Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Thu, April 19, 2012

Library board to get update on downtown library design contract

Nearly one year after a city-parish committee selected a joint venture by WHLC Architecture of Baton Rouge and Boston-based Schwartz/Silver Architects to design a new $19 million downtown library, the contract has yet to be inked. But Department of Public Works Director William Daniel says the contract is close to being finalized, and that negotiations could be wrapped up as soon as next week. The East Baton Rouge Parish Library Board of Control is scheduled to receive an update from DPW at its meeting this afternoon. WHLC Architecture's Rex Cabaniss, lead architect for the project, declined to discuss the contract negotiations or why they have taken so long. However, some part of the delay appears to hinge on how much of the total project budget the firm will get to design what officials are calling "high-tech library" that includes the latest in online research tools and technology. "This is not going to be a paper library. This is going to be a high-tech library," Daniel says. "I think everybody shares that vision, but I think the architect wanted to put some more money in the contract for that … and I think there is money in the budget for that." While the Metro Council appropriated $19 million total for the project, design fees are negotiated separately from within that pool of money. Meanwhile, an attorney for a competing architecture firm that also bid on the project says his client is deciding whether to pursue legal action against the city-parish. —Stephanie Riegel

Shaw Group, Westinghouse get go-ahead on new nuclear units in S.C.

South Carolina Electric & Gas has given The Shaw Group and Westinghouse full notice to proceed on an engineering, procurement and construction contract for two nuclear power units and related facilities at V.C. Summer Nuclear Station near Jenkinsville, S.C. Owned by SCE&G and Santee Cooper, the project received approval from the South Carolina Public Service Commission in February 2009, and further license approval from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in March 2012. The Shaw and Westinghouse contract—the value of which has not been disclosed—was announced in May 2008. The two nuclear units to be installed will be Westinghouse AP 1000 reactors. "Shaw's leadership in the nuclear industry, coupled with Westinghouse's AP1000 technology, will deliver the world's most advanced, emission-free power plant to V.C. Summer," says J. M. Bernhard, Shaw's chairman, president and chief executive officer, in a prepared statement. Shaw and Westinghouse are currently building four new nuclear units in the United States, with two units each at V.C. Summer and Southern Co.'s Plant Vogtle—also in South Carolina—and with two more units under contract for Progress Energy in Florida. The projects represent the first contracts awarded in nearly 30 years for new nuclear builds. Shaw also is providing engineering, procurement, commissioning, information management and project/construction management services for four AP1000 nuclear units currently under construction in China.

Publisher: Louisiana marks a historic turning point

With the recent passage of several education reform bills pressed by Gov. Bobby Jindal covering school choice, scholarships, charters, tenure and other governance issues—and the governor's signing them into law on Wednesday—Louisiana marked the "dawn of a new day in public education," says Business Report Publisher Rolfe McCollister in his latest column. "For a state that struggles to let go of its past, this was a monumental achievement—and a great day for children," McCollister says. And the rest of the country is taking note. As McCollister points out, education and business leaders from around the country recently read in The Wall Street Journal: "Louisiana is poised to establish the nation's most expansive system of school choice by adopting a package of vouchers and other tools that would give many parents control over the use of tax dollars to educate their children." Getting the bills passed and signed into law was a hard-fought battle, and McCollister suggests you take a look at the Louisiana Legislature website to see how your representatives voted on House bills 974 and 976. "They have been branded one way or the other," McCollister says. "No excuses. Nowhere to run and hide. They had their chance and had to choose sides. Their votes are part of history." Read the full column here, and send your comments to [email protected].

Gauge of U.S. economy rose 0.3% in March

A measure of future U.S. economic activity rose in March for the sixth straight month, a sign that the economy may be gaining momentum. The Conference Board says this morning that its index of leading economic indicators rose 0.3% in March, after a 0.7% increase in the previous month. The index now stands at 95.7, the highest level since June 2008. Before the recession began in December 2007, it routinely topped 100. The rise comes even as other indicators released today suggest the economic recovery could be slowing. The number of people seeking unemployment benefits dipped last week but remained higher than it has been in recent weeks. And Americans bought fewer previously owned homes in March, a separate report says, a reminder that the housing market remains weak. "Despite relatively weak data on jobs, home building and output in the past month or two, the indicators signal continued economic momentum," says Ken Goldstein, an economist at the Conference Board. The index is designed to anticipate economic conditions three to six months out. Most of the data had been previously released in separate reports. Seven of the 10 indicators covered by the index increased last month. The biggest drivers of growth were the spread between short-term and long-term interest rates, building permits, rising stock prices and credit availability. The three indicators that limited the rise in the index were average weekly hours worked by manufacturing employees, consumer expectations for business conditions, and the Institute for Supply Management's measure of manufacturers' new orders.

