Audit: State spent $63.5 million on ill-fated mill
The state spent $63.5 million on a failed sugar cane mill in southwest Louisiana, including $6.4 million in salaries for Department of Agriculture and Forestry employees who built the plant, according to a legislative auditor report out today. Auditor Daryl Purpera's report says the mill in Lacassine, in Jefferson Davis Parish, along with an $8.5 million rail line built to ship cane from Lake Charles to Baldwin, brought the total bill to $72 million. As the mill has been idle for about four years, the state has had little return on its investment. Even though the line was later shortened to drop the cane at the Lacassine mill, it was a financial failure, the auditor says. The mill was pushed by former Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom, whose 2007 election opponent, Mike Strain, used it in a campaign to boot him from office. Reached at his home, Odom was ill and unable to comment. "It appears that the payments made by the state to address the sugar cane farmers' needs were not commensurate with the value received," the auditor's report reads. The report says the mill was built for a group of cane farmers who never numbered more than 30. Odom had contended there were no cane mills within 100 miles of the region and that the mill would pay for itself. Read the full story by The Associated Press here.
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