News Briefs

A compromise for MLK Drive, Legislature takes up street racing and more


No single issue in 2006 infuriated Lafayette residents and cast our elected officials in such a negative light as the bitter impasse over renaming a Lafayette street after civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. The Independent Weekly's Oct. 11 cover story, "Where's the Leadership," noted there was plenty of blame to go around for the divisive standoff, especially Councilman Chris Williams' demagoguery, the City-Parish Council's insensitivity and City-Parish President Joey Durel's apparent unwillingness to take the lead and work toward a solution.

So it was unexpected good news last week when the council announced that it was considering a resolution at its Dec. 19 meeting to designate Willow Street between Teurlings Drive and Ambassador Caffery Parkway as "Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Parkway."

Most important, the Council's news release stated, "This resolution is recommended for adoption by City-Parish President Joey Durel and is co-authored by District 2 Councilman Dale Bourgeois, District 3 Councilman Christopher J. Williams, Ph.D., District 4 Councilman Louis C. Benjamin Jr., District 6 Councilman Bruce Conque, District 7 Councilman Marc Mouton and District 8 Councilman and Chair Rob Stevenson."

Even with District 1's Bobby Badeaux, District 5's Lenwood Broussard and District 9's Randy Menard MIA on the resolution, it's still a heartening sign that the rancor that characterized so much of the council's 2006 actions could be a thing of the past. "The designation of this memorial parkway for Dr. King will honor his legacy and, at the same time, will not require a change of address for businesses and homes on Willow Street or Martin Luther King Jr. Drive," the council wrote. "It is our hope that this proposal will help us end the year and begin the holiday season in a positive way for the administration, city-parish council, and our community." We hope so, too. ' Scott Jordan


The state Legislature adopted a resolution last week in special session that promises to be the first step in stiffening penalties for illegal street racing. The bill comes on the heels of an accident, allegedly involving street racing on Ambassador Caffery Parkway, that killed four people in October. Brian Verret, 22, of Lafayette faces potential criminal charges from the accident.

The resolution, which passed unanimously through the House and Senate, charges the Department of Transportation and Development, the Louisiana Highway Commission and the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections with educating the public on crimes associated with street racing and reporting to the Legislature with suggestions on improving these laws. The resolution was sponsored by state Sens. Don Cravins Jr., Mike Michot, and Nick Gautreaux.

Meanwhile, District Attorney Mike Harson said last week that it remains inconclusive whether street racing played a part in the fatal Ambassador Caffery collision. Police initially alleged Verret was involved in a street race that caused him to lose control of his Ford Mustang and hit an oncoming vehicle.

Harson is wrapping up an investigation of the wreck and is expected to bring Verret before a grand jury early next year to determine what, if any, criminal charges he may face.

Sarah Meche Arceneaux, whose 26-year-old son Jeremy Meche was killed in the crash, says the Legislature's resolution is an important first step in addressing state laws on street racing. She expects a bill to stiffen penalties for the offense to be brought up next April, in the Legislature's regular session. Arceneaux has been spearheading efforts to raise public awareness on the issue, including raising funds for a billboard campaign. She remains convinced that a street race caused the fatal Ambassador Caffery collision. "In my opinion, it is definitely the factor that caused my son's death," she says, but would not discuss why she believes Verret was involved in a race. "I feel at some point that will be proven," she says. ' Nathan Stubbs


Longtime Lafayette General Medical Center official Donna Landry is leaving the local not-for-profit for a position with The Schumacher Group of Lafayette. Landry, LGMC's chief operating officer, will be assistant COO at The Schumacher Group, a fast-growing hospital-based physician staffing organization that also has a hospitalist program and physician recruitment division.

Calling it the "toughest decision I ever made," Landry says she accepted the job because of the strong reputation and appeal of The Schumacher Group and the chance to apply her skills in a different area of health care. "I get to stay engaged in health care, still in the Lafayette community, with another highly reputable organization that's very mission-driven and focused, at a very high-energy pace," she says.

LGMC has 1,600 employees, and Schumacher just under 600 ' though it operates in 15 states. The outgoing chairwoman of the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, Landry has been with LGMC for almost two decades. She starts the new position Jan. 15.

Landry will oversee key departments in the corporate office that support Schumacher's hospital contracts throughout its 15-state region. Owned by Dr. William Schumacher, an emergency medicine physician, the company is in its 13th year of business.

Patrick Gandy, administrator of the Lafayette General Surgical Hospital, will replace Landry. He has been with the hospital for 13 years. ' Leslie Turk


Zeke, UL Lafayette's computing node on the Louisiana Optical Network Initiative, was launched last week. The supercomputer housed in Abdalla Hall is named after former mathematics department head and computer science pioneer Dr. Z. L. Loflin, who died in 1982. The IBM P5-575 has enormous computing capabilities. In the time it takes a bullet to travel one foot, Zeke can complete 330 million calculations; in the time it takes to blink an eye, the supercomputer can complete two billion calculations. Zeke is part of a fiber-optics network interconnecting high-performance computing resources at major Louisiana research universities, initially including UL, LSU, Louisiana Tech, Southern University, the University of New Orleans and Tulane University. The state has pledged $40 million over 10 years to support and maintain LONI. Its value to Louisiana is enhanced by its connection to the National LambdaRail, a grid-computing infrastructure expected to have the same effect on our nation's technological development as the interstate highway system has had on interstate commerce. Southern University will come online early in 2007. "The network is already delivering significant benefits for Louisiana's research institutions, but next year LONI will begin to show its true potential for our state, not only for our universities, but also for our economic future," says Louisiana Commissioner of Higher Education Joseph Savoie. ' Jeremy Alford


A coalition of Louisiana environmental groups has announced its intent to file a federal lawsuit against EnerVest Operating, a major operator of natural gas wells in the Monroe Gas Field. The groups want the company to clean up mercury-contaminated wetlands and other soils at gas fields in Ouachita, Union and Morehouse parishes. The intent was filed by the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic and could open up the floodgates for related litigation. Backing the move are the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, Louisiana chapter of the Sierra Club, Gulf Restoration Network and Louisiana Audubon Council. The law clinic alleges that EnerVest has allowed its mercury meters, which are attached to its oil wells and contain as much as 10 pounds of mercury, to pool in certain places and contaminate surrounding soil and wetlands. Mercury meters have been phased out in other parts of the country and on federal property in Louisiana in favor of non-mercury flow meters. "Why are they continuing to contaminate private property?" asks Barry Kohl of the Louisiana Audubon Council. Currently, there are 41 mercury-in-fish advisories statewide, including seven within the Monroe Gas Field. The coalition asks EnerVest to reply and to present a plan to clean up the mercury waste. If it does not, the environmental organizations say they are committed to filing a federal suit to force the cleanup. ' JA