist Wilson Savoy is the son of Cajun performer-scholars Marc and Ann Savoy) but with free-range ambitions in soul, Canned Heat-style boogie, zydeco (the country funk of black Louisiana) and Mardi Gras Indian chants. They did it all — sometimes all at once — in their Jazz Fest set with the tight, headlong delight that makes Blues de Musicien (Arhoolie), their second album, the next best thing to a Saturday night dance in Lafayette.

Speaking of Saturday night dances in Lafayette, here's the Pine Leaf Boys performing "Keep Your Hands Off It" at Blue Moon:

by: Scott Jordan 9:53 AM

Prince rounds out UL prez search committee

Retired Stone Energy CFO and community leader Jim Prince will have a voice, but not a vote, in deciding who will replace UL President Ray Authement. A past president of the UL Foundation's board of trustees, Prince was recommended by the foundation — of which he is still a member. (The university president serves as a voting member of the foundation's board of trustees).

All search committee meetings are open to the public, with the first scheduled for June 14 at 11 a.m. in the auditorium of Moody Hall at UL, followed by a 1 p.m. public hearing. The tentative schedule calls for another public hearing on the campus this fall. "The purpose of the public hearing is to receive input from faculty, staff, students and community members about their desired characteristics of a new president," says UL System President Sally Clausen, who serves as non-voting chair the search committee. "It is essential that every university stakeholder feels part of the process."

Authement is the longest serving president of a public university in the country. After 33 years at the helm, he announced his retirement April 27. For a timeline and list of the 14-member search committee, click here.

by: Leslie Turk 8:02 AM

Montesano gets his lifeline

Insurance man John Montesano's south Lafayette golf course development is off life support, thanks to the Lafayette City-Parish Council. Because Montesano was unable to acquire property for the original layout of Chateau Mirage, his upscale golf course community near the Mall of Acadiana, he was forced to revise his plan. Due to the failed land deal (he at one time led officials to believe he owned all of the property), he also reneged on construction of a road behind the old K-Mart from Ridge Road to Target Loop — one of several connectors he was bound by ordinance to build and donate to local government. While it approved his revised plan May 14, the Lafayette Planning Commission required him to build portions of three additional roads, but the council overturned the decision on appeal last night. Montesano will have to build only an extension of New Hope Road (which is off West Broussard and leads to Acadian Village) and connect it with Town Center Parkway, another road he was required by ordinance to build. Montesano says Town Center cost him $4 million. The developer also is donating several rights of way for additional infrastructure improvements.

by: Leslie Turk 7:59 AM

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

More bubbles at Lake Peigneur

Over the weekend, Lake Peigneur residents reported seeing more bubbles on the surface of the lake. Resident Nara Crowley and members of the group Save Lake Peigneur have been watching the water closely. They contend that the unusual activity in the lake is yet another reason that AGL Resources of Atlanta shouldn't expand its natural gas storage operation into the salt dome beneath the lake. For the last year, residents have reported sighting of bubbles in the lake. The state has investigated but hasn't been able to determine the cause.

Tomorrow morning, supporters will meet at Rip Van Winkle Gardens at Jefferson Island at 6:30 a.m. and caravan to the state capitol to attend a Natural Resources Committee Hearing in support of House Bill 617, which would protect the salt dome from future drilling. On Thursday, a public meeting will be held at Rip Van winkle Gardens to discuss Lake Peigneur at 7 p.m.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:41 AM

KATC's Tonya LaCoste joins Faith House

After eight years as one of Acadiana's top reporters and anchors, covering stories ranging from serial killer Derrick Todd Lee to hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Tonya LaCoste signed off at KATC TV3 for the last time Sunday night. Today she starts her new job as outreach fund-raising and awareness coordinator at Faith House.

The news of her departure was not a big surprise to the station's management. "Tonya informed us several months ago that she was looking to take some time off from broadcasting after her wedding to Sean Trcalek [a former KATC account exec now at KADN Fox15]," says station General Manager Andrew Shenkan.

LaCoste, who grew up in Morgan City, joined KATC in 1999 and has anchored weekend newscasts since the fall of 2005. In her newly-created post at Faith House, a shelter for women and children who are victims of domestic violence, LaCoste says she will concentrate on enhancing the organization's three outreach offices in Evangeline, Acadia and Vermilion parishes.

by: Leslie Turk 10:27 AM

More accounting problems found at Citizens Insurance

State legislative auditors continue to uncover shoddy accounting at Citizens' Insurance, including likely violations of state ethics law. In March, state auditors revealed that Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corp., a taxpayer-guaranteed insurer of last resort for state homeowners and businesses, had lost much of its financial records for the past two years, possibly due to mishandling computer software. The latest findings, detailed in a report this week, show that Citizens paid out more than $100,000 to a private consultant, Chris Faser, for unaccounted services. They also likely violate state law. Faser, who retired as deputy commissioner of the state Department of Insurance in 2002, requested an ethics commission opinion at the time which stated he could not do work for the Insurance Department's property and casualty division for two years. In the audit report, Faser says he doesn't remember the ethics opinion and that 90 percent of his work did not involve Citizens, although he had no records to prove that.

The audit also found Citizens picked up a $3,522 tab for several hunting trips at the Bon Amis Hunting Club in Ville Platte. These trips included Faser, former state Insurance Commissioner Robert Wooley, deputy insurance commissioner Chad Brown, and other state and private insurance officials. Faser told the auditors that these trips "nurture and enhance relationships with persons and agencies involved in insurance regulatory matters and others."

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:27 AM

The global warming/hurricane strength question

With hurricane season starting in three days, the discussion continues on whether global warming increases hurricane strength and frequency. The New York Times weighs in today with a story that boils down to these two quotes:

"Global warming is as real is it gets," but as far as its link to hurricanes, "I don't think it's been proved conclusively," says Richard A. Anthes, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. Meanwhile, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology concluded that the increased frequency of Category 4 and Category 5 storms since 1970 is "directly linked to the trend in sea-surface temperatures."

The Times acknowledges the dichotomy:

This kind of he-said-he-said debate often leads people to dismiss a subject as one about which nothing will ever be known with confidence. In fact, the give and take is an example of the way scientists tug and haul at their own and others' findings until a consensus takes shape. … In the current debate over global warming and hurricanes, the problem is relatively new and the data are hard to obtain and analyze.

by: Scott Jordan 9:43 AM

Friday, May 25, 2007

Airport chair says Roberts to retire or face termination

Airport Director Greg Roberts' rude personality hasn't endeared him to many people in Lafayette, and now it's part of the reason he may lose his job. Carroll Robichaux, chairman of the Lafayette Airport Commission, says Roberts is being given the opportunity to retire or face termination. "If Mr. Roberts doesn't retire or resign, it'll probably be the first thing on the [June 7] agenda," says Robichaux, who wants to see Roberts replaced. "There are four [additional commissioners who support his termination] for sure," the chairman adds.

Robichaux says the airport commission's questionable spending and the subsequent legislative auditor's review is a "minute" reason the commission wants him to go but would not elaborate on other issues for legal reasons. He did, however, cite Roberts' discourteous personality as a compelling reason for his pending departure. "That's one of the things [Commissioner Don] Higginbotham and I talked to him about Monday. The way he asserts himself. He's got the military attitude," Robichaux says. "I can deal with him, but it's the way he handles himself in the public eye."

The commission is made up of seven members, and Robichaux votes only in the case of a tie. Roberts does have at least one adamant supporter in immediate past chair Jim Nunn. "Greg is imminently qualified for his job based on his past performance," says Nunn, noting increases in passenger boardings, air freight business and airport rental income.

In typical fashion, Roberts was abrupt in responding to a request for an interview about his job security. "I really don't have any comment at this time," he said.

by: Leslie Turk 10:41 AM

Republican Sen. Ted Stevens sneers at Louisiana

At yesterday's Senate Homeland Security hearing meeting on Gulf Coast Housing that primarily focused on the Road Home program, Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska served up a prime helping of callous, careless nonsense regarding Louisiana's hurricane recovery. Karl Rove's infamous strategy to shift the blame of inadequate response from the federal government to Louisiana is in good hands with Stevens; after a trio of New Orleanians offer diverse, compelling and emotional testimony about the challenges facing the Road Home program, Stevens looks and sounds like a troll prematurely awakened from a nap. "This is federal money," he sneers at one point, before launching into anecdotes about how people affected by fires and earthquakes on the West Coast started a "self-help process" and rebuilt, and they never had delays "like you have in Louisiana."

He's also irritated because apparently he hasn't even taken the time to see how the Road Home program is designed, acting incredulous that affected homeowners would receive checks directly. Stevens says, "We never give checks to applicants, only contractors," before the testifying panel educates him on Road Home program requirements and the concept of elevating homes.

To watch the video of the hearing, click on this link, then click under Recent Programs on "Senate Homeland Security Subcomte. Hearing on Gulf Coast Housing (5/24/2007)." Once Realplayer launches the video clip, fast-forward to around the 1:32:30 mark to watch Stevens start his grandstanding. He sticks around for about 10 minutes before going back to his cave abruptly leaving for another meeting.

I shouldn't be surprised. After all, Ted "Bridge to Nowhere" Stevens is the man who last year described the internet as "a series of tubes."

by: Scott Jordan 10:39 AM

Archive Aid 4

Archive Aid 4 takes place tomorrow night at the Blue Moon Saloon, starting at 6 p.m. Performances include The Figs, Feufollet, The Lost Bayou Ramblers, and Bonsoir, Catin. Admission is $10 and benefits the Archives of Cajun and Creole Folklore at the Center for Cultural and Eco-Tourism at UL-Lafayette. Two listening stations will be available for guests to listen to recordings from the archives, and KRVS 88.7 FM will broadcast the musical evening live.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:02 AM

Shipwreck found in Gulf of Mexico

Thar' be treasure below the waves, matey, and I'm not talking about the threequell of Pirates of the Caribbean, which opens today in Lafayette. A 200 year old shipwreck in the Gulf of Mexico, 35 miles off the Louisiana coast, is turning up wine and rum bottles, bowls, plates, cups and a pot de crème, (these sailors ate elegantly), a telescope, octant, compass, hourglass, flintlock pistols, muskets, swords and of course, a cannon. Discovered in 2002 by employees of Okeanos Gas Gathering Co. who were surveying the bottom with remote cameras, the sunken ship will be explored by a team of oceanographers and archaeologists from Texas A&M. The wreck is lodged 4,000 feet below the surface, too deep for divers. The team will attempt to recover artifacts using remote-controlled vehicles.

To date, the ship is unidentified and the possibilities are legion. In the years following les Sieurs d'Iberville and Bienvielle's claim of the Louisiana territories for France, in 1699, Louisiana flew the flags of France, Spain, and finally America when the territory was purchased by President Thomas Jefferson in 1803. Traders, pirates, smugglers, and warships all plied Gulf waters. Artifacts collected by the Texas A&M team will be studied at the university's Conservation Research Laboratory, before being sent to the Louisiana State Museum for display.

by: Mary Tutwiler 9:56 AM

White House spars with state over Road Home shortfall

In a Senate subcommittee hearing yesterday, lawmakers on Capitol Hill heard from President Bush's Gulf Coast recovery czar Donald Powell, who blamed Louisiana state officials for creating a nearly $3 billion shortfall in its Road Home Program, designed to assist residents rebuilding after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Powell says the state has been awarding too many grants from the program, which he says should only be covering homes ruined by flood waters, not wind damage. Powell estimates 43,000 of the nearly 132,000 applicants suffered only wind damage and should not be eligible for Road Home grants.

In response, Louisiana Recovery Authority executive directory Andy Kopplin testified, "When the president said he would do what it takes and stay as long as it takes, he didn't say except if you had wind damage." Kopplin also noted that the federally-approved Road Home application includes the statement that all applicants "deserve a fair and independent estimate of projected damages from the storm, regardless of the cause of damage." "That's been our policy since the beginning," Kopplin said.

