Content tagged “Disaster and accident”

Task force meeting to streamline Comite River Diversion Canal project

The Amite River Basin Commission, a state board responsible for a project aimed at relieving flood pressure from eastern portions of East Baton Rouge Parish and other areas in the basin, has spent $3 million on acquiring property over the past year, including a 48-acre tract it bought for $353,000 earlier this week. The long-stalled Comite River Diversion Canal would reroute extra water in the Comite River to the Mississippi River. A legislative task force dedicated to the project is scheduled to convene for the first time Thursday with hopes of bringing governmental entities and interested parties together to streamline the rest of the process. Larry Bankston, the commission's attorney, says the commission still doesn't have the finalized "taking lines" from the Army Corps of...

Tighter ozone rules could cost La. $53 billion by 2040, industry group says

Lowering the Environmental Protection Agency's limits on pollution-forming ozone to 60 parts per billion could lower Louisiana's gross state product by $53 billion through 2040, says the National Association of Manufacturers. The change also could lead to 116,983 fewer Louisiana jobs each year through 2040, the association says. "Ozone standards set at this level could break us," says NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons, who conducted a conference call with reporters today. EPA last lowered its ozone standard to 75 parts per billion in 2008, a level less stringent than its scientific advisers had recommended at the time. A science panel advising EPA, which is required by the Clean Air Act to periodically reassess its standards, recently recommended lowering the standard to between 60 and 70 parts per billion. New standards could be issued next...

Flood insurance becomes political tool in La. Senate race

It's been months since Congress acted to protect thousands of homeowners from dramatic premium increases under the National Flood Insurance Program. But for Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu and the leading Republican in the race to take her seat, the issue is still very much alive. As Gannett Louisiana reports, Landrieu and Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, regularly remind Louisiana voters of their individual roles in helping win passage of the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act. The bill, signed into law on March 21, caps annual increases in federal flood insurance premiums at 18%. The issue is among the tools that Landrieu and Cassidy, locked in a heated election race, use to score political points on the campaign trail. The race could be crucial in determining which party controls the Senate beginning next year. "This is an issue that both will use, and have been using, to say, 'Look, here's an example of what I've been able to accomplish in Washington, D.C.,''' says Joshua...

A Day in the Life of a Top 100 Private Company

Photographer Don Kadair spent a day each with three of the firms on our list of Top 100 Private Companies to capture the essence of their success.

Getting to 40%

Baton Rouge entrepreneur Scott Van Kerkhove is a political anomaly: a Republican who takes the dangers of man-made climate change seriously. Not because he thinks there's definitive proof on either side of the issue, but because he thinks the possibility of making the planet uninhabitable for future generations isn't worth the risk.

La. beaches among nation's worst for water quality, report says

A new report out from the Natural Resources Defense Council, a national environmental group, says Louisiana ranks No. 26 out of 30 U.S. states for beach water quality. The 24th edition of the "Testing the Waters" report says that an analysis of water quality data at 3,485 coastal U.S. beaches last year found that 10% of all monitoring samples exceeded an Environmental Protection Agency public health guideline for bacteria pollution. The report says 25 of Louisiana's 31 coastal beaches were monitored last year, and that of the 836 water samples taken from them 19% were found to exceed the EPA guideline. Grand Isle State Park had the highest percent of samples exceeding the guideline, at 42%, the report says; followed by Cypremort Point State Park in St. Mary Parish, at 31%; and Rutherford Beach in Cameron Parish, at 27%. While none of Louisiana's beaches are included on the report's "Superstar Beaches" list of the nation's 35 beaches with the least water quality issues, the state is...

Fire damages storage facility at Geismar chemical plant

A late morning fire at a storage unit sent thick smoke billowing from the Westlake Chemical plant in Geismar today, but officials say damage was limited to a storage facility. The fire reportedly began around 11:15 a.m. and was put out about an hour later. State police spokesman Lt. J.B. Slaton tells The Associated Press that the storage unit held a chemical used in the manufacturing of polyvinyl chloride. Dave Hansen, senior vice president of administration at the facility, tells WAFB the storage area is not associated with any of the operating units at the plant. He says no injuries were reported, adding updated information will be provided as it becomes available. Slaton confirms no injuries were reported and all plant workers were accounted for. Louisiana State Police said there were no evacuations and no off-site impact. The Ascension Parish Sheriff's...

Business Disaster 101

While forecasters are predicting a mild year, it's never too early to start preparing for the worst—particularly when not all threats to your business come from Mother Nature.

LSU to participate in new EPA water task force

A task force established by the Environmental Protection Agency to curtail farmland pollution that flows into the Mississippi River has reached a research agreement with 12 universities, including LSU. The EPA says states already collaborate with universities on local water quality research and agricultural programs, but to date there hasn't been a formal process for sharing university research and ideas across the 12 task force states. The Associated Press reports that along with LSU, the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Task Force will work with Purdue University, University of Illinois, University of Arkansas, University of Kentucky, Mississippi State University and Ohio State University. Other institutions involved include University of Tennessee, University of Missouri, University of Minnesota, University of Wisconsin and Iowa State University. The EPA says the agreement announced this morning brings additional expertise to develop farm runoff reduction strategies.

