Gov. Edwards launches a statewide watershed management council

The gist: The governor created a statewide office to spearhead watershed management called the Council on Watershed Management. He signed an executive order creating the council at a meeting of the Acadiana Planning Commission, which he touted as an example of regional coordination in water management.

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Coordination is the new black. There’s a growing recognition among policy makers that flood and stormwater management can’t be handled at the local level. Water has a tendency to go wherever it wants, flaunting city and parish boundaries. The state council will, ostensibly, follow a model of cross-jurisdictional coordination similar to that employed by APC.

APC took a regional partnership approach in administering a $25 million FEMA grant awarded to the Acadiana region in the wake of the 2016 floods.

Dredge the Vermilion. Dredge up conflict. The governor’s announcement paralleled news that Congress has authorized the dredging of the Vermilion River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has requested emergency funding to speed along federal revenue that otherwise could take years to materialize.

Dredging the Vermilion is precisely the sort of project that could rile up division among neighboring jurisdictions. Homeowners and elected officials in Lafayette have clamored for the river to be dredged, arguing that a shallow riverbed worsened the floods of 2016. Combined with Lafayette Consolidated Government’s drainage maintenance program, dredging would tend to move more water downstream faster.

“The Vermilion River, to me, is at capacity,” Vermilion Parish President Kevin Sagrera told The Advocate. “When the water comes down, it’s got to come over the banks and go out into residential areas.”

Study first. Do no harm. That should be the more important lesson learned from APC’s approach. If anything, you could criticize the Acadiana effort for being too conservative. Most of the projects are retention and detention ponds that hold water rather than move it around.

Before further work is done, APC has moved to study watershed impact first.

“I’d like to have the science before we do anything else, so we know what we’re doing,” APC CEO Monique Boulet told me.

The commission has prioritized a plan to deploy 230 gauges across regional waterways. Just weeks ago, UL Lafayette created a flood research center. Researchers with the center helped develop APC’s gauge deployment strategy.

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How CGI is doubling down on Lafayette’s digital economy It's not just about jobs

While headlines have focused on the creation of 400 jobs, there’s a lot more to unpack about the benefits to Lafayette’s digital economy.

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Congress authorizes dredging of Vermilion River Homeowners have demanded work on the river to remove build-up believed to have worsened the historic floods of 2016.

Sen. Bill Cassidy’s office said the Corps of Engineers will release a work plan later this week, which would be the first indication of a timeline for the Vermilion dredging project.

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Why Lafayette’s economy needs more Waitrs

As a result of Waitr’s hard work and pluck, our community now has all the ingredients needed to power an explosion of growth in our digital economy.

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In local voting, timing is everything For tax measures in Lafayette to ever have a shot, election scheduling has got to change.

If holding off-cycle elections is the parish government’s strategy to raise taxes, it’s a poor one. Research shows that low turnout favors those who oppose taxes.

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UL Lafayette bringing back long-shuttered lab school

The school will serve as an educational institution for the students, as well as hands-on learning experiences for collegians and faculty to experiment with new teaching techniques.

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Marshal Pope fails in bid to suppress emails in his criminal trial

The gist: Embattled City Marshal Brian Pope argued that emails which led to his indictment on seven felony charges were not public record and should not be admitted as evidence in his trial for those crimes. The district court denied Pope’s motion to suppress the emails. They will be used in his trial.

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Some background: The emails in question were obtained by defunct news outlet The Independent in a public records dispute that arose during the 2015 sheriff’s election. That year, Pope staged an official marshal’s press conference to attack Mark Garber, then a candidate for Lafayette Parish sheriff. The email records later proved the press conference was scripted by Joe Castille, a shadowy political consultant who ran the campaign of Garber’s opponent, Chad Leger.

Pope himself did not give up all the emails requested. The Independent made parallel requests to the marshal’s office and to Lafayette Consolidated Government, which maintains the marshal’s email server. LCG’s cache of emails included records of Castille’s involvement in the press conference, indicating that Pope had illegally deleted or omitted the emails in his own production of records.

Pope’s attorneys argued that LCG unlawfully seized the records.

District Judge Jules Edwards III, who presided over the civil dispute between The Independent and Pope, held Pope in contempt for failing to turn over the records, ruling that the emails were indeed public record. Edwards later threw Pope in jail for violating his probation.

"They’re public records because Judge Edwards says they are," responded prosecutor Alan Haney. “You can’t suppress a public record. He wants you to use the law to hide what he was doing.” Clearly, District Judge David Smith agreed with him.

The trial will likely take place in Lafayette Parish. At least that’s the early indication. Pope’s attorneys sought to move the trial out of the area on the grounds that Pope couldn’t get a fair trial in light of “mountainous” negative press.

Again, ADA Haney: "If they can try [serial killer] Derrick Todd Lee in East Baton Rouge Parish, they can try Brian Pope in Lafayette Parish.”

Haney argued Pope brought the press on himself by virtue of his own misbehavior. Most stories in the mountain of clippings, he said, were factual.