U.S. Sen. David Vitter has also stepped into the fray, writing in a letter that state lawmakers should be using a "sizeable percentage" of this year's $2 billion state budget surplus toward the Road Home shortfall. "If leaders at the federal level are going to be any part of the solution, they absolutely want to see leadership and action at the state level first," Vitter wrote.

by: Nathan Stubbs 9:01 AM

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Lafayette Middle hosts NOAA

Lafayette Middle School's Environmental Science Academy is hosting a grand opening ceremony today from 5:15 to 7 p.m. As part of the event, officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will be on hand to present the school with the agency's Environmental Hero award that it won last year. The Academy, part of Lafayette Parish's Schools of Choice Program designed as a wetlands eduction initiative, has just wrapped up its first full year of operation. Lead teacher Stacy Hess says the program has adopted Fifi Island near Grand Isle, where students have planted approximately 500 black mangroves and 200 mulberry trees as part of coastal restoration efforts. The academy also features a man-made wetland area on the Lafayette Middle campus, where students study water quality issues, as well as a recently completed butterfly dome. This summer, the academy plans to add a greenhouse and next year, Hess hopes to have students planting trees and bringing their ecological studies to Lake Fosse Point and Cypremort State Park.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:30 AM

24-hour booze back in Opelousas

The all-night party in Opelousas is back again - at least for now. A month ago, the city's Board of Alderman voted to ban liquor sales from 2 until 6 in the morning but exempted establishments with 15 percent or less of its gross sales derived from alcohol. (Evangeline Downs would be exempt.) Bar owners filed an injunction on Tuesday challenging the ban that exempts the racetrack and casino. Local residents are circulating a petition, trying to gather 2,109 signatures to present to the city's alderman requesting that all liquor sales stop at 2 a.m.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:23 AM

Bridging the gap

A tug of war over a 70-year old single-lane swing-span bridge near Loreauville has preservationists pitted against cane farmers in Iberia Parish. The Vita Shaw Bridge, which spans Bayou Teche in a rural part of the parish, was scheduled to be replaced with a two-lane drawbridge by the state Department of Transportation and Development. Bill Fontenot, Acadiana district administrator for DOTD, plans to replace the wooden and steel structure with the flat concrete bridge that was used as a detour while a new lift-span bridge was being built over Bayou Carlin in Delcambre. Those in favor of replacing the bridge cite safety, the ability to cross the bayou with large cane farming equipment which is too wide for the narrow bridge, and the potential of losing federal funds if DOTD doesn't take action. Those who want to keep the bridge in situ state that there exist two bridges approximately 1 1/2 miles in either direction of the Vita Shaw bridge. According to the Historic Bridge Foundation in Austin, Tx., the Vita Shaw bridge is one of the oldest operating single-lane swing bridges in the state and may be the oldest. Preservationists say the structure should be recognized the way wooden covered bridges are in other parts of the country.

New Iberia resident Chris Burton, a member of Friends of Vita Shaw Bridge, says that the bridge should be added to the list of tourist attractions in the parish. "It's been an unofficial tourist attraction for years. It's time we made it an official stop on Iberia Parish's list of historic sites." State rep. Troy Hebert, who is running for state senate from Iberia Parish, stepped into the controversy, asking Fontenot to slow down bidding out the job until the matter can be addressed in public forums. Danny David Jr. another member of Friends of Vita Shaw Bridge says he has a petition with about 800 signatures to save the bridge.
(photo of Vita Shaw bridge by Chris Burton)

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:06 AM

KATC news director leaving

James Warner, KATC's news director since September 2001, has accepted a similar post at KFSM, a CBS affiliate in the Ft. Smith/Fayetteville, Ark., market. The station serves northwest Arkansas, the River Valley and eastern Oklahoma. That larger market represents a step up in his career, says Warner, a Memphis native who came to Lafayette from WBRC in Birmingham, a Fox affiliate. "It's been a great ride," Warner says of his near 6-year stint at Lafayette's ABC affiliate (where he also worked as a producer in 1992). "I think the media in this market has had a tremendous evolution in that time — print and broadcast." Warner points to the arrival of The Independent Weekly three years ago as well as numerous niche publications in the marketplace, but more specifically the recent launch of a 9 p.m. newscast by local Fox affiliate KADN — a move he maintains will have a minimal impact on KATC and its rival, CBS affiliate KLFY. "They're not able to deliver the quality — news coverage and content people expect," he says. Warner notes that KADN also does not appear to be devoting the resources necessary to make the product successful and claims it has picked up employees who were not able to cut it at either KATC or KLFY. "There are lots of hand-me-down people in their news operation."

Warner believes he is leaving KATC with a much better news product that makes it a stronger contender for the top spot in local TV, a position still held by KLFY. "It's a horse race," he says. "I'm real proud to have had a part in that."

KATC General Manager Andrew Shenkan hopes to announce an interim news director before Warner leaves May 31 and says a nationwide search will be conducted for his successor.

by: Leslie Turk 9:55 AM

Introducing the 1st Annual Louisiana Cajun-Zydeco Festival

Festival International and Jazz Fest are over and the summer heat's creepin' round, but don't put those festival shoes away just yet. The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation has just announced its first-ever Louisiana Cajun-Zydeco Festival, a free outdoor festival taking place June 8-10 at New Orleans' Old U.S. Mint. Familiar names on the lineup include Leon Chavis & the Zydeco Flames, Jonno, Tab Benoit, Lil' Band o' Gold, Nouveau String Band, Creole Zydeco Farmers, Tony Delafose, Brian Jack & the Zydeco Gamblers, Bruce Daigrepont, Les Frères Michot, Goldman Thibodeaux & the Lawtell Playboys, Lost Bayou Ramblers and Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys. Additional New Orleans headliners include Kermit Ruffins and Hot 8 Brass Band. Making matters more enticing, the whole shindig coincides with the New Orleans Seafood Festival.

To get you primed, check out this video of Houma bayou bluesman Tab Benoit – recently crowned with the prestigious Entertainer of the Year award at Memphis' Blues Music Awards -- doing an impromptu version of "Fever for the Bayou" on the streets of the French Quarter.

by: Scott Jordan 9:00 AM

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Houndstooth: a great place to spit on opposing coaches

Ever since Nick Saban rolled into town, University of Alabama fans have been especially rabid in anticipation of this year's football season. The latest example comes from an ad campaign for a new condominium complex on the UA campus. The Houndstooth, which blasts the banner headline "that's right baby, it's two thousand Saban," on its Web site, uses its proximity to Bryant Denney Stadium as its main selling point. The Web site tells potential residents to imagine the ease with which they will be able to practice some of their fondest pre-game pastimes, and they don't mean barbecuing. "Feel like spitting on [Tennessee Head Coach Phillip] Fulmer? "You'll be close enough to do it. Want to chunk a corn dog at those annoying LSU fans? Do it from your balcony. That's how close Houndstooth is to the action."

Alabama fans, always classy.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:43 AM

"Jena Six" trial postponed

Back in September, black students at Jena High School in central Louisiana decided to congregate by a tree where the school's white students, the majority of the student body, had traditionally gathered. In response, three white students hung nooses from the tree. The principal recommended the students be expelled, but white superintendent Roy Breithaupt ruled that three days suspense was punishment enough. A recent Chicago Tribune article explains:

"Adolescents play pranks," said Breithaupt, the superintendent of the LaSalle Parish school system. "I don't think it was a threat against anybody."

A string of fights between black and white students followed – allegedly a white student beat up a black student at an all-white party, a white student pulled a gun on three black students at a convenience store, and an unknown arsonist set fire to the school. But on Dec. 4, a group of black students allegedly jumped a white student and knocked him unconscious. After a few hours in the hospital, the student was released.

But the LaSalle Parish district attorney, Reed Walters, opted to charge six black students with attempted second-degree murder and other offenses, for which they could face a maximum of 100 years in prison if convicted. All six were expelled from school.

On Monday, the trial for three of the students was postponed, moved back to June 25. The Town Talk reports that the father of one of the accused students, Marcus Jones said the black students are being held to a different standard than the white students.

"But this fight, with black boys against a white boy, there are attempted murder charges," Jones said. "There are racial tensions, and it started with those nooses."

The six students are being dubbed the "Jena Six," reminiscent of another high school racial matter in central Louisiana in 1981. When three students refused to be bused across the Red River to the integrated Jones Street Junior High in Alexandria, instead of the predominantly white Buckeye High School, local media referred to the students as the "Buckeye Three."

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:32 AM

Pattern Book garners award

The Louisiana Speaks Pattern Book, a handbook of south Louisiana architectural vernacular styles created to help with the rebuilding after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, has received the 2007 Charter Award from the Congress for New Urbanism. The annual prize honors projects around the world that promote walkable, neighborhood development as an alternative to urban sprawl. In the aftermath of the storms, there was a great deal of concern that in the rush to rebuild, new structures would no longer reflect Louisiana's historic architecture. Commissioned by the Louisiana Recovery Authority and the Baton Rouge based Center for Planning Excellence, Urban Design Associates, a Pittsburgh urban planning firm, created a 90 page how-to guide for laying out walkable neighborhoods, and demonstration plans for houses. Architectural styles include Creole and Acadian influenced structures as well as Louisiana Victorian, Classical, Arts & Crafts and Modern. The book goes into great detail demonstrating proportion and appropriate elements such as porches, gables, doors and windows for each style. One hundred thousand copies of the book were printed and distributed free to residents at building supply stores across Louisiana. The award winning pattern book is available for download at

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:15 AM

NOAA's 2007 hurricane forecast and a Chertoff flashback

As expected, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's annual hurricane forecast released yesterday calls for an active hurricane season. NOAA predicts 13-17 named storms, 7-10 hurricanes, and 3-5 major hurricanes. NOAA will issue an updated Atlantic hurricane outlook in early August, at the start of peak hurricane season (August-October). While NOAA's forecast yielded no surprises, it was jarring to see and hear Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff at the news conference. It's still amazing that Chertoff has a job after his post-Katrina performance; remember this Sept. 4, 2005 appearance on NBC's Meet the Press?

by: Scott Jordan 9:52 AM

Mello Joy on the move?

Lafayette's Mello Joy coffee company may be looking to relocate its out-of-state coffee roasting closer to home, possibly north Lafayette. On Monday, Mello Joy had planned to ask the Lafayette Zoning Commission to amend general business zoning to allow for coffee roasting, which is currently permitted only in the "light industry" zoning classification. But when Lafayette Consolidated Government's zoning staff recommended against the change right before Monday's meeting, Mello Joy made a verbal request that the commission delay the public hearing until next month.

Though Mello Joy did not indicate where it plans to locate, sources say the company may be considering several north Lafayette sites, including one on Moss Street near Schilling Distributing's headquarters. The zoning issue represents a new development in a plan that has been in the works for several years. Company officials told The Independent Weekly in late 2003 that they hoped to begin roasting here within a year.

Mello Joy officials — among whom are businessmen Wayne Elmore and Clark White — declined to comment on the planned move, and it's unclear how many jobs the new facility would create. Read more in today's Turk File.

by: Leslie Turk 9:18 AM

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Climate Project comes to Lafayette

Regardless of whether or not you think Al Gore should be president, it's hard to argue against the merits of his campaign to raise awareness of global warming. His slide shows, which prominently feature global warming's impact on hurricanes and coastal erosion threatening Louisiana, have already earned him a Nobel Peace Prize nomination and an Oscar for the film An Inconvenient Truth. In an effort to further spread the word, Gore's advocacy group The Climate Project has selected and trained a corps of volunteers to give the former vice president's presentation across the globe. Tomorrow night, Pack and Paddle hosts the first such presentation in Lafayette, at 6:15 p.m. Presented by Cat, the local entrepreneur behind Cat Dancing Productions, the event is free and open to the public, with food and drinks provided. The presentation is part of a new series of environmental advocacy events being hosted by Pack and Paddle. Visit their Web site,, for updated listings.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:37 AM

The Weather Channel returns to affordable Cox tier

Less than a year after ticking off customers by bumping The Weather Channel from its basic lineup, Cox Communications is doing the right thing by bringing the popular and informative network back to its most affordable tier. Cox originally made the unpopular move in August 2006, on the heels of two massive storms in 2005 and in the midst of a new hurricane season.

"When we moved The Weather Channel from basic last year, many expressed concerns, and we promised that we would look for a solution," says Cox spokeswoman Sharon Kleinpeter. "It has taken almost a year, but all parties have worked together on a plan to bring all Cox Greater Louisiana customers The Weather Channel's unique programming on the basic lineup beginning in time for the 2007 hurricane season."

The change is effective June 23, but customers may start receiving the signal before then as Cox begins to make the transition. Cox basic subscribers, who pay $12.97 for channels 2-24, will catch the national 24-hour weather network on Channel 22. Customers with Cox's expanded basic service — channels 2-72 for $47 a month — will receive The Weather Channel on channels 22 and 55 until Cox works through programming and contract issues to replace the latter.

by: Leslie Turk 10:14 AM

Audubon focuses on critical bird habitat

While Congress is still in denial about the consequences of global warming, a National Audubon Society initiative has taken flight. The Audubon Society announced that it has identified the first six official Important Bird Areas in Louisiana. The program is a global effort to identify and conserve areas that are vital to birds and other biodiversity. The Louisiana Bird Resource Center at LSU, Audubon's partner in the state, announced last week that:

The Important Bird Areas Program in Louisiana is an integral part of Audubon's Mississippi River and Gulf Coast Initiatives. These programs are Audubon's effort to advance the conservation and restoration of coastal Louisiana and restore the overall health of the Mississippi River ecosystem. Through its river, gulf, and IBA conservation efforts Audubon hopes to address significant threats to birds including the loss of habitat, degradation of water quality, decline of critical bird populations, and global warming. Global warming is predicted to result in significant sea level rise, leading to the inundation of critically important areas of coastal wetlands and barrier islands.