'Business Report': Will new flood insurance act fix problems created for La.'s housing market by the first law?

Louisiana politicians celebrated in March when President Barack Obama signed the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act. As David Jacobs writes in a Business Report feature from the current issue, Sen. Mary Landrieu and Congressman Bill Cassidy—in the midst of a bruising Senate election contest—competed for credit. "Ironically, every Louisiana congressional member in 2012 voted for the Biggert-Waters Act, which set in motion the extreme National Flood Insurance Program rate hikes the more recent bill is meant to soften," writes Jacobs. "And despite the recent victory lap, it's not clear that property owners and buyers can count on the affordable flood insurance the new law's title promises." "We're still concerned, even with the new law," says Donna Wolff, president-elect of the Greater Baton Rouge Association of Realtors. "All this did is kind of postpone things." While lack of flood insurance affordability isn't the crisis in the Capital Region that it is...

Flood fallout

Louisiana politicians celebrated in March when President Barack Obama signed the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act. Sen. Mary Landrieu and Congressman Bill Cassidy, in the midst of a bruising Senate election contest, competed for credit.

Landrieu, Cassidy jockey to claim victory on flood insurance as Senate race heats up

Early on, Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu led the charge to delay dramatic increases in the premiums paid by homeowners covered under the federal flood insurance program. While Landrieu, a lead sponsor of the proposal, held the microphone at one news conference after another on the issue, Rep. Bill Cassidy, the leading Republican running for her seat, stood quietly to the side at one of those conferences and listened. That changed late last week, Gannett Louisiana reports, when Cassidy took the microphone at a news conference to celebrate a vote approving the House version of the flood insurance measure—a version he helped craft. With a bill possibly just days from final enactment—the U.S. Senate is expected to vote on the House bill this week—Landrieu and Cassidy are jockeying to claim credit for its success during one of the most competitive Senate races in the country. "It might have a positive effect on both candidates by raising their favorables," says...

Oil spill, temporary river shutdown highlight risk of U.S. oil boom

The Louisiana barge crash and subsequent oil spill on Saturday that temporarily shut down a stretch of the Mississippi River as far north as Baton Rouge through Monday afternoon highlights the transportation risks of the U.S. energy boom, according to some sources cited in a Bloomberg report. "We're facing the imminent risk of a barge disaster or a rail disaster" as more oil is shipped to the Gulf of Mexico for refining, says Jonathan Henderson, a spokesman for the New Orleans-based Gulf Restoration Network. A surge in U.S. oil production, reflecting in part advances in drilling techniques, has unlocked millions of barrels of oil from geologic formations such as North Dakota's Bakken shale, reducing U.S. reliance on imports. It has also ignited a debate over how to safely get the oil to refineries after a series of rail accidents involving oil tank cars, including a July derailment that killed 47 in a Quebec city. Of course, there are many in the oil and gas industry who maintain the...

Jindal asks Congress to stop flood insurance hikes

After months of staying largely silent on the issue, Gov. Bobby Jindal is urging congressional leaders to stop higher flood insurance premiums from hitting homeowners and businesses. The Associated Press reports Jindal sent a letter late Tuesday to the Republican and Democratic leaders of both the U.S. House and Senate, asking them to support an immediate delay in the increases set in motion by a 2012 revamp of the federal flood insurance program. The Republican governor described the insurance rate hikes that were tied to the program overhaul as "irrational, not actuarial." It was Jindal's first public and direct intervention to seek relief from the steep rate increases. Other state officials and business leaders have warned for months that soaring premiums could severely damage local economies. About 480,000 Louisiana homes and businesses have federal flood insurance.

Lawyers chided for contacting jurors in BP spill trial

A federal judge today ordered lawyers for a former BP engineer to refrain from any further contact with jurors who convicted the engineer of trying to obstruct a federal probe of the company's 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Kurt Mix's attorneys have said they interviewed some jurors after the Dec. 18 verdict and found evidence of juror misconduct that warrants a new trial. In today's order, U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. said he is concerned about the "appropriateness" of lawyers interviewing jurors without his permission. The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has "expressed general hostility toward the practice of post-trial juror interviews," the judge noted. Duval instructed Mix's attorneys and Justice Department prosecutors to submit written arguments by Jan. 24 on whether the defense lawyers' contact with jurors should affect their motion for a new trial. Duval is set to hear arguments Feb. 26 on the motion for a new trial. Mix, 52, of Katy,...

