Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Supply and Demand


Demand for rig worker relief was lower than forecasted, but the program could be expanded. By Jeremy Alford

By Sept. 22 only 419 rig workers impacted by the ongoing federal moratorium on deepwater drilling, representing 18 states, had applied for financial assistance through a private fund — despite its organizers’ expectations that 9,000 applications would be filed by the end of the month.

BP, which managed the Deepwater Horizon Rig that exploded April 20 and leaked more than 5.2 million barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico, has put up $100 million to sponsor the grant program. President Barack Obama originally asked BP to create the program, and the oil giant selected the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, a clearinghouse for philanthropists to oversee the process.

While there’s certainly a disparity in the initial estimate of thousands of applications, Mukul Verma, the foundation’s director of communications, says there’s a very positive interpretation available. “The news has been good,” Verma notes. “People continue to work or remain employed on the deepwater rigs.”

That statistic shouldn’t be used to undermine the impact of the moratorium on Gulf of Mexico workers, maintains Don Briggs, president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association. “The rigs are largely keeping their people on. They’re under contract,” Briggs says. “The workers are out there cleaning and painting and getting paid for things they normally do in their downtime. Many still have jobs.”

But for every rig worker, Briggs says there are eight ancillary workers who rely on deepwater activity for their jobs. “You have little service companies all over south Louisiana,” he explains. “They don’t have the work to keep their employees paid. They’re the ones biting their fingernails right now.”

Only one of the deepwater rigs shuttered by Obama’s order has had no employees apply for assistance through the special grant program. Another 32 of the impacted rigs, however, have workers waiting in the proverbial line. There are more applicants, 240 as of Sept. 24, from Louisiana than anywhere else — Mississippi trails with 69 and then 40 more from Texas. There are even two applicants from Alaska and Maine, Verma says.

Applications were accepted through Sept. 30, with grant awards ranging from $3,000 to $30,000. “We expect to make all first round grants by end of October,” Verma says.

Verma says a second round of grants will also be conducted for workers who directly support the deepwater rigs ­— those partly referred to by Briggs. “We expect that round to begin in early spring,” Verma says. “Because direct support workers number roughly 25,000, we expect to meet our goal of distributing all of the donated funds available for grants.” He adds that the Baton Rouge Area Foundation doesn’t expect 25,000 to apply; that’s just the number of potential applicants indicated by the state recently.

As for the nuts and bolts, BRAF created another nonprofit to handle the applications: the Gulf Restoration and Protection Foundation. First Premium Insurance Group of Covington is serving as the third party administrator that will actually review applications and determine grant amounts. About $93.5 million of the $100 million fund will go to rig workers. An administrative fee of $6.5 million has been earmarked, and First Premium Insurance Group will receive most of the sum.

The grants themselves will be based on need, not on salaries or income, Verma says. As for who qualifies, the program is limited to people who were working on deepwater rigs on May 6, which is when the federal moratorium on drilling took effect.

To apply, rig workers had to show recent pay stubs, verification of employment, W-2s, 1099s, recent income tax returns, information on spousal income, insurance proceeds, unemployment payments, details on any other money received from assistance funds and a list of average monthly expenses for the three months prior to the May 6 shutdown.

Jeremy Alford can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

LUS, COX Exploring Wireless Options

As Lafayette Utilities System wraps up the buildout of its citywide fiber to the home network, there are no immediate plans to advance what many view as the logical next step for LUS: a citywide wireless network built on top of the fiber infrastructure. LUS Director Terry Huval stresses that the nascent LUS Fiber telecommunications business is on a tight budget and must now focus all its resources into successfully building up a customer base for its core cable, phone and Internet services.

“We do plan to deploy wireless, but we still have the deployment of our fiber system and deployment means hooking up new [customers],” Huval says. “And while we have the high degree of activity related to accepting new customer orders and running crews to be able to provide those services to customers, we want to keep our focus on that. Once we’re at a point that that starts to plateau some, then we can maybe move more quickly with expanding wireless. As far as the timing, I would expect that within the next year we’re going to be making some faster strides with putting up wireless.”