The six areas identified are Catahoula Lake and wetlands; Breton National Wildlife Refuge and Chandeleur Islands; Maurepas Swamp; Evangeline Unit of the Kisatchie National Forest; Vernon Unit of the Kisatchie National Forest and the Mississippi River Birdsfoot Delta.

Tommy Michot, a biologist at the National Wetlands Research Center in Lafayette has spent 25 years documenting bird habitat at the Chandeleur Islands and Catahoula Lake. His work is included in the Audubon IBA documentation. Michot said that while identifying the areas does not protect bird habitat, it's an important first step. "If the sites become threatened in any way--and they are always under various threats from all sorts of things--the science is already done. An agency can use the IBA identification to help protect endangered habitat."

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:07 AM

Scientology in Baton Rouge public school system?

Scientologists were one of the groups participating in rescue and relief efforts in Louisiana post-Katrina and Rita, and The St. Petersburg Times says that Scientologists used that time frame to get a study skills curriculum written by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard into Baton Rouge's Prescott Middle School. The story notes that Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden met with "celebrity Scientologists" John Travolta and Kelly Preston, and Isaac Hayes also played a key role in persuading Holden to support the program, which Scientologists characterize as purely secular and unrelated to Scientology.

LEAP scores are up since Hubbard's "study tech" was instituted at Prescott – registering a 1-point gain in English and language arts, and a 7-point gain in math. Principal Elida Bera says she's very happy with those scores, though they're still below state and district averages. No other Baton Rouge politicians, educators and administrators disassociated from Scientology are quoted, while professors from Southern University and The University of Missouri praise the program.

Dave Touretsky, a research professor at Carnegie Mellon University described by the SPJ as one of Scientology's harshest critics, isn't buying it. He says that study tech is "covert religious instruction" and unconstitutional to teach in public schools.

The idea, he said, is probably not to convert people directly, but rather to establish Scientologists as "do-gooders" and then to "slip in more Scientology down the road."

by: Scott Jordan 9:37 AM

Video of South College fire

A fire at King's Country Condominiums on South College Road yesterday around 3 p.m., clogged traffic on that busy thoroughfare for much of the afternoon. Independent reader David Monroe managed to shoot some video of the blaze, including this clip:

by: R. Reese Fuller 9:21 AM

Monday, May 21, 2007

Corps says dam MRGO

A ship channel slicing through St. Bernard Parish's wetlands, which is blamed for flooding in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, will be dammed if an Army Corps of Engineers plan is funded by Congress. The Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, dug by the Corps in the 1960s to provide a direct shipping route from New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico has funneled destructive salt water intrusion into fresh water wetlands, killing cypress stands and protective marshes and causing an outcry from St. Bernard Parish residents and environmentalists long before the storm. The Corps has proposed building a rock dam across the channel at Bayou La Loutre. Both the House and Senate have passed bills approving the closing of MR-GO, which is estimated to cost $50 million and take up to six months to complete, but a final vote authorizing the Corps plan may not take place until August.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:30 AM

School board to challenge Trahan ruling

A recent court ruling that forced the school board to renew the contract of embattled grants administrator Amy Trahan has disturbing implications, according to several school board members. Board president Carl LaCombe says "Unless we can appeal this and get it reversed, [The ruling] pretty much removes the ultimate authority of the board."

At issue is a clause within all school employees' contracts stating, "If the Board decides not to renew this agreement, the decision must be based on the recommendation of the Superintendent." In the case of Trahan, Superintendent James Easton recommended renewal of her contract, despite complaints from several board members that she is directly responsible for the district still having not received nearly $12 million in Title funds from the state. On Monday, District Judge Ed Rubin issued a writ of mandamus forcing the school board to renew Trahan's contract, which it did at its Wednesday meeting. Rubin also stated that the board still has the power to transfer or terminate Trahan, though it must have just cause to do so.

Board members point to Louisiana Revised Statute 17:81, which grants the general powers of the school board, and states "Nothing shall prevent a school board from rejecting the recommendations made by the superintendent and requiring the superintendent to submit additional recommendations." "We're going to move forward with whatever legal means we have at our disposal," LaCombe says. "This case goes far beyond just that individual in this circumstance. It brings to the forefront the issue of what do we do if this happens again. Are we going to be in the same position when the Superintendent and the board are at odds?"

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:26 AM

New Times of Acadiana movie critic is psychic

Last week's Times of Acadiana made a bold announcement on its cover: "Times movie critic debuts." And what a debut it was. Times managing editor Jan Risher didn't give new "critic" Trey Domingue a proper welcome with any kind of introduction or editor's note, letting Domingue's work speak for itself. Domingue's lead review of Shrek the Third was one whole paragraph, focusing on a plot summary and ending with this declaration: "With a star-studded cast and laughs for all ages this is definitely a must see for the entire family." Domingue gave the movie an A grade.

This was a bit curious, considering that The Times comes out on Wednesdays, Shrek the Third didn't open until last Friday and Lafayette is too small a market for advance screeners. There's no way Domingue could have seen the movie before reviewing it and assigning it a grade.

Lo and behold, tucked at the end of 11 more capsule reviews with assigned grades, the following appears:

Trey's Prediction Scale:
A+ — Pure perfection!
A — It's gonna be awesome!
B — A must-see
C — Worth a shot
D — Catch it on DVD
F — Don't bother

Ah, mystery solved. Rather than actually see the movie before giving it a grade, The Times' new critic will simply guess what the movie is like! Award-winning Independent film critic Shala Carlson has been working too hard. To think she spends hours watching a movie and then countless hours writing her reviews, when she could just use a Magic-8 ball. And all these years I've been actually listening to records and reading books before reviewing them, when I could just make stuff up and make readers think I've listened to them or read them.

When called for comment, The Times' Risher said, "[Trey] collects statistical information, but the rest of it is a prediction and he can revise it after the movie comes out."

Now the suspense is killing me. If Trey actually saw Shrek the Third this weekend, will he revise his grade?

by: Scott Jordan 10:25 AM

Fats Domino takes the stage

On Saturday night, rock n' roll legend Fats Domino took the stage at Tipitina's in New Orleans. The Times-Picayune reports that the 79-year-old icon behind hits like "Blueberry Hill," "I'm Walkin'," and "Ain't That a Shame" played a 30-minute set of 11 songs. The shy and reclusive Domino hasn't performed publicly in two years, since his 9th Ward home was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina's flood waters. At one point, he attempted to leave the stage.

The audience was given a brief moment of pause when, after the fourth song, the applause was cut short by silence as the 79 year old Fats stood up from the piano and attempted to leave the stage. Reggie Hall quickly led him back, setting him back down in front of the Steinway and Sons baby grand, and whispered song titles in his ear for the remainder of the evening.

On this Monday morning, check out this clip of Fats performing "Blue Monday" in the the 1956 film "The Girl Can't Help It."

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:12 AM

Montesano changes his mind, will appeal to council

John Montesano's on again, off again Chateau Mirage golf course development will ask the Lafayette City-Parish Council to throw out the lifeline on Tuesday, May 29. Monday night, after the Planning Commission required him to build three public streets he doesn't want to pay for, Montesano said he was killing the development because he did not have time to appeal the Planning Commission's conditions in time to secure his financing. But by Friday he was singing a different tune. "We're still alive," he said. "We got there [on the council's May 29 agenda] five minutes before the deadline."

It was actually a bit closer than that. "They met our deadline by two minutes," says council Clerk Norma Dugas. Requests for appeals must be on the agenda 11 days before the regular meeting, Dugas says. The deadline was noon Friday.

Even though he's trying to negotiate a compromise with the council, Montesano is still sweating it out. His financing, $48 million, expires May 29. "We're trying to get the bonding company to extend us a few days," he says.

by: Leslie Turk 9:48 AM

Friday, May 18, 2007

Transportation bill could mean $150 million for Lafayette

A bill being pushed by the Lafayette state delegation along with City-Parish President Joey Durel and State Treasurer John Kennedy could provide much more of a boost to Lafayette roads than originally anticipated. When the team announced the plan – to let parishes keep money generated from state motor vehicle sales taxes to use for road projects – legislators based their projections off of 2005 motor vehicle sales taxes, which totaled $283 million. In 2006, those revenues shot up to $382 million, with Lafayette Parish vehicle sales tax figures almost doubling from $11 to $21 million. State Rep. Joel Robideaux, who authored the House bill, says that if it were to pass, Lafayette Parish would be able to bond out that revenue stream for eight to 10 times that amount to do road construction and maintenance projects. "It's going to be in the neighborhood of $150 million [for Lafayette Parish]," he says, anticipating the post-hurricane numbers will drop a bit, "which would solve a whole lot of problems." The legislation - along with another bill from Lafayette state Rep. Don Trahan to dedicate state registration and drivers license fees into a transportation trust fund - is slated to be heard on Monday by the appropriations committee.

by: Nathan Stubbs 11:15 AM

NIMBY: residents oppose facility to help at-risk youths

Never before in Louisiana has Associated Marine Institutes faced the kind of opposition it's experiencing from residents and property owners in the Hoffpauir Road area, where the nonprofit plans to construct a residential facility to serve at-risk youths ages 14-18. Most of the hostility is coming from one resident, Jerry Meaux, who is erecting signs with the message: Stop the Jail on Hoffpauir Road. The problem with Meaux's message is that the facility is not a jail, say AMI reps. "We met with the person who is probably most upset," says Michele Money, director of communication for Tampa-based AMI, "and he agreed that it wasn't a jail." Still, she says, Meaux went forward with printing the signs.

"I did not acknowledge that it's not a jail," maintains Meaux, a cattleman who says he lives near the planned facility. Meaux argues that any juvenile who goes through the court system, whether for truancy or simple theft, and is sentenced to AMI's facility is a criminal — and thus believes the facility is a jail. The facility will not house any violent criminals or sex offenders. "I don't care what they are," he says, insisting he doesn't want the youths in his neighborhood, a sparsely populated remote area of southwestern Lafayette Parish. Meaux, who is president of the board of SLEMCO, referred The Independent Weekly's questions to public relations consultant Sandy Kaplan, whom he has retained along with attorney Jimmy Davidson to fight the facility. Kaplan, however, was unavailable for comment.

AMI's programs consist of residential and day treatment centers for adjudicated youth and six alternative schools for at-risk students in Florida and Illinois. The nonprofit operates 50 facilities, seven of which are in Louisiana, though the Hoffpauir Road location will be its first residential center in the state. AMI was awarded the bid to construct and run what it will call Acadiana Marine Institute by the State Office of Youth Development. It will provide therapy, counseling and high school equivalency degrees to older students. The program's success rate in Louisiana in 2006 was 87 percent. "This means 87 percent of AMI graduates have no further contact with the juvenile justice system," Money says.

To address concerns of residents like Meaux, AMI and its local board members — among whom are Lafayette Parish Sheriff Mike Neustrom, DA Mike Harson, District Judge Tommy Duplantier, Dru Milke, Dr. Kenneth Odinet, Hank Perret, Lenny Lemoine, Jerry Prejean, Glenn Decou, Greg Ellison and Kyle Love — volunteered to hold a public forum tonight from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Ridge Elementary. "We just want to give them the opportunity to ask questions and answer those questions directly, and clear up any misinformation," says Money, who expects at least half of the local board members to be in attendance.

by: Leslie Turk 10:56 AM

A day late and a vote short

Evidently, when the Daily Advertiser went to press yesterday, they failed to check the status of controversial House Bill 486 by Rep. Jim Fannin, Jonesboro, which would allow builders to swear they followed the state's new stringent building code rather than requiring the work to be inspected by certified inspectors. The headline on the front page of today's Daily Advertiser business section reads "Building code ‘gutted.' That was true on Wednesday, when the House Commerce committee passed the bill. Rep. Gil Pinac, Crowley, who sponsored a 2005 bill to beef up building codes following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita was quoted in the Advertiser today saying that the bill was gutted and would result in insurance companies refusing to cover residences.