Two years on, fish still sick near BP oil spill site

When fishermen returned to the deep reefs of the Gulf of Mexico weeks after BP's gushing oil well was capped there, they started catching grouper and red snapper with large open sores and strange black streaks, lesions they said they'd never seen and promptly blamed on the spill. Now, two years after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank, killing 11 men and touching off the worst offshore spill in U.S. history, the latest research into its effects is starting to back up those early reports from the docks: The ailing fish bear hallmarks of diseases tied to petroleum and other pollutants. Those illnesses don't pose an increased health threat to humans, scientists say, but they could be devastating to prized species and the people who make their living catching them. There's no saying for sure what's causing the diseases in what's still a relatively small percentage of the fish, because the scientists have no baseline data on sick fish in the Gulf before the spill to form a frame of reference. The first comprehensive research may be years from publication. And the Gulf is assaulted with all kinds of contaminants every day. Still, it's clear to fishermen and researchers alike that something is amiss. A recent batch of test results revealed the presence of oil in the bile extracted from fish caught in August 2011, a year after BP's broken well was capped and nearly 15 months after it first blew out on April 20, 2010. "Bile tells you what a fish's last meal was," says Steve Murawski, a marine biologist with the University of South Florida. Read the full feature by The Associated Press here.

'225 Select': Roping and riding at Angola

This weekend, thousands of people from Baton Rouge, throughout Louisiana and beyond will descend on the Louisiana State Penitentiary to take in the famous Angola Prison Rodeo—billed as the "wildest show in the South"—and browse an eclectic selection of inmate-crafted merchandise. Leather belts and wallets are sold alongside rocking chairs, benches and dining room tables—as well as a wide array of food. Watch inmates climb in the ring with bucking broncos and furious bulls, and pick up some interesting handmade crafts at the booths Saturday and Sunday. Grab your tickets at here, and read the rest of this week's 225 Select e-newsletter here.

News roundup: Tulane team wins competition with plan to turn algae into oil … New coworking space opens in New Orleans … Izzo's giving bikers veggie burritos to mark Earth Day

Pretty slick: A Tulane University-based venture with a plan to turn algae into crude oil was one of the big winners at the Tulane Business Plan Competition last week. Taylor Gilbert, who will receive a Tulane MBA this year, and Brandon Iglesias, a 2011 Tulane MBA grad, won this year's Domain Cos. New Orleans Entrepreneur Challenge with their plan for ReactWell, which has patent-pending technology to convert algae into crude oil. The technology converts biomass into synthetic crude oil using underground geothermal reactors. Iglesias says the company, which he started as a student, could generate up to 100 permanent jobs at several planned algae farms if it's successful in moving forward. Read more about it at the Tulane website here.

Work it: New Orleans' newest coworking space, Beta Shared Workspace, opened this week in New Orleans' Central Business District, Silicon Bayou News reports. Developed specifically to accommodate like-minded individuals rather than industry-specific entrepreneurs, the space integrates modern design into one of the city's oldest buildings to capture an encompassing concept of "new New Orleans." Beta is located on the second floor of the newly renovated Maritime Building, with 20 dedicated workstations and eight private offices. Get the full story here.

Roll on in: To mark Earth Day, Izzo's Illegal Burrito says anyone who rides a bike Monday to its LSU campus area restaurant, at 4250 Burbank Dr., will get a free regular size vegetarian burrito. The offer is also good for the Izzo's Lafayette restaurant near the ULL campus. "The cost of gas is on a constant rise, so help us support the planet and fuel up on a free burrito by riding your bike in celebration of Earth Day," say Izzo's co-founders Gary Kovacs and Ozzie Fernandez in a news release. Meanwhile, the Baton Rouge-based restaurant says plans are in the works for additional locations in Bossier City and Jackson, Miss.

Today's poll question: Should the EBR Parish School Board change its travel rule to give all 6,000 employees a flat per diem for meals, as opposed to the current system that requires receipts to be submitted for reimbursement?

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  • Of the nearly 36,000 Louisianans who registered to vote in the past two months, roughly half did not align themselves with either the Republican or Democratic parties. What do you think this is a reflection of?
  • It's a reflection of voters' growing frustration with both parties.
  • 70%
  • It's a reflection of voters' increasing unwillingness to label themselves politically.
  • 18%
  • It's a reflection of a shift in Louisiana's political culture away from party affiliations.
  • 8%
  • I don't know.
  • 4%
  • Total Votes: 770