$1.5 billion in storm recovery aid remains unspent in Louisiana

Louisiana has yet to spend $1.5 billion in federal disaster recovery aid provided by Congress after hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike ravaged the state in 2005 and 2008. The flexible block grant rebuilding and strengthening money remains set aside for infrastructure repairs, home rebuilding, school reconstruction and business assistance. The Associated Press reports nearly all of it is tied to specific projects, as efforts to navigate the bureaucratic hurdles of recovery stretch over years. Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration has defended the spending pace. Pat Forbes, Jindal's director for disaster recovery work, says his office is constantly reviewing unmet recovery needs to determine where money can be redirected. The amount of unspent cash represents about 10% of the $14.5 billion in Community Development Block Grant aid that Louisiana received from Congress after the storms.

Targets in BP settlement inquiry assail findings

Nearly six months after a federal judge appointed former FBI director Louis Freeh to investigate alleged misconduct inside the settlement program for compensating victims of BP's 2010 Gulf oil spill, the targets of his inquiry are questioning his independence and trying to rebut his findings. The Associated Press reports Lionel "Tiger" Sutton III, a lawyer whose resignation from the staff of claims administrator Patrick Juneau spawned the investigation, urged U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier last week to throw out a scathing report that Freeh issued in September. The report concluded that top members of Juneau's staff, including Sutton, engaged in conduct that was improper, unethical and possibly criminal. Sutton's lawyer, Michael Walsh, argued in a Dec. 18 court filing that Freeh lacks evidence that his client broke any laws or had a conflict of interest during his work on the settlement. Freeh's report also accused two private attorneys, Glen Lerner and Jon Andry, of using Sutton's...

BP takes latest arguments over spill payments to appeals court

BP is again asking a New Orleans appeals court to intervene after a federal judge denied its latest attempt to block some payments in its multibillion-dollar oil spill settlement. On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier tossed the British oil giant's argument that settlement claimants must show that the 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster actually caused profit or revenue losses, and BP promised to take the matter to a higher court. Barbier said BP could not take a position that contradicted its earlier stance in the settlement. He cited court documents in which BP said businesses' profit losses can be "presumed to be caused by the spill" after claimants meet certain criteria, such as geographic proximity to the spill. The Associated Press reports BP filed a notice of appeal today. In court documents, BP claimed last month it paid more than $540 million to claimants who could not have been harmed by the spill. All told, the company has paid out $3.8 billion to claimants since the...

Ex-BP engineer convicted on one obstruction charge, acquitted on second

A former BP drilling engineer was convicted today of deleting text messages from his cellphone to obstruct a federal investigation of the company's massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Kurt Mix was found guilty on one charge and acquitted of a second charge. A federal jury deliberated for more than nine hours over three days before reaching the verdict on his case. The count of obstruction of justice carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Mix will be released on his present bond, and sentencing is scheduled for March 26. The Associated Press reports Mix hugged his friends and family members in the courtroom before leaving the courthouse hurriedly. "I'm only going to speak through counsel," he told one reporter trying to ask him a question. Trailing behind her brother in the courthouse lobby, Bridget Mix called the verdict "just unbelievable." "You can't wrap your head around any of it," she said. Prosecutors argued that the 52-year-old engineer...

Feds cite Houston firm, two La. contractors in fatal 2012 Gulf blast

The federal government slapped Houston-based Black Elk Energy and three contractors with 41 citations Wednesday, alleging they failed to ensure safe welding on a Gulf production platform where an explosion killed three workers last year. The Houston Chronicle reports the agency that led a federal investigation into the explosion says the citations, called "incidents of non-compliance," could lead to civil penalties for Black Elk and the following contractors: Compass Engineering & Consultants of Lafayette; Grand Isle Shipyard of Galliano, La.; and Wood Group PSN of Aberdeen, Scotland. The company and its contractors can appeal the charges within 60 days. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement says in its list of citations that the contractors on the platform did not render flammable hydrocarbons in the piping and nearby tanks inert before welders began working and did not follow an approved welding plan. The agency detailed findings of its probe into the incident...

By Providence

In September, Baton Rouge-based Providence, an engineering and environmental firm, announced major developments involving two of its air quality technologies. While one project remains in the design stage, the other is being rolled out internationally.

BP fights feds' Gulf oil spill estimate in court

Attorneys for BP and the Justice Department squared off in federal court today over how much oil ended up in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, a pivotal dispute in the trial over the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Fuelfix.com reports that fines for the British oil giant could balloon to $18 billion if U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier agrees with Justice Department calculations on the amount of oil that flowed into the Gulf after the April 20, 2010, disaster on the Deepwater Horizon rig, which killed 11 people. Four experts, using different methodologies and data BP provided, estimated that 5 million barrels of oil pushed out of the blown-out Macondo well and 4.2 million barrels reached the ocean, said Steve O'Rourke, a Justice Department attorney, in opening statements. The government and BP have agreed that various containment devices captured about 800,000 barrels of crude before it reached the ocean. Government experts based their calculation on estimates that crude spewed from the...