This has sent a message across America to the insurance industry that says, ‘Do not come to Louisiana.'

However, on Thursday, on the floor of the House, the bill was defeated by a vote of 52-45. (It takes 53 votes, half the House, to pass.) The Advocate front page headline reads "Building code bill fails." Pinac, relieved after the vote, quipped about Fannin's bill:

His bill is on life support.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:53 AM

Fox's post-Katrina cop series gets greenlighted

Post-Katrina New Orleans and Louisiana could be making its way into living rooms across Louisiana as early as this August. The New Orleans-based cop drama program "K-Ville" has been greenlighted by the network, and The__Times-Picayune reports that filming and production could begin as early as June. Series writer-producer Jonathan Lisco has strong credentials, having worked on NYPD Blue and The District. And he also also seems to grasp what a challenge it will be to accurately capture the sweeping range of emotions in post-Katrina New Orleans:

"You don't want to do a show that's a Hallmark card to New Orleans, because then you're not writing about real people. You want to make them flawed. If you have them too flawed, you run the risk of lapsing in the cliché of the corrupt cop in New Orleans. If you make them too good, then you're not telling good stories. It's a very delicate balance to make the characters seem rich and real and sympathetic, while at the same time operating in a context that is inherently depressed."

by: Scott Jordan 10:32 AM

Bois Sec Ardoin dies at 92

Legendary Creole accordionist Alphonse "Bois Sec" Ardoin died Wednesday night in Eunice. He was 92 years old. Along with fiddler Canray Fontenot, Ardoin was noted for popularizing the French Creole music of the southwest Louisiana prairies during the folk music movement of the 1960s. Later in life, he recorded and played extensively with Balfa Toujours. Fiddler and producer Dirk Powell says of Ardoin, "He didn't make distinctions between Creole music, Cajun music, zydeco, or all these things. It was just the music, and he played with that pure soul. He really responded to the moment. He reminded me of what life's really all about, every time I was around him."

Visitation will be held Sunday night, May 20, at St. Mathilda Catholic Church in Eunice from 5 until 10 p.m. The funeral will be held at 11 a.m. on Monday. May 21 at 11 a.m. at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Eunice, with the burial to follow at Ceaser's Cemetery in Duralde.

In memory of Ardoin, Fontenot and the other Creole musicians who paved the way for zydeco, here's a clip of the two men performing the Eunice Two-Step and Bonsoir Moreau, recorded in 1966 at the Newport Folk Festival.

(Image of Alphonse "Bois Sec" Ardoin courtesy of David Simpson, LSUE)

by: R. Reese Fuller 8:44 AM

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Dolphins players rip Nick Saban

Ah, spring is in the air, and as Sports Illustrated NFL writer Michael Silver notes, it's time for players to start ripping their former coaches. The Miami Dolphins defense isn't missing its chance to criticize the coaching style of former LSU and Dolphins head coach Nick Saban, the man memorably dubbed "The Nicktator" by Cornerback Travis Daniels, who also played for Saban at LSU, says that playing for Saban was like having "someone breathing down my neck every second," while safety Yeremiah Bell also prefers the new coaching regime of Cam Cameron. ''It's a lot better," said Bell. "There's not as much yelling. With the yelling, guys get frustrated and their minds start to wander."

Saban is now head coach of the Crimson Tide, and LSU fans are counting down the days ‘til Nov. 3, when the Tigers face their SEC rivals and old coach at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Alabama. Saban's disgraceful and dishonorable jump from the Dolphins to the Crimson Tide was bad enough, but after Saban's infamous "coonass" story he told to Alabama reporters, he's fortunate he doesn't have to return to Tiger Stadium this season.

by: Scott Jordan 10:40 AM

Video poker plays to full house

Video poker addicts can rest assured that Louisiana is staying at the forefront of the gambling industry. Summit Gaming, a Billings, Montana gaming company unveiled their newest video poker machine, MegaPlex, at a May 3 open house in Baton Rouge to a crowd of casino owners and operators. Louisianians staked their claim on the future of video poker by buying in excess of 400 machines, resulting in Summit's largest single day sales of video poker machines. Summit proudly announced in Casino City Times that:

Unsurpassed quality, state-of-the-art technology and player appeal, the MegaPlex series of video poker machines from Summit Gaming has certainly set the benchmark for what great video poker is all about in the state of Louisiana.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:37 AM

Lafayette Police plans downtown substation

The Lafayette Police Department hasn't been located downtown in a decade, after it moved its central office from Jefferson Street to East University Avenue. But that should soon be changing, according to Police Chief Jim Craft. He says the department is now in the process of narrowing down possible locations for a new substation within the downtown business district, which should open sometime this year. Initially, the building will serve as a general office for police in the area to use, but Craft says he eventually wants it to be staffed full-time.

The downtown office has been a part of the department's long-term plans, but was moved up to this year's budget following concerns expressed by area business owners about a spike in assault crimes. Four muggings have been reported downtown since February. Craft says the department has made arrests in three of those cases and has also stepped up its patrol of downtown, with two full-time officers now assigned to the area. He says the new substation will further augment their presence. "We want to get back to more community-oriented policing," he says, "with officers assigned regular beats and a storefront-like presence in the area."

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:26 AM

DA meeting with airport attorney, reps today

Glenn Edwards, the attorney for the embattled Lafayette Airport Commission, says he's in the dark about what will come of today's 2 p.m. meeting with District Attorney Mike Harson. "He hasn't given me any indication of what he wants to talk about," Edwards says. Harson began looking into questionable spending practices of the commission earlier this year, after State Legislative Auditor Steve Theriot's office reviewed hundreds of pages of documents from a group of concerned residents. Residents' evidence of commissioners' questionable spending triggered a series of investigative reports by The Daily Advertiser. The legislative auditor's fraud division was not involved, nor was a full investigation conducted — prompting residents to push for further inquiry by Harson's office. In March, Harson told The Daily Advertiser he may require some commissioners to reimburse the airport for expenditures. Emphasizing that he hasn't yet seen all of the documentation presented to Harson, Edwards says he isn't aware of any such expenses. "There were 500 pages of documents that were copied. I have never seen these documents," he says.

"The only challenge the legislative auditor leveled was that meals after commission meetings were ‘unnecessary,'" notes Edwards, "and in the spirit of compromise, we agreed — and agreed not to do that anymore." At times, those gatherings — some costing $500 to $600 at upscale local restaurants — violated the state's open meetings law because a quorum of commissioners was present and airport business was discussed. Edwards maintains that the airport, which receives some of its funding from property taxes, has not paid for commissioners' post-meeting meals since October.

The attorney says commission Chairman Carroll Robichaux and airport Director Greg Roberts will also attend today's meeting with Harson.

by: Leslie Turk 9:10 AM

Louisiana residents' interest in rebuilding wanes

The latest survey by the Louisiana Public Policy Research Lab indicates that the attention of Louisiana residents is shifting from rebuilding after the 2005 hurricanes.

We continue to see public attention shifting away from rebuilding and toward other issues. Yet, no other problem has replaced rebuilding as the most important problem.

The survey also indicates that half of the residents surveyed feel that Louisiana is headed in the wrong direction, a third believe the state's headed in the right direction, and 17 percent aren't sure.

Read the summary PDF or the PDF of the 54-page report.

by: R. Reese Fuller 8:48 AM

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Texas Hold 'em bill back before legislature

With cockfighting seemingly on its way out, the debate on the merits of Texas Hold 'em may be arising as the new perennial hot-button issue for the Louisiana state legislature. This week, the state House is scheduled to consider a measure similar to one that was narrowly defeated last year that would allow the state's 6,000 licensed restaurants, bars and lounges to host Texas Hold 'em tournaments, provided they have no stake in the prize money. House Bill 484 is authored by state Rep. Warren Triche of Thiboduax, who got into a heated argument over the bill with Murphy Painter, the state commissioner of alcohol and tobacco control, during a criminal justice committee meeting. Triche also brought the measure before the legislature last year. "I'd rather wrangle with a six-legged kangaroo than to keep on going through this," Triche said. This year's bill seems to be headed for a similar fate however, as Gov. Blanco has threatened to veto it, saying it goes against her philosophy that gambling shouldn't be a basis on which to build an economy.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:52 AM

Borel's win shines light on south La.

With the national media still focused on Calvin Borel and his stunning win at the Kentucky Derby, all eyes are now turning to this Saturday's Preakness Stakes, where Borel and Street Sense will shoot for the second leg of the Triple Crown. But national attention has also began to focus on south Louisiana and its bush tracks. A recent NBC Sports piece, "Borel's success comes from rich tradition in Louisiana," explores the culture of horse racing in south Louisiana.

Louisiana-born jockeys have made their mark at the highest levels of American racing. Eric Guerin of Maringouin won the 1947 Kentucky Derby on Jet Pilot; Hall of Fame rider Eddie Delahoussaye of New Iberia won consecutive Derbies in 1982 and 1983 on Gato Del Sol and Sunny's Halo; Craig Perret of New Orleans rode Unbridled to victory in the 1990 Kentucky Derby; and Kent Desormeaux, a native of Maurice, captured the 1998 Derby on Real Quiet and the 2000 Derby on Fusiachi Pegasus. …

The cautionary tale is that the breeding grounds of the great Cajun riders have all but disappeared. It used to be that bush tracks -- in reality, just straight-ahead two-lane tracks with rails on each side -- dotted the sugar cane fields of southwest Louisiana, providing an Ivy League education in how to ride. It was a democratic system: the best and brightest pupils, the ones with vision, strength and courage, survived and advanced to the big tracks.

That's how Delahoussaye and Borel earned their spurs. …

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:50 AM

Stopping sagging not a cinch

Delcambre's move to stop sagging may run into a snag, according to former New Iberia city attorney Jeff Simon. The Delcambre Board of Aldermen introduced an ordinance this week stating:

It shall be unlawful for a person in a public place to be found in a state of nudity or partial nudity or in a dress not becoming to his or her sex or any indecent exposure of his or her person or undergarments.

If passed, anyone caught violating the ordinance will be fined up to $500 or imprisoned for six months or both. While the ordinance tracks an Opelousas law, which city clerk secretary Lisa Anderson says dates back to the 1940s, a 1999 attorney general opinion requested by the city of New Iberia in its attempt to regulate sagging clearly states that municipalities are prohibited from passing an ordinance on the criminal offense of obscenity which exceeds the scope of Louisiana statute 14:106, "Offenses affecting the public generally."

The state obscenity laws cover indecent exposure of the body, but stop short of calling unbecoming clothing or undergarments indecent. "I concluded that government cannot tell people how to dress as a general rule," Simon says. "I don't think you can regulate clothing."

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:44 AM

TPL's Schmidt "confident, encouraged" after meeting with Authement

Larry Schmidt, who heads the New Orleans office of the national nonprofit The Trust for Public Land, says he left yesterday's meeting with UL President Ray Authement and City-Parish President Joey Durel feeling "confident and encouraged." Schmidt's group hopes to purchase UL's horse farm property and hold it until local government can pay for it and convert it into a park. "I'm very pleased with the meeting, with Dr. Authement and the mayor as well," Schmidt says. "It was a very amicable meeting."

The trio did not discuss specifics of the option agreement TPL is in the process of drafting — not even the duration of it. TPL should have it ready to be presented to Authement next week. Before signing the agreement, however, Authement would need the approval of the UL System's Board of Supervisors. Schmidt says Authement explained his need for property closer to campus, and that at least a partial swap may be part of the plan, which will likely include a variety of government and private monies.

TPL plans to pay fair market value for the 100-acre tract. The organization assumes the cost of conducting an appraisal and other due diligence on the property. The transaction would likely also require legislative approval, according to Jerry Jones, head of the state Office of Facility Planning and Control.

Neither Authement nor Durel could be reached for comment.

by: Leslie Turk 8:58 AM

Editorial: Greenspace and greenbacks in Lafayette

From this week's lead editorial in The Independent Weekly:

[UL Lafayette President Ray] Authement's actions to date [regarding the UL Lafayette horse farm property] and The Independent's recent discovery that City-Parish President Joey Durel considered selling the greenspace on Camellia Boulevard to developers suggest that some of our city's leaders still don't understand the economic, environmental and sociological impact of preserving what little greenspace remains in Lafayette. It's a mindset that conjures up the classic Joni Mitchell song "Big Yellow Taxi":

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Here in Lafayette, however, we know what we've got, and we don't want to see it gone. Read the whole editorial.

by: Scott Jordan 8:49 AM

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Montesano pulls plug on golf course development

Chateau Mirage, John Montesano's ambitious 300-acre golf course development across from the Mall of Acadiana, appears all but dead. "As of last night John said he was killing [it]," says project engineer Paul Miers, who has worked with Montesano for the past five years. Since 2003 Montesano has wrangled with local officials over road construction at the development — the issue that last night led to Chateau Mirage's demise.

