News Briefs

Waiting for White House documents, the push for coastal restoration and more


White House officials are still holding strong to their decision to deny requests for e-mail and other correspondence from top level brass and other aides during the days leading up to Katrina. Journalists and congressmen are clamoring to get the documents, to no avail. It's an unfortunate trend that's invading other sources of information relative to Hurricane Katrina. Greenpeace, for instance, filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Environmental Protection Agency in late August asking for a complete accounting of the agency's plans and discussions with industry in preparation for the hurricane. Since then, they've only received forms asking for Greenpeace to be more descriptive, according to Rick Hind, the environmental group's legislative director. Meanwhile, the private watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is still waiting on FOIA requests sent to the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency and Department of State asking for records and communications regarding the federal government's preparedness and response to Katrina. Since Sept. 7, the watchdog has only heard crickets chirping, but it recently decided to sue the State Department. "It is scandalous that our government is still trying to cover up its breathtakingly inadequate response to the greatest natural disaster in our nation's history," says Melanie Sloan, executive director of the group. ' Jeremy Alford


The Independent Weekly's Smart Growth lecture featuring renowned urban planner Andrés Duany and Lafayette architect Steve Oubre scheduled for Feb. 16 has been postponed due to scheduling conflicts with Duany's work for the Louisiana Recovery Authority. A rescheduled date will be announced in coming weeks. ' Scott Jordan


With state government still trying to figure out how to merge coastal restoration with hurricane protection and levee board oversight, a group of private organizations has teamed up to sponsor a $250,000 oyster reef restoration project near Redfish Point in Vermilion Bay. The area, known as Cochion Shell Banks, is a hot spot due to the abundance of trout, redfish, drum, flounder, shrimp and crab. Over the years, hurricanes, subsidence and other conditions have deteriorated the natural reef, but that is being repaired thanks to $100,000 from Shell Oil ' oil companies have long been fingered as a contributor to coastal erosion ' and an additional $150,000 being raised by the Louisiana Chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association. "Restoration of the reef will help with our coastal erosion problem and should help to bring back the abundant fisheries that existed in that part of Vermilion Bay for many years," says Paul Bourgeois, Jr. of Abbeville, CCA's reef coordinator. ' JA


Don't look to The Daily Advertiser for shade tree mechanic advice. A Jan. 28 feature article interviewed Melissa Duhon, manager of the Macro Oil Shell Rapid Lube, for pointers on how to change the oil in a car. After draining the oil, re-tightening the oil drain plug and replacing the oil filter, here's what the paper suggested to do next: "Let the vehicle down off the jack, start the engine. Add oil a quarter-quart at a time until the dipstick reads full, Duhon said. Let the vehicle run in an idle position for five or 10 minutes to make sure there are no leaks or drips." Three days later, the paper ran a clarification (not a correction) noting that it had "skipped a few steps in the process of changing a vehicle's oil." It stated you should actually add oil and replace the oil cap before starting the engine and letting it idle for 10 minutes. ' R. Reese Fuller


Records indicate that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had roughly $778 million sitting in its Section 32 account last year during hurricane season ' an account that contains disposable, non-obligated monies. Despite this lucrative fact, Louisiana farmers are still waiting on emergency aid. Bob Odom, secretary of the state Department of Agriculture and Forestry, says he was recently told the money would take "some bit of time" to reach Louisiana. It's a sad showing, especially compared to the deal Florida got when Hurricane Charley hit in 2004. It only took two weeks for President Bush to get a relief program moving for them. "[The USDA] made a big announcement about money that was approved several months ago, and they still can't tell us when it's coming," Odom says. "It's a bureaucratic mess of the worst kind." The USDA is telling farmers to sign up for money, but the federal agency has "dodged" questions about how the cash will actually be split up amongst the hurricane-impacted states, Odom says. ' JA


A top staffer in Louisiana's congressional delegation offered this account of President Bush's State of the Union address last week: "The SOTU was 5,339 words (64 paragraphs long). Of that, rebuilding the Gulf Coast was only mentioned for 165 words (one paragraph). Rebuilding the Gulf Coast was not mentioned until 47 minutes into the speech, and was only talked about for 57 seconds. The total speech was 52 minutes long." Who says no one ever pays attention during those things? ' JA


The campaign launched by Foster Campbell, a member of the Public Service Commission, to breathe new life into an oil and gas processing tax doesn't seem to be turning any heads. Campbell has spent money on radio commercials urging Gov. Kathleen Blanco to take up the issue, and he isn't shy about his intentions to oppose her ' or whoever ' during the next gubernatorial election. Yet the policy push, which Campbell first championed when he was in the state Senate, is a big loser, according to Don Briggs, president of the Louisiana Independent Oil and Gas Association. "We're not even paying attention," he says. "It's pathetic and normal operations. He's been doing this for years, and he won't get anywhere." Other politicos have spent millions of dollars campaigning for the tax in recent years in hopes of opening up a new revenue base on the backs of oil processing plants, but they haven't had any luck either. Dan Juneau, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, one of the most powerful lobbies in the state, says the timing is never right for such a proposal but is deadly in a post-Katrina society. "Campbell's obsession with a multi-billion-dollar tax is a recipe for more misery, not economic salvation," Juneau says, adding it would only be passed on to consumers and eventually be ruled unconstitutional, as it was back in 1981. ' JA