Ethanol bill expected to become law, Tax Incremental Financing districts and more
ENERGY HORSE-TRADING

Ethanol turned out to be one of the most volatile topics of the Legislative session, and it took a last minute compromise between The House and Senate to move forward an ethanol-blended gas mandate in Louisiana. Two weeks ago, Gov. Kathleen Blanco signed a bill requiring Louisiana gas stations to sell gasoline blended with 2 percent ethanol once state manufacturing plants have the capacity to annually produce at least 50 million gallons of the fuel. The law was nearly derailed by a House "safety valve" amendment that would have only allowed the ethanol blend to be sold if the price of a gallon of ethanol was within 10 cents of a gallon of gasoline.

It took intense pressure from Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom ' champion of the 2 percent mandate as a boon for Louisiana farmers that grow the corn and sugar feedstock for ethanol ' to broker a compromise in the Senate. The resolution creates a committee comprised of representatives from the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation, the Louisiana Oil Marketers and Convenience Store Association and the state university system to monitor the price of regular gas and Louisiana-produced ethanol. Once the average wholesale price of a gallon of Louisiana-manufactured ethanol, less any federal alcohol fuel tax credit, is equal to or below the average price of a gallon of regular unleaded gas in Louisiana for a period of not less than 60 days, the mandate permanently goes into effect. "Once it triggers, that's it," explains Louisiana Farm Bureau spokesman Jim Monroe. "It never rolls back. Once this group certifies that, they go away never to meet again. The mandate is in force, and we go on from there." At press time, Blanco was expected to sign the bill into law. ' Mary Tutwiler

TOUTING TIFs

In what could be a sign of upcoming economic initiatives in Lafayette, the Lafayette City-Parish Council has introduced ordinances to set up two Tax Incremental Financing districts to spur commercial development in the city. TIF districts use projected sales tax revenue from a designated commercial area to borrow money for infrastructure improvements.

Lafayette plans to dedicate a new 1-cent local sales tax in each proposed district toward setting up two new retail centers. The state also will be asked to match with 1 cent from existing state sales taxes in each district. Unlike controversial TIF districts that tried to use tax revenue for private infrastructure (like a Bass Pro Shop complex in Livingston Parish), Lafayette's TIF proposals would only fund public improvements for the districts. 

The Lafayette Economic Development Authority and the Durel administration are pushing the districts as a way to speed up development and reel in two major commercial projects in north Lafayette, along Interstate 10. One district at the intersection of I-10 and Louisiana Avenue is the site of a planned retail center from Covington-based Stirling Properties, with a Super Target as its anchor. The other proposed district, along the I-10, I-49 intersection, is where preliminary plans are being explored for a new "lifestyle center" by California-based development company O&S Holdings. The lifestyle center concept is a concentrated "new urban" development that combines retail shopping with entertainment venues and residential space. 

City planners are also working on proposals to use TIF districts as a means to fund a Johnston Street facelift and the Ambassador Caffery South extension to U.S. Highway 90. ' Nathan Stubbs

FROM THE BOTTOM UP

Calcasieu Lake is commonly referred to as Big Lake, both for its size and the large redfish and speckled trout commonly caught in its waters. Big Lake's water has returned to normal and fishing continues to improve, but debris from Hurricane Rita has created a hazard for boaters. The lake's shallow bottom is littered with appliances, sunken boats, residential structures, industrial debris and floating vegetative clumps. On Saturday, June 24, state agencies are calling for volunteers to help mark underwater hazards with PVC pipe for removal. Any small debris that can safely be removed will be brought to shore, and boaters are asked to map the location of any marine hazards they find. NOAA will then post that information online as soon as the maps are completed. Volunteers are meeting at 8 a.m. at Calcasieu Point Landing in Lake Charles to register. For more information, call Tim Osborn at (337) 291-2111. ' MT

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