Miers says a group of property owners who had initially agreed to sell Montesano acreage backed out of the deal, which had a ripple effect. "That property would have given him access to additional property he needed to acquire," Miers says. The developer was forced to find alternate land and successfully negotiated deals for property on the north side of Ridge Road. He submitted a revised plan to the Planning Commission last night, and the commission approved it but wanted him to pay to extend Curran Lane, which runs on the side of the Ambassador Caffery Wal-Mart, and make additional road improvements. "They told John he needed to build it and dedicate it," says Miers, who notes that the road would go no where. "It dead-ends short of tying into Domingue Road." Montesano, who is willing to dedicate the land for the road but doesn't want to pay for its construction, could appeal the decision to the City-Parish Council, which Miers thinks he could win. That won't work, however, because Montesano has until May 29 to close on his loan but wouldn't be able to get on the council's agenda until June. "He loses his financing at the end of this month," Miers says.

As for the $2 million Town Center Parkway he built and agreed to dedicate to local government, Montesano says he's changed his mind about handing it over. "It's going to be a toll road, the first toll road in Lafayette," he told The Advocate.

by: Leslie Turk 10:51 AM

School board member running for city council

Veteran school board member Mike Hefner hopes to make the leap to the Lafayette city-parish council next year. Hefner says after much thought, he has decided to make a run for the District 5 council seat being vacated by Lenwood Broussard, who is prevented by term limits from seeking re-election. "I've been thinking about this for about a year," Hefner says, adding that several supporters have encouraged him to make the move. The 51-year-old geographic planner and demographer is now in his 18th year on the school board. He has previously worked for Q-System computers and served as Director for the Enterprise Center, a small business incubator in Carencro.

Hefner - who now often finds himself in the minority on the new school board which took over this year - says he's excited about the fresh opportunities in city-parish government, which will soon help oversee a state of the art fiber network throughout the city. Next year's city council will also have at least six new members. "The stars have kind of aligned," Hefner says. "If I win, it will be tough to leave the school board. With my background, I just feel like I could get more done for the parish on the council than the school board." He adds that he hopes to try and facilitate more coordination between the two local government bodies. Hefner is the first candidate to announce a run for the District 5 council seat. Other potential candidates said to be looking at the race include planning commissioner John Barras and Linda Duhon, who lost a bid for the seat four years ago to Broussard.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:42 AM

Diana's got it made in the shade

A rare white alligator, bred by a commercial alligator farmer in Cut Off, has joined the Knoxville Zoo for a summer vacation. Announced yesterday, her name, Diana, is the result of a local contest. Diana is a true albino unlike the leucistic, blue-eyed white alligators owned by the Audubon Zoo. True Albinos have red eyes rather than blue and are the result of a double recessive gene. Her parents produce a clutch of eggs annually and the young white alligators are regularly purchased by the Alligator Farm Zoological Park in St. Augustine, Fl.

In a shady exhibit made to look like a Louisiana bayou with tree stumps and hanging Spanish moss, Diana basks in the warmth of a heat lamp. Her delicate skin lacks the pigment to protect her from the sun. According to legend, states an article about Diana in National Geographic News, gazing into a white alligator's eyes will bring good fortune. Assistant curator of herpetology for the Knoxville Zoo Phil Colclough told reporters that Diana fascinates zoo visitors. "Nobody believes she's real. They stare until she takes a breath or moves her eyes or jumps into the pool."

(photos from National Geographic News)

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:28 AM

CABL presses for "quantum change" in Louisiana government

Nonprofit, non-partisan government watchdog The Council for a Better Louisiana has issued its extensive plan to accelerate economic development and enact real change in Louisiana government and policies. The result of months interviews and surveys, The Quantum Change Agenda recommends action on eight major issues: Pre-K-12 education; post-secondary and higher education; workforce development; ethics and governmental reform; economic growth and diversity; health care reform; coastal restoration and hurricane protection; and public safety. Why a Quantum Change? CABL notes, "While the state may have garnered sympathy from the nation in the aftermath of the storms, our image as a place to live and do business has been further damaged by constant national exposure to our crime, poverty and racial tensions."

The challenge now is getting our gubernatorial candidates to present platforms that address these issues with concrete initiatives. If voters, the press, CABL and other government reform groups -- including Blueprint Louisiana, Louisiana Speaks, and La Ethics 1 -- can keep the spotlight on candidates' stances and demand real answers, it'll be a glorious political version of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas' "Nowhere to Run."

by: Scott Jordan 10:28 AM

NY Times on divided New Orleans

An editorial in today's edition of the NY Times, "In Divided New Orleans," begins:

When President Bush spoke to the nation soon after Hurricane Katrina, he was resolute that the city would be rebuilt. "We will do what it takes," he said. We — the federal, state and city governments; elected officials and the citizens who hire them — have failed spectacularly. Homes and schools remain empty or imaginary; evacuees and survivors wait in cramped trailers, unable to return or rebuild. A huge silence still hangs over the Lower Ninth Ward, a place every American should see, to witness firsthand how truckloads of promises have filled New Orleans's vast devastation with nothing.

The editorial cites recent findings about post-Katrina New Orleans, recently issued by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which show a "sharp divide in the way that African Americans and whites in the New Orleans area experienced the storm and perceive the recovery efforts, especially in hard-hit Orleans Parish." The editorial concludes:

Their faith must not be betrayed. Residents in the survey were keenly aware that their city's fitful recovery would be devastated if the levees failed again. They put strong levees above all other priorities, including fighting crime and even basic services like electricity and water. And yet National Geographic has reported that an engineer has found signs that levees were poorly rebuilt and are already eroding. There is no room for error here.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:02 AM

Monday, May 14, 2007

Crawfish disease detected in St. Martin Parish

The state department of Agriculture has confirmed the presence of White Spot Disease from a now quarantined crawfish pond in St. Martin Parish. Highly contagious among all crustaceans, the relatively new virus – visible by patches of white pimple-like dots – wreaked havoc on China's shrimp farming industry in the 1990s and has thus far only been detected in isolated pockets in the U.S. Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom says WSD "could have major economic impacts on Louisiana's aquaculture industry," which has a crawfish industry valued at $95.6 million annually. "Our greatest concern is keeping this contained," Odom says. "We cannot afford to have a disease like this in our state." The department is asking all crawfish farmers to be mindful of the situation and report any suspected cases of WSD to their local wildlife and fisheries office. WSD poses no known human health risks.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:41 AM

LEDA's Gothreaux: park is highest and best use of horse farm

It appears that Save the Horse Farm has a strong ally in LEDA's Gregg Gothreaux, who's been participating in the group's meetings lately. "This may be our last opportunity to have a large-scale ‘Central Park' in Lafayette," says Gothreaux, emphasizing the significant role parks and recreation play in economic development. "From an economic development standpoint, quality of life is becoming more and more important over time." The parish's economic development chief believes the long-term growth of business, particularly the ability to attract and retain talent, will depend on this issue. "In the energy industry, this is particularly important," he says.

Gothreaux is encouraging the community to rally behind the effort to purchase and convert the 100-acre horse farm into a parish-owned community park. "It appears that the highest and best use of this land would be for that purpose," he says. Gothreaux is hopeful tomorrow's meeting between UL President Ray Authement, City-Parish President Joey Durel and The Trust for Public Land's Larry Schmidt will be fruitful. "Dr. Authement's tenure at UL has always been marked by great vision. I believe that if the community can put a plan in place and satisfy the university's needs for the funds, he would love this option."

by: Leslie Turk 10:25 AM

Barry: the nation should care about La.'s coast

In Saturday's edition of the Washington Post, John M. Barry lays out six facts that the Bush administration and Congress should keep in mind in the debate over Louisiana's disappearing coast. (Barry was the subject of The Independent cover story on March 22, 2006, "History Lessons.") After detailing six points, Barry concludes:

Generating benefits to the nation is what created the problem, and the nation needs to solve it. Put simply: Why should a cab driver in Pittsburgh or Tulsa pay to fix Louisiana's coast? Because he gets a stronger economy and lower energy costs from it, and because his benefits created the problem. The failure of Congress and the president to act aggressively to repair the coastline at the mouth of the Mississippi River could threaten the economic vitality of the nation. Louisiana, one of the poorest states, can no longer afford to underwrite benefits for the rest of the nation.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:16 AM

Blanco rips the feds

Free from repercussions on a re-election campaign trail – and perhaps to divert attention from the recent news of the Road Home program's possible bankruptcy – Gov. Kathleen Blanco has unleashed her most pointed criticism yet of the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina. In an interview with The Washington Post published on Saturday, Blanco uses the White House's refusal to waive the Stafford Act as the lead-in to some angry commentary on the federal government:

It's all political. You know, this country's run on politics. But when a disaster comes that is not what you expect, you expect a human reaction, not a political reaction. And I will tell you, there's a void, a total void of human response. And it's extremely discouraging as an American citizen. It makes me angry and extremely disappointed.

As the two-year anniversaries of Katrina and Rita approach, Blanco ends with an appeal to members of Congress:

They need to look in their own hearts to decide what they would want to happen in their own states if something of this magnitude did as much damage. Where would their people be?

by: Scott Jordan 10:00 AM

Friday, May 11, 2007

ThyssenKrupp chooses Alabama for Gulf Coast steel mill

German steel manufacturer ThyssenKrupp today announced it will be building its $3.7 billion Gulf Coast steel mill – expected to create 2700 jobs – in Alabama, not Louisiana. The decision follows months of high-stakes bidding by the two states, which the company had selected as finalists for its new plant, to edge out each other for the economic development coup.

Just yesterday, the Louisiana state house upped its allocation for infrastructure build out for the plant to $400 million – matching bonds approved by the Alabama legislature. While Louisiana officials have been tight-lipped on its complete package of incentives offered to ThyssenKrupp, reports have put their total value at around $2 billion. Alabama has also doled out numerous incentives and tax credits, including one that allows the company to reduce its state corporate income tax bill by an amount that is as much as 5 percent annually of its initial capital investment.

ThyssenKrupp's statement today says "Due to its high cost efficiency, Mount Vernon [Alabama] is the ideal location" adding that "Decisive factors included logistical considerations of the company's supply chain from Brazil to our projected customers; operating costs such as electricity and labor; and site-specific capital expenditures."

Amidst the disappointment, Gov. Kathleen Blanco remained optimistic today saying "To be selected as one of two finalists from among 20 states and 67 sites for a project of this magnitude is a tremendous honor and proves that Louisiana is moving forward with extraordinary momentum."

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:54 AM

All eyes still on Calvin Borel

NBC Sports features a great section on Kentucky Derby winner and St. Martinville native Calvin Borel – "Ride of his Life." Read the article, "From out of Nowhere," and see some great video of an emotional Borel right after the win, in the winner's circle, and an incredible overhead view of the race as Borel and Street Sense slingshot past the rest of the pack, after starting next to last.

After winning the Kentucky Derby, having dinner with the president of the United States, the Queen of England, and Super Bowl quarterback Peyton Manning, Borel has returned to the stable with Street Sense. On Wednesday, the horse bit Borel after he gave another horse a carrot before Street Sense got his. The reason? Borel explained quite frankly: "He got pissed off."

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:41 AM

Authement: horse farm offers "verbal and confidential"

There is no doubt UL Lafayette's horse farm property has drawn the interest of many developers over the years, and on April 27 UL President Ray Authement told KATC-TV3 he had "four solid offers" for the acreage. However, Authement produced only a single written offer as a result of The Independent Weekly's public records request for copies of those proposals. The other overtures are "verbal and confidential," Authement says. On April 10, the university president received a proposal from Allen Angers of Spectrum Real Estate on behalf of Damon Becnel, son of former Lafayette developer Tom Becnel. Father and son now live in Destin, Fla., where they've been developing condominium complexes. Becnel wants to buy 68 acres(starting at Johnston Street) for $3 million. The only other "offer" was from a local woman, Mary George Hanks, who didn't propose buying the property but rather using it to develop a dog park, to which Authement replied, "The university has no interest in placing a dog park on university property."

