LCG wins fiber battle, Michot asks state to halt demolition of horse farm barn and more
LCG WINS FIBER BATTLE

Lafayette Consolidated Government is celebrating the state Supreme Court's unanimous decision last week that will allow LCG to move forward with its fiber-to-the-home initiative.

The Supreme Court overturned a lower court decision that issuing $125 million in bonds to fund the project would violate the Local Government Fair Competition Act. LCG's plan was challenged by Lafayette resident Elizabeth Naquin, a mysterious plaintiff who has repeatedly filed suit against LCG and Lafayette Utilities System but never appeared in court.

Though expensive in terms of legal fees ' local government thus far has spent more than $3 million on the project, much of that on the legal challenges ' the almost three-year delay will actually save LCG $4 million to $5 million because the price of technology and equipment has come down. "Because of the legal battle we're going to save money," City-Parish President Joey Durel says.

"At the same time, the technology has gotten 10 times faster," notes LUS Director Terry Huval. He says interest rates in that time period have remained south of 5 percent, another factor lending viability to the original business plan.

Huval says among the first order of business will be a trip to New York to visit with bond rating agencies. LCG will then decide where to lay the initial fiber infrastructure and should be offering Internet, phone and cable service to its first customers within 18 months of securing its financing.

Durel maintains that the project will put Lafayette in a unique position as a national leader in broadband deployment. "When we started this project, America was 12th in broadband deployment, then we were 14th, then 16th," Durel says. "I saw something last week that we are now 20th in the world."

Durel is far from the only person still singing fiber's praises. At January's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Dell Inc. founder Michael Dell challenged the technology industry to deploy more fiber-to-the-home, according to a Jan. 9 online story in the Wall Street Journal. He said despite the buzz around the "digital home," the concept hasn't caught on in part because broadband in the country isn't mature enough yet. He said to get faster broadband, customers need fiber-speed network connections to the home. "I challenge the telecom industry to accelerate the deployment of fiber-to-the-home," Dell said. ' Leslie Turk

SEN. MIKE MICHOT ASKS STATE TO HALT DEMOLITION OF HORSE BARN

State Sen. Mike Michot says he's apprehensive about the university's request to tear down the historic barn on its Johnston Street horse farm property and on Monday expressed those concerns in a fax to the state Office of Facility Planning & Control, which must approve the action. "I cannot support the demolition of the facility because of the outpouring of support to save the barn," Michot says. "This is not a storage shed we're tearing down."

Michot says he does not have enough information to make an informed decision and hopes UL President Ray Authement will give the public more time to devise a plan for saving the structure, which was the mission of a small group of Save the Horse Farm members who traveled to Baton Rouge Friday, Feb. 23, to address the Board of Supervisors for the UL System. Authement asked the board for permission to tear down the barn, but Save the Horse Farm members took issue with what they called UL's "hasty attempt to bring this issue up during the holiday week of Mardi Gras when the public is otherwise attending the ongoing festivities and/or [is] out of town on vacation." The group is exploring ways to protect and restore the barn ' whose age is in dispute ' for functional use.

UL Physical Plant Director Bill Crist say the barn is falling apart due to termite and Hurricane Rita damage and has become a liability issue. But Save the Horse Farm co-founder Elizabeth "EB" Brooks says her group has $7,000 in pledges to build a protective fence around the barn to protect the university from liability and can raise the estimated $100,000 for restoration.

Brooks says she requested more time from both the board and Authement, who attended Friday's meeting. "I said [to Authement], 'Can you just give us one more month?' and he said, 'Absolutely not,'" she recalls. Instead, the board empowered Authement to begin taking steps toward demolition, which must be done in conjunction with the Office of Facility Planning & Control.

Save the Horse Farm has been fighting since mid-2005 to preserve the 100-acre tract on Johnston Street as greenspace. Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel says he's interested in acquiring the land and eventually developing it into a park. He'd also like to house the city's mounted police unit in the barn.

Also at Friday's meeting, Gov. Kathleen Blanco's three new appointees to the Board of Supervisors were sworn in. Among the trio was Dr. Clyde L. Rougeou Jr., a New Iberia dentist who is representing the Third Congressional District.

The dentist, son of former UL President Clyde L. Rougeou, Ray Authement's predecessor, lived on the farm with his family, but that sentimental connection to the barn did not stop him from voting to empower Authement to decide the dilapidated structure's fate.

The university estimates the barn was constructed in the 1940s, but Acadiana businessman/environmentalist Harold Schoeffler says his great uncle, Matthew Mucha, built the barn around 1903 for his wife after they moved to Louisiana from Nebraska.

At press time, Save the Horse Farm had already scheduled a Tuesday meeting with Durel and was attempting to set up a meeting with Authement later this week. It's also launching a letter-writing campaign to Michot and state Rep. Wilfred Pierre, who also serves the district. For more information on the community group's efforts, visit www.savethehorsefarm.com or call Brooks at (337) 781-9766. ' LT

RESULTS OF INVESTIGATION INTO FATAL HURRICANE RITA EVACUATION RELEASED

The National Transportation Safety Board has cited improper vehicle maintenance and inadequate pre-trip inspections as primary contributing factors in the deadly bus fire that killed 23 elderly patients fleeing Hurricane Rita in September 2005. In its report released last week, NTSB says Global Limo Inc. of Pharr, Texas, also failed to conduct routine post-trip vehicle inspection reports. NTSB's findings follow the January 2007 sentencing of Global Limo Inc. owner James Maples, who got five years probation on charges of inadequately managing his company's buses. Maples is also prohibited from working for Global Limo Inc. or any other bus company, and Global Limo Inc. was fined $100,000 and also put on probation for five years.

A synopsis of the NTSB's report and subsequent recommendations can be found at www.ntsb.gov, under "Board Meetings." ' Scott Jordan

SALON SEES LOUISIANA TURNING RED

New Orleans' population loss, the FBI investigation of U.S. Rep. Bill Jefferson, an increasingly well organized and well funded Republican state party ' all of this spells big trouble for Louisiana Democrats in the foreseeable future. The state's shifting political landscape was the subject of a recent feature article in the left-leaning online national magazine Salon.com. The article claims Democrats likely lost anywhere from 30,000 to 60,000 votes as a result of outmigration caused by Hurricane Katrina and maintains that Louisiana is no longer considered in play for the 2008 presidential race. Salon also noted the glaring irony in these trends:

"If Louisiana once provided the Democrats' silver lining in cloudier moments, it is perhaps fitting that this most contrarian of states is now trending away from Democrats at the very moment they have regained majorities in both chambers of Congress, among governors and in the state legislatures," Salon wrote. "What's more, it is ironic that Hurricane Katrina ' the event that finally demolished the claims of governing competence long advanced by George W. Bush and national Republicans ' has accelerated the collapse of the state's Democrats." ' Nathan Stubbs

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