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 circumstances surrounding the death last March while in the backseat of a sheriff’s cruiser of Victor White III, long a source of dispute by White’s family, have earned an investigation by federal officials.
With six of the LPSB’s nine members poised for Pat Cooper’s termination, a request was filed Tuesday for a fast-tracked hearing on the federal lawsuit calling for the disqualification of two board members from voting on the matter due to bias.
Louisiana's Republican Party has filed a complaint against Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu with the Senate's ethics committee about her use of private chartered planes.
An attorney signs up to run against LPSB's Mark Cockerham, and within a week a lawsuit is filed by a former LPSS employee in an attempt to disqualify him. Coincidence?
The Ragin’ Cajuns got off to a superb start Saturday night, and the Human Jukebox made the soaked season opener even sweeter for the third-largest crowd in Cajun Field history.
The Louisiana health department will follow a federal judge's order and refrain from immediately penalizing doctors who are trying to comply with a new abortion law that requires them to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital, a spokeswoman said Monday.
While bogged down with qualifying candidates last month, Secretary of State Tom Schedler didn’t lose sight of the true endgame coming in November and December.
Tuesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Stoned driving a concern when pot is legal; Detroit's bankruptcy trial; speed trap scandal in Florida and more national and international news for Tuesday, September 02, 2014.
A federal jury found attorney Daniel Stanford guilty Friday afternoon on eight of 13 counts for his role in the Curious Goods conspiracy.
Lafayette City-Court Judge Francie Bouillion has served on the bench for two decades since winning a special election to replace Judge Kaliste Saloom when he retired in 1994.
The magazine's senior football writer also predicts a break-out year for Saints fourth-year running back Mark Ingram.
Gulf Coast ceremonies marking the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina have begun.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries says there is little known about the effects of tiger prawns on indigenous Louisiana shrimp. But, officials say the reports they're seeking will help state biologists monitor the distribution of the prawns and determine the possible presence of spawning populations.
Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh rested his regulars and watched with delight as Ray Rice's backups ground out 214 yards rushing in a 22-13 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night.
High-profile criminal defense attorney Daniel Stanford awaits his fate in the Curious Goods conspiracy trial.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is set to put the kibosh on the legal ownership of monkeys trained to help the disabled, and the agency wants to know what you think.
A federal judge on Thursday asked lawyers battling over Louisiana's new, restrictive abortion law for an agreement that apparently could let clinics stay open — at least for a while — after the law takes effect Sept. 1.
An abortion rights organization wants a federal judge to block enforcement of Louisiana's new abortion law while its lawsuit to overturn the law makes its way through court.
Republican presidential prospects Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal are planning to speak at an Iowa Christian conservative event in September.
The attention surrounding Victor White III has spiked with the release of last week’s autopsy report, which has raised a number of serious questions about the night of his death and has put the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office under an increased wave of scrutiny as more national media outlets are jumping on the story, most recently seen on MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show.
A group supporting taxpayer-funded private school tuition vouchers is appealing a federal judge's order that Louisiana must provide regular reports to federal officials on the state's voucher program.
The Discovery Channel has canceled reality TV star Will Hayden's popular "Sons of Guns" show after his arrest on an aggravated rape charge.
The LPSB will finally hear from the attorney it hired to investigate the superintendent at a special meeting Thursday at 4 p.m.
Authorities are investigating a report that a student there warned the principal of impending violence similar to that depicted in the movie "The Purge."