Included in the response to the public records request was the May 4 letter from the national nonprofit land conservation group The Trust for Public Land. TPL hopes to buy the property at fair market value and hold it until local government can pay for it and convert it into a park (where dogs would be welcome, too). The trust's Louisiana director, Larry Schmidt, is meeting today with City-Parish President Joey Durel and members of Save the Horse Farm and on Tuesday with Authement. Should Durel and Authement strike a deal with Schmidt's organization, the transaction will likely require legislative approval, says Jerry Jones, head of the state Office of Facility Planning and Control. Otherwise, Becnel, Hanks and other "confidential" parties would have to take their chances in a public bid process.

by: Leslie Turk 10:29 AM

AOC wants your fest pics and videos

Acadiana Open Channel is asking people to submit pictures and video from this year's Festival International to be included in festival footage the station is now editing. "We want to start collecting digital images and video from the public and this year's festival is a great place to start," says AOC Director Ed Bowie. "Digital collection makes collaborative efforts much easier than in the past." Submitters can send digital copies via email to [email protected] or by regular mail to 704 Lee Avenue, 70501. DVDs or CDs are encouraged.

by: Nathan Stubbs 9:49 AM

Ted Power leaves The Daily Advertiser, moves to Nevada

It was inevitable. After five years, and in keeping with Gannett tradition, Daily Advertiser Publisher Ted Power has taken a job in Nevada as president and publisher of the Reno Gazette-Journal. Good for Ted, bad for The Advertiser. Power was imported from Tennessee in 2002 and wasn't expected to last more than a few years, due to Gannett's history of shuffling managers from paper to paper. But unlike, say, former Advertiser editor Juli Metzger, who wrote her share of forced and half-baked rah-rah Lafayette columns in her brief tenure before hightailing it back to Indiana, Power seemed to genuinely care about Lafayette and Acadiana. He co-chaired the Bishop's Charity Gala and was a board member of the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce and the Lafayette Education Foundation. And despite the fact that The Advertiser is a competitor, Ted always answered The Independent's phone calls when we were covering the latest boneheaded Advertiser move.

Best of luck in your new job and hometown, Ted. You're one person Gannett should have kept here.

by: Scott Jordan 9:44 AM

Crouchstock 2007

After Jacob Crouch took his own life, his family and friends came together to ensure his legacy and prevent others from going through the same tragedy. They organized last year's Crouchstock, a one-day concert that raised $30,000 and led to The Jacob Crouch Foundation, which furthers suicide awareness and prevention. Crouchstock returns this year with its goal of prevention and awareness and an impressive line-up of both local and New Orleans talent to help spread the message.

The event, held tomorrow, May 12 at Parc International, starts at 11 a.m. with True Man Posse, followed by performances from Richard Revue (folk roots rock and alt. country), Lil' Nathan & The Zydeco Big Timers, Dustin Ray & Southern Groove (Cajun and swamp pop), Big Sam's Funky Nation (New Orleans funk), Travis Matte & The Zydeco Kingpins (booty-infused zydeco) and The Soul Rebels (jazz, funk). The day ends at 10 p.m. with The People's Band. Sticking to their grassroots approach, the People's band is made up of JCF organizers. For more info, check out
(by Nick Pittman)

by: admin 9:23 AM

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Meriwhether, Bruder on UL search committee

Dr. John Meriwether, who has taught physics at UL Lafayette for four decades, will have a vote in who is recommended as Dr. Ray Authement's successor, and longtime English professor Dr. Harry Bruder will serve as a non-voting member of the search committee. The duo was chosen by the UL Faculty Senate yesterday to represent its interests on the committee, which will be named later this month by the UL System's board chairman, Jimmy Long Sr. of Natchitoches. Long is appointing members of his board to the search committee that by December will recommend a new president to the full board, which makes the final decision. Meriwether says the faculty wants to find academic candidates with classroom and research experience; like System President Sally Clausen, he says an above-board national search will be conducted. "All I can tell you right now is what I see and what I'm told," the physics professor says. "If it doesn't turn out to be an open process, I'm not a shy person — I will speak up." For more details on the search, click here.

by: Leslie Turk 10:41 AM

Sierra Club warns of toxic FEMA trailers

With scores of FEMA trailers on their way to more natural disaster victims in Greensburg, Kansas, officials with the Sierra Club are warning that the mobile homes are more toxic than originally thought. Becky Gillette, Vice Chair of the Mississippi Sierra Club is hosting a noon press conference today along with a pair of certified industrial hygenists and two Gulf Coast FEMA trailer residents from families that have experienced frequent illnesses. The teleconference comes on the heels of a study released May 4 by FEMA, in which the agency confirms higher than normal levels of formaldehyde in its emergency trailers. As a result of its study FEMA says it is now "formalizing procedures for responding to formaldehyde complaints" and working with manufacturers to reduce formaldehyde emitting materials in its trailers. In the meantime, its advice to residents sensitive to the chemical compound: open the windows and use air conditioning.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:12 AM

Terrebonne, Breaux Bridge in spotlight

It comes as no surprise that Breaux Bridge has been named one of the 10 top destinations for summer travel by The on-line travel magazine ranks the crawfish capitol second in its list of emerging holiday destinations, right after Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic, a Caribbean fishing village. Travelbite describes Breaux Bridge as:

Famous for its crayfish and Cajun cooking, Breaux Bridge is also ideal for an active holiday - with the Atchafalaya Basin the place to go for walks and canoe trips where you can see cypress trees, water lilies, beavers, wading egrets and alligators.

Meanwhile, Terrebonne Parish has been noted as one of America's most remote places. A new U.S. Geological Survey report, based on the number of roads in an area and the distance required to get around, named the coastal parish one of the wild places. Raymond Watts, lead researcher on the project, says he was surprised to see that many of the most remote areas in the country are located in Louisiana. While this might be an eye-opener to someone expecting remote places to be in Wyoming or Alaska, it shouldn't come as a shock to anyone who knows the condition of Louisiana's roads.

by: Mary Tutwiler 9:49 AM

Codrescu asks: Where's Lafayette's Gabriel Garcia Marquez?

Renowned writer and NPR contributor Andrei Codrescu cites UL Lafayette professor John Laudun in his May 1 Penny Post column. Codrescu (who unfortunately misspells Laudun's name) writes that Lafayette is "growing like a giant in a fairy tale," and how Laudun notes that Lafayette is "right at that juncture between new and old, when people can still remember the old while they are being swept under by the new." With that backdrop, Codrescu and Laudun lament that "no writer has yet risen from the Atchafalaya Basin to pen a chronicle of local vividness the way Gabriel Garcia Marquez has done for Colombia-Macondo."

The column's filled with Codrescu's signature subtle and dry wit, and includes a reference to his difficulty placing a classified ad with The Daily Advertiser. Codrescu ultimately asks, "Where is Louisiana's [William] Faulkner?"

by: Scott Jordan 9:11 AM

Red Beans and Rice: cookin' again

Twenty-six years after the band's first album, the Red Beans and Rice Revue follow up with their second release, Live from the Gulf Coast. In 2005, the '80s band that made a name for itself at the weekly "white night" shows at the legendary Hamilton's Place reunited for a performance at Grant Street Dancehall for Medicine Show 9, an annual benefit for the Dr. Tommy Comeaux Memorial Fund of Traditional Music at UL Lafayette. It was the group's first performance in 16 years and was followed by two more shows at a Downtown Alive performance and the re-opening of Grant Street, the nightclub the band had originally opened 20 years earlier. Produced with Ivan Klisanin, and recorded by Karl Fontenot and Tony Daigle, Live from the Gulf Coast retails for $15 (which includes shipping and handling) is only available locally through the band's Web site.

by: R. Reese Fuller 9:03 AM

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Camellia Green: Paradise Lost?

In 2004, Camellia Green seemed like a win-win proposition for everyone. The project called for an idyllic park setting along the stretch of land where more than 70 homes were bulldozed to make way for the new Camellia Boulevard. It would serve as a natural buffer for area residents, improve drainage, and could be largely funded through state and federal grants.

Three years later, grant money for the project is still tied up and Lafayette Consolidated Government has begun exploring other options. The city is now moving ahead with construction of a fence along the boulevard for residents, spending funds it had set aside in hopes of a local match for the Camellia Green grants. And at a recent meeting with area residents, City-Parish President Joey Durel floated an idea that infuriated many in attendance – the possibility of redeveloping the land. Read the full story in this week's Independent.

by: admin 10:13 AM

Fort Polk troops on Iraq stand-by

The Pentagon alerted an additional 35,000 soldiers on Tuesday to be prepared to head to Iraq in December. The 10th Mountain Division from Fort Polk, La., about 3,500 soldiers, is one of the 10 brigades on stand-by. While the move allows the American military to maintain heightened troop levels into next year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has also allowed the possibility of decreasing American buildup if progress is not made by the Iraqi government to stabilize conditions in Iraq.

This morning, President Bush said he would veto a bill drafted by House Democrats that would only fund the war through the summer. If conditions do not improve in Iraq, the proposal gives Congress the option to cut off funding beginning in August. Bush asked for war funding of more than $90 billion through September.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:07 AM

ESPN films at Blue Moon tonight

It'll be a busy tonight at the Blue Moon Saloon. After happy hour from 5 until 7 p.m. (with three for one drink specials) and a Festival International volunteer appreciation party from 5:30 until 7:30 p.m., the Creole Zydeco Farmers take the stage at 8 p.m.. The band will be filmed for the ESPN program Get Wild with Cindy Garrison, which is currently filming a segment about fishing and the outdoors of south Louisiana. Admission is $6.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:03 AM

Coastal restoration and protection master plan set for hearing

A joint committee of lawmakers is expected to hold the first hearing later today on the state's master plan for coastal restoration and protection, but hearing is all they will get to do. That's because Senate Concurrent Resolution 11 by Sen. Reggie Dupre, a Terrebonne Parish Democrat, does not allow for changes or amendments. What they'll see this afternoon is what they'll get. Sydney Coffee, chair of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, the group that essentially drafted the plan, says it was introduced as a hands-off measure because officials wanted to avoid legislative tinkering.

However, trying to muzzle a lawmaker is easier said than done. Sen. Butch Gautreaux, a Morgan City Democrat, has filed a "comment box resolution" that will allow lawmakers to make recommendations and comments on the master plan. "This allows us to make our comments and keep the approval process of the master plan relatively clean," Dupre says. While the feedback and concerns will be part of the legislative record, the resolution is nonbinding and has no legal authority, but lawmakers will have their say. An actual vote on the two resolutions could come as early as tomorrow morning. -- Jeremy Alford, Independent Weekly contributing writer

by: admin 10:01 AM

Louisiana Speaks unveils regional plan tonight

Louisiana Speaks, the longterm planning initiative of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, unveils its regional plan tonight at a free town hall-style meeting in Lafayette. Its recommendations grew out of 18 months of public input, private financing and extensive analysis. For an advance look at the Louisiana Speaks findings, view its complete 92-page report here. The three main conclusions: Recover Sustainably, Grow Smarter and Think Regionally.

The meeting takes place at 6 p.m. on the second floor of the A. Hays Town building at the Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum (710 East Saint Mary Blvd.). City-Parish President Joey Durel will deliver opening remarks.

by: Scott Jordan 9:57 AM

BR pub: T. Joe in, Clausen gets his job, Clarke hers

In a phone interview with The Independent Weekly Monday, UL System President Sally Clausen said she expects all sorts of rumors, innuendo and speculation to surface in the hunt for a new UL Lafayette president — just as it has in the four searches she ran in the past. "There is no fix," says Clausen, who maintains a bona fide national search will be conducted. Meanwhile, Baton Rouge's Business Report made a brazen prediction in its latest issue, out yesterday. The pub typically editorializes on its BalanceSheet page (available only in the print edition), which includes a "What you read" and "What it means" section. And here's what Business Report says about Authement's pending retirement: "Look for the news to set off this chain reaction: E. Joseph Savoie, commissioner of higher education, will take over as chancellor [note to Business Report: your purple and gold is showing; they're presidents in our system] at University of Louisiana-Lafayette; Sally Clausen moves from University of Louisiana System president to head the Board of Regents [T. Joe's job]; and Jimmy Clarke, who is Gov. Blanco's chief of staff, goes to head the UL System."

by: Leslie Turk 8:42 AM

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

T-P gives major props to Festival International

While New Orleans is still basking in attendance numbers for the 2007 Jazz Fest that come close to pre-9/11 numbers (375,000), The Times-Picayune takes note of Festival International's banner year in 2007 with an extensive feature in today's edition. FIL's estimated 375,000 attendees for 2007 show how FIL continues to gain recognition, and the T-P's story stretches back all the way to FIL's inception, with quotes from early FIL boosters Tina Girouard and Herman Mhire. The money quote – and one that a number of our state politicians would do well to heed – comes from FIL director Dana Cañedo. When asked about the perception of any competition between FIL and Jazz Fest, Cañedo notes how the mutual respect between the two festivals has only gotten stronger post-Katrina: "I think the hurricane has created a more regional approach to [producing cultural events], rather than, ‘This is mine, this is yours.'"