Huval did not say what form of wireless service LUS may offer but has indicated in the past that a citywide wireless Internet service might be something packaged as an add-on service for LUS Fiber subscribers. Huval also noted that LUS currently has over 40 wi-fi hotspots in Lafayette, used exclusively by Lafayette Consolidated Government field vehicles.
Meanwhile, LUS Fiber’s chief competitor, Cox Communications, is also moving deliberately with its planned wireless cell phone service. Cox announced last year it would be entering the cell phone business, and the company has since been testing its service, indicating it will probably launch this year in select markets in Virginia, Nebraska and California. Cox Greater Louisiana spokeswoman Ann Ruble says the service isn’t scheduled to hit the Lafayette area for another 18 to 24 months, but stresses that rollout plans are constantly being re-evaluated.

For its part, LUS Fiber has mainly focused its wireless plans on wi-fi Internet, as opposed to cellular phone connectivity, though that may be changing. “One of the options we see emerging is greater interactivity between cellular connectivity and wi-fi connectivity,” Huval says. “For example, many of today’s smart phones will use an available wi-fi network for e-mail/texting/Internet access instead of using the cellular network. A similar capability is emerging for voice traffic. With access to a city-wide wireless network, a person could make all in-city calls on the wi-fi system and not have to buy so many minutes from a cellular provider. Such an arrangement will save money for many cell phone users, especially for people who make most of their wireless calls from in the city.”

In addition, LUS Fiber is exploring other options related to cellular connectivity, specifically, partnering with a wholesale cellular provider or carrier that could then offer an enhanced wireless/cellular signal in Lafayette. “It’s an idea that’s been floated,” Huval says, adding that LUS Fiber has gone so far as meeting with a couple of cellular wholesalers to discuss the possibility, though he declined to name the companies. “We’ve had multiple meetings with each one of these companies, but we’re not in any contract negotiations at this point,” he says. “We’ve made the decision that we want to continue to focus on the continued deployment of the fiber system; that’s the key. I don’t want to take our technical and business resources we have away from the target that we’re dealing with now with our fiber-to-the-home deployment.”

In related news, the Federal Communications Commission has just approved for use the largest expansion of unlicensed spectrum in more than two decades, a move expected to pave the way for the development of stronger wireless networks across the country.

Huval applauded the move: “The FCC action to open up more unlicensed spectrum is a very positive development, in our opinion. From an overall consumer perspective, it opens up new wireless options in an era where more and more smaller wireless providers are being gobbled up by the large cellular giants.” — Nathan Stubbs

Former Lafayette rep out of DOE job

20100929-DOEABIZ-0101Don Trahan, the former District 31 state representative who resigned his seat in 2008 to take a job with the state Department of Education, is headed toward the unemployment line. Trahan has fallen victim to a DOE reorganization plan that eliminates his position, state director of Regional Education Centers, effective Oct. 1.

Trahan earned $110,000 annually to act as a DOE liaison to the business industry and others. He declined comment but issued a statement Sept. 22 expressing his gratitude for the position.

In a separate prepared statement, Pastorek said his revamping of the department has meant the elimination of some management jobs, including Trahan’s. Pastorek also said Trahan “has contributed immeasurably to our efforts to improve public education in Louisiana.”

A former educator and aide to Public Service Commissioner Jimmy Field, Trahan served as chairman of the House Education Committee during his tenure in the Legislature. — Walter Pierce

Ex-Iberia Sheriff faces up to a year in prison

Former Iberia Parish Sheriff Sid Hebert and his company pleaded guilty Wednesday to the negligent operation of a water treatment facility in violation of the federal Clean Water Act. U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley announced the guilty plea, noting Hebert has agreed to pay a $50,000 fine and has shut down his company, Environmental Compliance Solutions of New Iberia. He also faces up to a year in prison at sentencing.

ECS, located at 5108 Weeks Island Road in New Iberia, was formed for the purpose of wastewater treatment and discharge and was permitted by the state. The permit allowed ECS to operate as a centralized waste treatment facility.

Hebert, who was part-owner, president and on-site manager at ECS, admitted that he was negligent in the operation procedures at ECS. An inspection of ECS on June 2, 2009, by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, revealed that wastewaters were bypassing the filtration system and were ultimately being discharged into the Commercial Canal located in the Port of Iberia. Hebert, who was ECS’ responsible corporate officer from June 2007 through June 2009, according to the U.S. attorney, failed to maintain the required documentation, prepare reports and implement plans, and perform proper testing as mandated by the permit. He and the company were charged in a bill of information Aug. 27 with the Clean Water Act violation, a misdemeanor.

Hebert was Iberia Parish sheriff from 1996 to 2008.