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Waitr affirms commitment to Lafayette after acquisition by a Texas billionaire

The gist: The news broke this week that app-based food delivery service Waitr was acquired by a Texas billionaire in a $308 million deal that will take the company public. CEO Chris Meaux says the company intends to expand operations in Louisiana and will continue to call Lafayette and Lake Charles home.

Meaux tells The Current..."We're committed to Lake Charles and Lafayette; that's where the bulk of our employee base is from a corporate perspective. We're committed to Louisiana. This is gonna remain our home and that was an important factor in this deal." Waitr's management staff will remain the same, with Meaux continuing to serve as CEO. He also will be the newly public company's board chairman.

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You can breathe now: In the immediate wake of the acquisition, it wasn’t particularly clear where Waitr would end up. It's now owned by Texas billionaire Tillman Fertitta, the CEO of seafood restaurant chain Landry's. Fertitta also owns the Golden Nugget Casino in Lake Charles.

Waitr is a major success story for Acadiana and Lake Charles. Losing its growing payroll and employment would have been a huge blow for a down and out Lafayette economy. Waitr employs between 400 and 500 people in Acadiana, including drivers, and accounts for roughly $25 million in annual payroll in Louisiana, according to a rough estimate from Meaux.

What to watch for: The acquisition will accelerate Waitr’s growth rapidly. Before the deal, Waitr was projected to double its revenue next year to $250 million. Capital infusion of this scale will put Waitr in the driver’s seat nationally in the app-based food delivery space in secondary markets. Meaux says the company will add three or four new cities to its portfolio per month and begin buying up smaller competitors. The company will continue to emphasize small and mid-size cities in its growth and marketing strategy. Meaux refers to Waitr as a "small town company."

Locally, Meaux says the company is expanding beyond its offices at The Daily Advertiser building on Bertrand Drive. One possible landing spot is the Lemoine building Downtown. Meaux indicates the company is close to deciding on a site, but would not disclose where it would end up. Meaux says the company will continue to hire more software engineers, customer service reps and restaurant support staff going forward. Lafayette is Waitr's software engineering hub.

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How did Lafayette’s economy lose $10B of GDP?

Much of our GDP has been lost to an industry that seems unlikely to ever fully recover. And none of our industries are on pace to have the kind of billion-dollar growth our economy needs to get back on track.

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A river runs through us

The transformation of Lafayette from an agricultural parish to a fast-growing metro area has placed increasing emphasis on the Vermilion’s original role as the main source of drainage for the parish. It’s unclear if the river is up to the task.

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How I learned to stop worrying and love the Jeopardy! buzzer

Contributor Rex Moroux — realtor by day, raconteur by night — relives the anguish and near triumph of his bout with the buzzer on Jeopardy!

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Gov. Edwards appeared at UHC to stump for a fix to the state’s budget crisis

The gist: Edwards held a press conference at UHC to highlight the impact of a budget impasse in the state legislature. The budget currently working its way through the legislature imposes steep cuts to healthcare and the apparent damage could be devastating. UHC officials have warned that the hospital would effectively shut down if a budget deal doesn't fund the partnership that operates it. Just last week, 37,000 patients in medicaid funded nursing home care were alerted that their coverage may disappear.

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”It shouldn’t be this hard” was Edwards basic message exhorting lawmakers to put aside politicking and sort out a proper budget. Edwards rallied local firepower behind that message. Richard Zuschlag, CEO of Acadian Companies, set the governor up with an emotional appeal for bipartisanship to solve the budget crisis:

“Failure to do so would cause a catastrophic healthcare crisis,” Zuschlag said. “This isn’t about Republicans and Democrats. It’s about the people of Acadiana.”

Zuschlag also penned a #SaveUHC letter in The Advocate. 

The state needs to close the gap on $648 million in lost revenue this session because a temporary sales tax will expire.  Edwards noted that number would climb if the partner hospitals close; the state receives $168 million in lease payments from its private partners like Lafayette General Health, which operates UHC. Edwards said running the state’s partner hospitals costs about $200 million annually.

Indeed, it’s argued that losing UHC would crush Acadiana economically, potentially siphoning off $70 million in lost money.

What does Edwards want? Long term, he says he wants a stable budget process. Right now, he’s asking for a portion of that one-penny temporary sales tax to stay on the books. He said today that will fully fund essential services and reduce tax collections by $400 million.

But isn’t this really about politics? It’s hard to see it any other way. For a bipartisan appeal, Edwards spent a lot of time in his remarks raking legislators over the coals for failing to create a sustainable budget structure over the past two years of special sessions and partisan haranguing.

On the right, folks will tell you that Edwards is fear-mongering — Rep. Nancy Landry used that word exactly in a tweet — and that no one believes that the budget as written will go forward.

But, there’s talk out there that Republican lawmakers simply don’t want a Democratic governor to have a win. Edwards said there are legislators “praying for others to have the courage to do the right thing” so healthcare can be restored to full funding while they quietly vote against raising revenue.

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