by: Scott Jordan 10:49 AM

Clausen: Blanco, Authement no say in presidential search

UL System President Sally Clausen maintains neither the governor nor retiring UL President Ray Authement will have a say in who becomes the sixth president of the 107-year-old university. "I have not talked to the governor or anyone else in her administration," Clausen says. "I'm not interested in talking to anyone." The system president, who will serve as non-voting chair of the search committee, also maintains Authement will play a role only if the committee asks him to. She says a more appropriate function for him is to help the new president make a smooth transition into the position. "I think that's a better use of his time," she says. Clausen notes that a national search will be under way soon and insists the process will be open to the public. And while some candidates may not like the transparent method because of its potential to jeopardize their current jobs, Clausen wholeheartedly embraces it — even more so because of her personal experiences as a potential candidate for president of the LSU System. "There are people that are unsure of the process," Clausen notes. "In the long run, the openness serves us better." For more details on the search and how to become involved, click here.

by: Leslie Turk 10:39 AM

New Orleans chooses new superintendent of schools

One of the toughest jobs in post-Katrina New Orleans, superintendent of schools, was one of the toughest jobs before the storm as well. New Orleans' embattled schools were some of the worst performing in the country, riddled with low test scores at the classroom level and a corruption-tainted Central Office. Superintendent turnover was high. Tomorrow, Paul Vallas, the incoming superintendent of the state-run Recovery School District will be introduced to New Orleans parents at a town hall meeting. Calling him a prominent education reformer, the New York Times profiles Vallas as an energetic practitioner who finds the challenge of the New Orleans schools irresistible. Speaking May 4 in the Ninth Ward, he told officials, including Governor Blanco:

We've got to get qualified people in the classrooms. We not only have the problem of deep poverty; we have the problem of children who have been traumatized.

Facilities. Fixing schools. From what I've heard, it's facilities, facilities, facilities. Clearly the hurricane has done damage, but there has been neglect" even before the storm.

Of the original 128 schools that comprised the district, only 22 remain under the jurisdiction of the Orleans Parish School Board. Seventeen have become charter schools, the rest are shuttered. Vallas comes to New Orleans after making sweeping changes in Chicago and Philadelphia, ready for the challenge.

Why this job at this time? You've got an opportunity to create a new school system.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:33 AM

Boustany makes good on wager

Congressman Charles Boustany paid off some outstanding debt this past weekend,

Levees' stability questioned

Robert G. Bea, an engineering professor with the University of California, Berkeley, is troubled by the repairs made to Louisiana's levee system after Hurricane Katrina. The New York Times reports that Bea is particularly concerned with signs of "erosion on a levee by the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, a navigation canal that helped channel water into New Orleans during the storm."

Breaches in that 13-mile levee devastated communities in St. Bernard Parish, just east of New Orleans, and the rapid reconstruction of the barrier was hailed as one of the corps' most significant rebuilding achievements in the months after the storm.

Bea has been studying the levees for National Geographic magazine:

Bea found several areas where rainstorms have already eroded the newly rebuilt levees, particularly where they consist of a core of sandy and muddy soils topped with a cap of Mississippi clay. "It's like icing on the top of angel food cake," Bea says. "These levees will not be here if you put a Katrina surge against them."

Visit A City's Faulty Armor for video and interactive graphics of Bea's findings.

by: R. Reese Fuller 9:40 AM

Monday, May 07, 2007

UL dairy barn is history

It took demolition company Pellerin & Sons only a couple of hours this morning to bring down 100 years of Lafayette history. Despite overwhelming community opposition organized by Save the Horse Farm members, the local company was hired by UL President Ray Authement to demolish the old dairy barn, located on the university's 100-acre horse farm property. All that will be salvaged is the cupola that sat atop the barn for ventilation; the contractor, Andrus Pellerin, promised to turn it over to the group.

"We need to move forward," said Save the Horse Farm co-founder Danica Adams from the Johnston Street site. "We can't be distracted by this setback. The loss of the barn itself is not so devastating. It's the implications of it." The group fears Authement, who is now seeking to clear two small homes off the property as well, has ulterior motives outside of his liability claims. "One hundred acres of land, once it's developed, can't be reclaimed as public greenspace," Adams says. The group has established a greenspace fund with the Community Foundation of Acadiana, and this week is accelerating its fundraising efforts. To donate to the fund, call the foundation at 266-2145.

(Photo By Philip Gould)

by: Leslie Turk 10:51 AM

Jazz legend Alvin Batiste dies

Legendary clarinetist Alvin Batiste died Sunday, hours before a scheduled performance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival to honor his life's work. Batiste had performed the day before in Baton Rouge at FestForAll.

The New Orleans musician learned from the iconic Sidney Bechet, taught the Marsalis brothers Wynton and Branford (kicking the later out of his program for not being committed to the music), played his first gig with Guitar Slim, and later played with Ray Charles.

Aside from his musical style and the compositions he penned, Batiste will perhaps be remembered most as an educator. He founded and taught at the Batiste Institute at Southern University before retiring in 2002. Former student and saxophonist Wess "Warmdaddy" Anderson told The Independent in a March 21 interview that he opted to learn from Batiste instead of the Berklee School of Music, on advice from Branford Marsalis. Anderson said that Batiste's influence stretched far beyond the classroom:

Even now, when I'm teaching, one thing I learned from him, is to always be as true to the music as possible. When you're playing jazz music, you have to learn the whole history of it. So first I had to go back and figure out what made the early New Orleans jazz music sound good. The first thing he thrust me into, he said, "Instead of me trying to teach it to you, I want you to go down to New Orleans." And I went and marched in a parade in Mardi Gras for six hours. Right then I figured it out: this music is social. It was about musicians interacting with people. ...

Batiste died of a heart attack at the age of 74. His last CD was released in April, titled Marsalis Music Honors Alvin Batiste and was produced by Branford Marsalis.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:32 AM

Acadiana's Borel is toast of the country

For his remarkable ride on Saturday, St. Martin Parish jockey Calvin Borel has been invited to the special white-tie-and-tails state dinner tonight in Washington, D.C. to meet Queen Elizabeth II. Her royal highness fulfilled a lifelong dream by being in the Churchill Downs crowd for this year's Kentucky Derby, and Borel provided The Queen and horse racing fans with the thrill of a lifetime. It wasn't looking good early for Borel and his horse Street Sense, as they were running 19th in the field of 20 at the halfway mark. But Street Sense turned on the afterburners and Borel made a bold move to the right coming out of the final turn that gave Street Sense a clear path to the finish line. Derby announcer Luke Kruytbosch was practically breathless at the end of his great call of the race, crowning Street Sense and Borel "a stretch-running sensation."

If you didn't see the Derby, click the play button to watch Borel and Street Sense make history.

by: Scott Jordan 10:01 AM

Lake Charles votes for Smart Growth

A plan for urban development along Lake Charles' downtown lakefront passed with a resounding 80 percent mandate on Saturday. After Hurricane Rita devastated the Calcasieu Parish seat, urban planner Andres Duany and Lafayette architect Steve Oubre met with mayor Randy Roach to sketch out a redevelopment plan for public lands in the heart of the city. The convention center, lake frontage and parking lots will be rededicated for commercial use based on Smart Growth ideas which include public green space, ground floor commercial and upper story residential design. A wetlands center is also part of the plan. Oubre says he's delighted the city of Lake Charles has taken Smart Growth to heart. "We were on hold, waiting for the vote. We're working with a couple of national entities," he says. "Now we can begin to move forward."

Duany and Oubre also came up with plans for the small towns of Delcambre and Erath following Hurricane Rita. While those plans have been endorsed by the two towns, to date there is no funding to implement them. In Lafayette, Oubre is working with the city parish government on a Smart Growth plan for the entire parish. "It's slow going, kind of like herding cats," Oubre says. "We'll eventually get it done."

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:00 AM

Friday, May 04, 2007

Horse barn coming down

Despite a strong community effort to save the historic barn on UL Lafayette's horse farm property, the university says it has accepted a $16,000 bid to demolish it. Lafayette-based Pellerin & Sons was the low bidder, but a company official was not available for comment this morning on whether the contract has actually been awarded. "I think it's just a shame," says Save the Horse Farm member Pat McDonald. "Local government, the legislative delegation and the community as a whole have just been ignored." McDonald and his group also are upset that the university refused to acknowledge their evidence from local businessman Harold Schoeffler that the barn was built by his family in the early 1900s, rather than the 40s as the university claims. "Schoeffler was certain that the barn was turn-of-the-century," McDonald says. Save the Horse Farm made a stronger case for its argument when it found a 1922 photo of the barn and horse farm property in the Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court's office. The big question still looms about whether UL President Ray Authement, who announced his retirement last week, wants the barn out of the way for reasons outside of its potential liability. Authement claims he has a number of offers to buy the 100-acre tract but has not made a firm decision about its future.

by: Leslie Turk 10:45 AM

Cockfighting to be phased out

Legal cockfighting in Louisiana is on its way out the door. Yesterday, the House Agriculture Committee approved HB 108 which calls for phasing out the controversial bloodsport by the end of 2008. Now the bill goes before the full House and Senate before Gov. Kathleen Blanco can sign it into law. Louisiana's the last state where cockfighting's still legal.

Yesterday, the Humane Society of the United States announced that it was spending $75,000 on a radio ad campaign in support of immediately ending cockfighting in Louisiana. (Listen to the first and second commercial.) The group opposes legislation that phases out cockfighting and wants it banned immediately.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:19 AM

Festival blowouts in Breaux Bridge and New Orleans this weekend

Time for one last glorious spring festival weekend before summer's high humidity and temperatures make their way to south Louisiana. Today through Sunday, the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival offer unmatched bounties of local music, food and culture. Lil' Band o' Gold and Geno Delafose headline Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival tonight; Saturday and Sunday at Crawfish Festival is packed with one of the best rosters of Acadiana music you'll find anywhere. (View the complete music schedule here in a PDF file.)

If you're headed to New Orleans this weekend for Jazz Fest, stop by the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage / Lagniappe Stage on Saturday and say hello to Independent Weekly Editor Scott Jordan, who interviews drummer Stanton Moore and bassist Robert Mercurio of New Orleans funksters Galactic from 12:20-1:05 p.m.

by: admin 9:47 AM

Swan song for theatre group

Tonight is the only opportunity to see the latest in avant garde drama by the Milena Theatre Group. NostaligHia: an Unnecessary Farce Inspired by the Plays of Chekhov, written and directed by UL Creative Writing director Dayana Stetco will be performed at Fletcher Hall on the UL campus at 8 p.m. Based on the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov's complaint that his plays--The Seagull, Three Sisters, Uncle Vanya and The Cherry Orchard--were actually misunderstood comedies rather than tragedies, Stetco launches a plot where a playwright attempts to rewrite the Chekhov canon. An imaginary theatre troupe willingly performs every absurdity from the addition of a Greek chorus to the innovation of a samurai warrior invading the bucolic Russian countryside. Stetco has been directing the company in interdisciplinary movement theatre for the past 6 years, but this play will be their swan song; the core group, all masters and PhD. candidates graduate this spring. The single performance is a fund raiser for the Creative Writing Department, $10 is a suggested donation. Tickets are on a first come, first served basis.

by: Mary Tutwiler 9:20 AM

National Homebrew Day at Marcello's

This Saturday, May 5, the Dead Yeast Society will brew up a batch of beer at Marcello's Wine Market in honor of National Homebrew Day. The first Saturday of May is recognized by the U.S. Congress as a day for beer drinkers and homebrewers to celebrate the hoppy refreshment. Locally, the Dead Yeast Society, with about 75 members, will start brewing up a batch of beer at 11 a.m., with a toast to follow at noon. Kevin Shearin of Marcello's says the public is invited to attend, especially those interested in learning how to brew their own beer. Marcello's, at 2800 Johnston Street in Lafayette, also sells homebrew supplies, including equipment and ingredients. More info, call the store at 264-9520.

by: R. Reese Fuller 9:14 AM

Thursday, May 03, 2007

iDiDx offers insight to entertainment business

Next week's International Digital In-Development Expo features a number of panels that offer some insider perspective on the fickle business of Hollywood movie making. Ray, Runaway Jury, and Dumb and Dumber are just a few of the major films that panelists of the "Business of Entertainment" panel have earned credits on. The panel discussion takes place Tuesday, May 8 in the Cajundome Mardi Gras Ballroom at 9:30 a.m. At 3 p.m., iDiDx presents a "Sounds Cinematic" panel that tackles the subject of movie and TV scoring as well as copyright issues. The panel includes local musician and composer Dirk Powell, whose worked on numerous film soundtracks including Cold Mountain and The Brothers McMullen, Michael Doucet of BeauSoleil, and Ann Savoy. Check the iDiDx Web site for a full schedule of events.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:38 AM