“Protection of our local waters is a priority, and we, along with our partners at EPA and Louisiana DEQ, are committed to making sure that the laws, which are designed to safeguard the citizens of our communities, are enforced,” Finley said in announcing the guilty plea. — Leslie Turk

Reserve at Acadiana becomes Greystone

As first reported by ABiz in its June issue, the apartment complex adjacent to the mall of Acadiana is back on track after being abandoned for more than 1.5 years. But the new owners have just announced that they’ve changed their minds about keeping the name Reserve at Acadiana and have settled on The Greystone Apartment Homes.

In the June story “Complex Problems Solved,” ABiz reported that Dallas-based Hayman Woods, a real estate private equity fund manager, and Vintage Resources LLC, a Baton Rouge-based developer, assumed ownership of the project in April and hired Block Builders to handle construction. The complex consists of one-, and two-bedroom apartments from 648 to 1,240 square feet. Rental rates will range from $800-$1,250 per month.

In early September Block Builders, a general building and construction management firm based in Baton Rouge and division of Block Companies, announced that the 276-unit, garden-style apartment complex at the intersection of Johnston Street and Guidry Street should be ready for rental by November.

“We’re thrilled to be working on this complex and expanding Block’s presence into the Lafayette market,” says Jason E. Keller, CEO of Block Builders. “Now with the expertise and leadership of the Block team in control, and a under new ownership and direction, everything’s in place for a successful completion.”

“We believe the robust economic climate in Lafayette as well as increased demand in the once-crowded rental market will combine for a project that provides work for the local labor pool and a fitting complement to other development in the area,” says Clay Likover, managing director of Hayman Woods.

The Greystone offers amenities that include a washer and dryer in each unit, attached and detached garages, a “resort style” swimming pool, and a luxury clubhouse that will include a fitness center, basketball court, and community room. — Leslie Turk

Bizzuka heads East

20100929-bizzukaABIZ-0101
Munsell
Bizzuka has expanded into the Baton Rouge market with a satellite office at 11207 Proverbs Ave. Although the company has remote employees in Tampa and Austin, the BR move is the first location outside its Lafayette corporate headquarters.

Founded in Tampa in early 2000, the Web development, content management and Internet marketing firm moved its operational headquarters to Lafayette three years later.

Recently named to Inc. magazine’s fourth annual list of America’s fastest-growing private companies — ranking within the top 10 in Louisiana, and number 1,513 nationwide — Bizzuka’s impressive list of more than 700 clients includes many prominent capital-city businesses, including Turner Industries, the Louisiana Old State Capitol and the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport.

“Expanding east to Baton Rouge is a natural next step in our company’s strategy and growth,” says Bizzuka CEO/co-founder John Munsell, a Baton Rouge native. “We are confident that the addition of a B.R. location and the excellent team we have in place will be a true asset to the local businesses and organizations there.”

Leading the sales team at the Proverbs Avenue office is Marcel Stuart, a veteran sales executive, along with Deana Coreil who recently joined Bizzuka from Cox Media. Bizzuka’s Baton Rouge roots are also represented by its executive vice president, Mike Moles, former president and CEO of Antares Technology Solutions. Moles moved over to Bizzuka in January.

20100929-bizzukaABIZ-0102
Nelson
In other Bizzuka news, Lafayette native Maura M. Nelson has returned home to join the company as director of marketing after working for two decades in Washington, D.C.

A veteran marketing and communications executive, Nelson most recently was vice president of marketing and communications for The Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers. In addition, she also worked as vice president of marketing and communications for Destination Marketing Association International; the American Hotel & Lodging Association as vice president of marketing and communications; and national director of public relations for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Nelson has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from LSU and a master’s degree in public communication from American University in D.C. — Leslie Turk

Leadership Lafayette seeking 2011 applicants

The Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce is seeking applicants for its 24th Leadership Lafayette class.

The nationally recognized Leadership Lafayette program, which turns 24 next year, is soliciting candidates to participate in the 2011 session. Leadership Lafayette is sponsored by the chamber and is designed to empower participants through community leadership. The program boasts more than 500 alumni.

Twenty-five rising leaders are selected to participate in the 10-month training initiative. Participants are selected from a cross section of occupations and socio-economic sectors of the community. The curriculum includes community issues in the areas of education, health care, economic development, law enforcement, government, social services, art, culture and local history — all conducted through topical sessions, lectures, field trips and readings.

The current class, LL XXIII, graduates Oct. 27. Applications for LLXXIV are due back to the chamber by 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 29. For an application, contact Cydra Wingerter at 337-408-3652 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . — Leslie Turk

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