News Briefs

by Nathan Stubbs

Local reactions to CAFTA and the downsizing of a Lafayette library branch


The U.S. Congress received mixed reactions from Louisiana agricultural groups last week after it narrowly passed the Central American Free Trade Agreement. The House ratified CAFTA, which immediately goes into effect, by a two-vote margin in a late session last Wednesday night.

In Louisiana, U.S. Reps. William Jefferson, Rodney Alexander, Jim McCrery and Richard Baker voted for the trade agreement, while Reps. Charles Boustany, Charlie Melancon and Bobby Jindal remained steadfast opponents of CAFTA.

The trade deal between the United States, five Central American countries, and the Dominican Republic has been a contentious issue in Louisiana ("Sticky Situation," Feb. 16), with some of the state's principal farm groups trying to reconcile their opposing positions. The Louisiana Farm Bureau and the Thibodaux-based American Sugar Cane League were both adamant opponents of the plan due to provisions that allow for a gradual increase in cheap, imported Central American sugar. The state's rice mills, however, strongly supported CAFTA because it provides lower, more stable tariffs on their exports to the six countries.

Sugar industry representatives have said that while the added sugar imports expected under CAFTA may not immediately put domestic sugar farmers out of business, if the trade policies set forth in NAFTA and now CAFTA continue to spread, it could ultimately jeopardize an industry that dates back 225 years in Louisiana.

Prior to the vote, Rep. Charlie Melancon, former president of the American Sugar Cane League, was granted one minute to speak during the House floor debate. Melancon ended his brief speech by saying, "I do not see any benefits for workers, for sugar people. We have given away textiles. We have given away steel. We have given away fruits and vegetables. Now let us just go ahead and give away everything and be dependent on every other country for our food and our defense."


Architect Gene Sellers gave a dire forecast last week to the building committee for the new south Lafayette public library branch. Because construction costs shot up 25 percent in the past three years since the library was first planned, Sellers said the building, if bid out today, would be at least $330,000 over its $6.5 million budget. The projections are forcing the committee to consider some significant changes to the new branch.

Lafayette Public Library Director Sona Dombourian says one feature the committee is likely to consider cutting or scaling down is a planned 100-seat auditorium wired for laptop computer use, estimated to cost more than $350,000. Dombourian says they are also looking at getting private donations from individuals or businesses that may want to sponsor the auditorium. The new library branch, to be located on a six-acre site at the corner of Johnston Street and Duhon Road Extension, is still on schedule to be bid for construction in early 2006.