Lafayette Utilities System reached another milestone last week in its quest to make Lafayette the largest U.S. city to solely own and operate its own fiber-to-the-home network. The state Public Service Commission voted unanimously in approval of financing rules that LUS had previously endorsed for the project, which will allow LUS to compete with private telecom providers and offer Internet, phone and cable service to all city residents.
The PSC's approval appears to be the last green light needed for LUS to proceed, though city officials now fear that BellSouth is preparing a legal challenge to the PSC ruling. LUS Director Terry Huval says one of the city's representatives overheard a BellSouth attorney say they would soon be seeing the city in court, regardless of the PSC ruling.
"I think the PSC rules are consistent with the [state law]," Huval says. "But BellSouth could file a suit just to delay it. Even if it's unfounded rationale, it could delay the start of our project, and we feel that's been their agenda all along."
Since LUS first announced its fiber project nearly 16 months ago, it has met regular objections from incumbent telecom providers BellSouth and Cox Communications ' objections that have already led to new state legislation on the project's financing, a lawsuit and subsequent public referendum over its bond issue.
If no new legal challenges surface, Huval estimates LUS could issue bonds by the beginning of next year and begin serving its first customers by summer 2007.
Huval also responded to comments that BellSouth Representative John Williams made in The Daily Advertiser, where he cautioned that in light of the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, residents might want to reconsider whether they want to entrust telecommunications services to local government.
"His comments are something that a public relations person came up with, in my opinion," Huval says. (Williams could not be reached for comment.) "I think we just need to look at the history of what's happened when hurricanes have hit Lafayette." Huval notes that when Hurricane Lili hit in 2002, LUS was the first utility to have services back on line and also provided feed power to other utilities to help them get back up and running.
"We're going to provide the appropriate resources to be able to respond to whatever happens," says Huval. ' Nathan Stubbs
LAFAYETTE SCHOOLS ADD MORE THAN 4,000 EVACUEES
At the end of last week, 4,200 students who were displaced as a result of Hurricane Katrina had registered with the Lafayette Parish School System, up nearly 1,000 from the previous week. LPSS Supervisor of Homeless Education Patsy Williams says 4,000 of those students have been regularly attending classes. According to school officials, the system has coped surprisingly well with the huge influx, though the costs of providing for the additional students are beginning to add up. "I think the thing that's saved us is that the distribution of the students has been pretty even across all grade levels," says school board member Mike Hefner.
This week alone, the school system was planning to spend $50,000 to transport and set up 10 new double-classroom portable buildings at the parish's five public high schools to ease overcrowding. The school system will also pay $1,200 per month for each building on a nine-month lease, according to Chief Operations Officer Vernal Comeaux. Overall, Hefner says the cost for new students in the school system, which includes expenses for staffing, facilities, books and uniforms, is approximately $4,200 per pupil, which could put the total tab for this year's new students at about $16.8 million. Hefner says the additional costs have been initially covered by the school board's $7 million fund balance. He anticipates LPSS will soon begin borrowing money from an outside source, though he hopes reimbursement funds from the state and federal government will soon be on the way.
One of the fastest-growing schools in the parish has been Lafayette High, which has taken in close to 300 new students and will be operating four new portable buildings in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Lafayette High English teacher Melinda Mangham is amazed with how well students and faculty have handled the situation. "Have people been inconvenienced? Have we had to manage some things? Yes, but this is nothing in the scheme of things. I'm very impressed that we've been able to integrate all the kids into the classes, and everyone has adapted well. We've just had to be very flexible. The lessons I think these kids are learning on both sides of the fence are lessons I think that are going to help them their whole lives."
The fight to clean up Lafayette Parish could get some added ammunition with two ordinances up for votes Tuesday by the City-Parish Council targeting litter-bugs.
By striking a deal to lessen the blow of health insurance changes on state workers, school employees and retirees, Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration lowered the volume of criticism but gave itself and local school boards a new budget headache.
With the airport tax coming up for a parishwide vote in about a week, the Broussard City Council and its mayor have come out in support of the proposal.
Protesters rallied peacefully in several Louisiana cities in the wake of the Missouri grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the fatal shooting of Michal Brown.
US cities bidding on Olympics; Guard prevents more Ferguson riots; storm threatens travel and more national and international news for Wednesday, November 26, 2014.
Wednesday's Blogs from the Bog!
The U.S. rep billed LSU for work allegedly performed on the same days Congress voted on major legislation and held important committee hearings on energy and the ACA.
Abysmally low participation by the public has prompted the council to scuttle the 2014 survey with plans to simplify it and try again next year.
The village now says the ordinance will likely be overturned and authorities will more vigorously enforce existing leash laws.
Bill Cassidy cast an early ballot Tuesday, seeking to draw renewed attention to a race that has fallen off newspaper front pages and away from people's minds as they plan holiday meals and shopping schedules.
Battered all night by Baltimore's relentless pass rush, Drew Brees could feel his protection collapsing and Terrell Suggs getting ahold of him as he urgently unloaded a pass to the right flat toward tight end Jimmy Graham.
After a convincing defeat at the polls on Nov. 4, Earl “Nickey” Picard has decided to let bygones be bygones with his former right-hand man Brian Pope, announcing his support for his former employee’s runoff bid to become Lafayette’s next city marshal.
Saturday the athletic department did everything possible to ensure the 2014 Ragin’ Cajun seniors remembered fondly their last home game. Rain and lightning never arrived but turbulence did in the form of the Appalachian State Mountaineers.
Even stranger than the Republican Party’s decision to hold a “unity rally” earlier this month for Congressman Bill Cassidy in a Baton Rouge bar, Huey’s Bar, was the fact that the establishment was named after Louisiana’s most famous Democrat.
Bar Code is not a gay bar.
After failing to pass a medical marijuana bill last year, state Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, is telling supporters he will return in 2015 with legislation that focuses on different applications like oils and pills.
Voters, obviously, are not yet tuned into the 2015 ballot, despite the intriguing races it will host.
By now, the story of how longtime LSU coach Dale Brown discovered Shaquille O'Neal has been told many times: Brown happened upon a massive 13-year-old at an army base in Germany, stayed in touch with him and eventually became like a second father.
Fate simply wasn't ready to give the New Orleans Saints a break from longtime nemesis Steve Smith.
Lafayette Police have had a busy day.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration will use $130 million in patchwork financing from a tax amnesty program, insurance settlement, uninsured motorist penalties and other excess funds to close most of the state's midyear budget deficit.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu said she disagrees with President Barack Obama's actions on immigration, hoping the latest controversy doesn't worsen her campaign difficulties.
Gay-rights advocates challenging Louisiana's same-sex marriage ban announced Thursday that they have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review their case before it is heard by a federal appeals court.
Thinking himself the “son of God,” the man charged with the 2013 killing of an officer of the Chitimacha Tribal Police will not stand trial following a ruling Thursday on his mental competency.
Either Saints coach Sean Payton doesn't want to tip Baltimore off as to who'll start in New Orleans' secondary on Monday night, or he really doesn't know yet.