Coast plan goes to Legislature

A $50 billion, 30-year plan for coastal restoration has been presented to the Louisiana legislature by the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, and is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Natural Resources and Transportation Committees on Thursday May 10. Entitled "Integrated Ecosystem Restoration and Hurricane Protection: Louisiana's Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast," the document is the result of 2005 legislation following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, calling for a comprehensive master plan to completely incorporate hurricane protection projects with projects aimed at rebuilding Louisiana's rapidly eroding coastal wetlands. Funding will have to come from the federal government, and the Army Corps of Engineers is working a similar plan, which will go before Congress by Dec. 2007.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:27 AM

IberiaBank shareholders re-elect four directors

At its annual meeting in New Orleans yesterday, IberiaBank shareholders re-elected some familiar Lafayette faces and names to its board. Elaine Abell, William Fenstermaker, Larrey Mouton and O. Miles Pollard are now set for three-year terms expiring in 2010, and join President/CEO Daryl Byrd on the board. In its coverage of the meeting, The Times-Picayune also mentions IberiaBank's recent acquisitions of Arkansas' Pulaski Investment Corp. and Pocahontas Bancorp Inc., and notes that IberiaBank has opened 12 new south Louisiana branches post-Katrina.

by: Scott Jordan 10:15 AM

Debating cockfighting

Today, Louisiana's House Agriculture Committee will debate two bills that would outlaw cockfighting in Louisiana. Both bills would impose a maximum fine of $1,000 and six months imprisonment, but HB 101 would take effect with the governor's signature, while HB 108 would become effective in 2010. New Mexico outlawed the sport earlier this year, leaving Louisiana as the only state in the nation where it's still legal.

by: R. Reese Fuller 8:53 AM

LHC Group uncertain about Medicare changes

Proposed changes to the way the government reimburses companies for home nursing services, announced late Friday, April 27, sent LHC Group's stock down 7 percent, to $25.60, Monday of this week. But a strong first quarter earnings report released after the market closed Monday has the local company's stock back on the upswing. The stock closed at $27.29 yesterday. For the first quarter, net income increased 51 percent, to $6.3 million, compared with $4.1 million for the first quarter 2006. Profit, however, was down slightly from the $6.9 million the company earned in last year's fourth quarter.

More than 80 percent of LHC Group's revenue is derived from Medicare, and it's too soon to tell how the Lafayette-based health care provider will be affected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' 311-page proposed guidelines. But company officials hope to know more soon. "We are already working diligently with the National Association for Home Care, outside consultants, other homecare providers and patient advocacy groups to ensure that our comments and recommended changes are effectively communicated to CMS and members of Congress during the comment period [60 days] for this proposed rule," says LHC Group President Keith Myers.

by: Leslie Turk 7:36 AM

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Presidential hopefuls in BR this week

The National Conference of Black Mayors kicks off its 33rd annual convention today at the Baton Rouge River Center with an 11:30 a.m. press conference led by Capital City Mayor Kip Holden. Though she was originally slated to make a guest appearance today, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton won't be in attendance because of a scheduling conflict. Conference organizers say they are working with Clinton's representatives to bring her in before the event closes Saturday night. Despite Clinton's absence, the four-day lineup of dignitaries and celebrities is quite impressive. Other presidential hopefuls who will be attending include U.S. Sens. John Edwards and Barack Obama. Edwards is the keynote speaker for Friday's Building Sustainable Communities Through Affordable Housing session from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Baton Rouge River Center, and Obama is keynote speaker for the Think Tank session at Southern University from 11 a.m. till 1 p.m. Saturday.

by: Leslie Turk 10:44 AM

Paging all book lovers

When it comes to literature, you can book it that Joe Abraham will be involved. The president of Acadiana Educational Endowment plans to launch an open air used-book book bazaar downtown on Sat. May 12. Dubbed le Bouquiniste in tribute to the outdoor book sellers who line the banks of the Seine in Paris, the book bazaar will offer used classics and contemporaries, acoustic music, readings, and book signings. Abraham is collecting donations for the market, all profits benefit education and literary activities. Post hurricane Rita, the Acadiana Educational Endowment gave out over $200,000 in mini-grants to public schools for books, and bought new desks for inundated Erath High School. Following the opening during the May Artwalk, le bouquiniste will open every Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights from 6 to 9 p.m. in le Parc de Lafayette on Jefferson St. To make a donation or for more information, call 278-0953.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:11 AM

Blanco and Jindal, just like old times

They may not be facing off again in this year's governor's race but that isn't stopping the sparks from flying between Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Congressman Bobby Jindal. Yesterday, Jindal fired off a letter to the governor stating that by his calculations, the state's Road Home program is likely to fall billions of dollars short of the funds needed to help hurricane victims rebuild their homes. "I hope there is a reasonable explanation," he wrote.

Blanco responded yesterday afternoon with a letter opening, "Dear Congresman Jindal:

Welcome to Louisiana's reality. The reasonable explanation – and I'm sure that it does not come as a surprise to you – is that Louisiana is in need of additional federal recovery dollars. We have always said that Louisiana has been shortchanged in federal dollars. This is not news.

Blanco goes on to criticize Jindal for his recent vote against a supplemental spending bill in Congress, which included $6.9 billion in Gulf coast aid but also set a timetable for troop withdrawal from Iraq. Despite GOP opposition, the bill passed both the House and Senate only to be vetoed by President Bush yesterday.

Jindal spokesman Trey Williams has since responded to Blanco, stating:

It is disappointing that Governor Blanco has chosen to respond to Congressman Jindal's legitimate inquiry with unprofessional finger-pointing. Governor Blanco's letter admits she knew of the shortfall but still leaves some fundamental questions unanswered: when will the Road Home program run out of money and how much longer did Governor Blanco intend to cover up this fact?

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:04 AM

Smithsonian's Cajun history lesson

In the series Destination America, the current issue of Smithsonian Magazine takes a look at south Louisiana. The article kicks off with the zydeco breakfast at Café des Amis in Breaux Bridge and offers a concise explanation of the origins of Cajun culture. The article ends at the Black Pot Festival:

Twenty-somethings with tattoos shared the floor with dancers in their 60s and 70s, all of them — no matter their age — swinging and swooping and hollering. Cajun culture, it would seem, is alive and well, and ready for another century.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:00 AM

More agonizing Katrina waste by the feds

Eighty percent of New Orleans flooded. A desperate need for airlifts and medical supplies. So what did the federal government do in Katrina's aftermath? Declined 54 of 77 recorded aid offers from three of its staunchest allies: Canada, Britain and Israel, according to new documents obtained by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and reported in The Washington Post:

And while television sets worldwide showed images of New Orleans residents begging to be rescued from rooftops as floodwaters rose, U.S. officials turned down countless offers of allied troops and search-and-rescue teams. The most common responses: "sent letter of thanks" and "will keep offer on hand," the new documents show.

In one exchange, State Department officials anguished over whether to tell Italy that its shipments of medicine, gauze and other medical supplies spoiled in the elements for weeks after Katrina's landfall on Aug. 29, 2005, and were destroyed. "Tell them we blew it," one disgusted official wrote. But she hedged: "The flip side is just to dispose of it and not come clean. I could be persuaded."

by: Scott Jordan 9:36 AM

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Grants administrator fires off lawsuit, complaints

Superintendent James Easton has sent out a memo from grants administrator Amy Trahan, outlining a list of 14 issues she says the school system must correct before receiving its Title funding. "These are issues which I have identified, the state department has identified or both I and the state department have identified together," Trahan writes. The list includes problems such as verifying all teachers paid with Title I funds are both highly-qualified and working at Title I schools, not paying lead teachers and reading facilitators with Title I funds, and proper accounting of print shop costs. The list also comes on the heels of a lawsuit that Trahan filed against the school board for not renewing her employment contract, expiring June 8. Trahan is arguing that the board unjustly went against the recommendation of the Superintendent, who gave her a favorable job review.

Board member Hunter Beasley says Trahan's memo is the first he has heard of many of these issues and Trahan is yet to bring any action items before the board. "If these things were holding up the Title I funding, she should've been addressing these back in September," he says. However, Beasley says based on his own correspondence with the state's Title office, many of the points in Trahan's letter are not what has delayed the district's Title funding. "Nine-tenths of this stuff is not on that application," he says. "If she wants to keep us informed that's fine, but we need to be working on getting our Title money." The school system's Title funding, totaling about $12 million, has been held up since last fall over problems with the district's application to the state. Beasley plans to address his issues with the memo at tomorrow night's school board meeting.

by: Nathan Stubbs 11:10 AM

"Focus on Louisiana" series debuts tomorrow

Educated voters make better choices. With perhaps the most important elections in Louisiana's history coming up this fall, the Council for a Better Louisiana and Cox Communications have teamed up to launch a nine-part, weekly television series beginning at 8 p.m. this Wednesday, May 2 on cable channel 4. The series, titled "Focus on Louisiana," examines issues that are highlighted in CABL's Louisiana Fact Book for the 2007 Election and are part of CABL's Quantum Change Agenda, an election platform for state leaders and political candidates to accelerate economic progress in Louisiana. The debut episode features a panel discussion on the need for quality early education programs in each Louisiana school district. CABL's Quantum Change Agenda is the result of months of research and discussion with leaders and experts across the state to develop a list of things to do to help repair Louisiana's shattered image and encourage economic growth. The show will replay five times each week and also can be seen through streaming video at and Check the Cox website for the schedule.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:23 AM

Baton Rouge lawmaker files Lafayette blight legislation

What do you do when the local delegation won't carry the water? You outsource. Rep. Michael Jackson, a Baton Rouge Democrat, has filed legislation for the ongoing regular session to create the Lafayette Redevelopment Authority. His House Bill 876, which also creates a Baton Rouge counterpart, would partner private and public resources to curb urban blight and create a far-reaching authority.

The public body would be able to use "resources to eliminate and prevent the development or spread of slum, blighted, and distressed areas," according to the legislation. The bill also gives the authority the power to levy various forms of taxes. Redevelopment authorities are common around the nation, and have been praised for their work with so-called "brownfield" properties, which are abandoned, contaminated or in poor condition. The redevelopment authorities are also controversial at times, due to eminent domain issues.

– Jeremy Alford, Independent Weekly contributing writer

by: Scott Jordan 10:01 AM

Stone Energy cleared by SEC

April 23 was a good day for David Welch, president and chief executive officer of embattled Stone Energy. He was notified by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that the investigation into Stone's 2005 restated reserve estimates has come to an end, and no action will be taken against the local company. "It means the company has no further regulatory issues with the SEC," says Welch. "This is it." For more than a year, authorities had been investigating whether reserves were overestimated intentionally to make the stock more appealing, or to help company officials make more money. The SEC clearance, however, doesn't settle the matter. The local independent oil and gas company still faces a host of lawsuits filed by shareholders who lost a tremendous amount of money when the stock took a nosedive on news of the overstated reserves. The stock price has yet to rebound; it was trading in the $61 range in late 2005 before the company restated its reserves and today is trading at $29.51. The company also is involved in litigation with the state over computing franchise taxes. Welch declined to comment on any of the pending litigation.

by: Leslie Turk 9:54 AM

Former UL QB hopes to back up Packers legend Brett Favre

One local longshot to make the NFL got lost in the post-NFL draft discussion over the Saints' draft and LSU's JaMarcus Russell and LaRon Landry going at the No. 1 and No. 6 slots last Saturday. Former UL Lafayette quarterback Jerry Babb – who finished his career as the most accurate passer in Cajuns history, ahead of Ragin' Cajuns alum Jake Delhomme – signed a free-agent deal with the Green Bay Packers. According to The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Babb hopes to compete for the No. 3 QB slot behind Packers legend Brett Favre. Babb could get cut before the season starts, but for now he's earned a spot in training camp and a $2,000 signing bonus.

"I felt like it's a good fit for me," Babb said. "There really is an opportunity. That's the thing; just go in there and compete. I think heading into this draft, all I really wanted was a shot to get into a camp to see what I can do, and that's what the Packers are offering."

Other Cajuns signing free-agent deals include Michael Adams (Arizona Cardinals) and Joe Bradley (Minnesota Vikings).

(Babb photo from UL Lafayette Athletic Network)

by: Scott Jordan 9:43 AM