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Editorial: Hard not to be optimistic about what lies ahead for Lake Area

Last Modified: Friday, December 28, 2012 8:11 PM

At the stroke of midnight, 2013 appeared, promising a new economic boom, the likes of which Southwest Louisiana has never experienced.

The coming year expects to offer a ramping up of four major projects that will likely carry through to the second half of this decade and result in thousands of construction jobs.

Cheniere Energy’s $5.6 billion conversion of its LNG plant at Sabine Pass has already broken ground after receiving approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Last week, Cheniere signed a contract with Bechtel to construct the third and fourth natural gas liquefaction units to convert the gas for export.

Sempra and Trunkline have also sought FERC approval to convert their respective LNG facilities at Hackberry and south of Lake Charles for export. Should they both get the green light, ground could be broken later this year.

Those three projects alone could combine to employ 9,000 construction workers.

Work is also expected to get under way for the Lake Charles Clean Energy project located on Port of Lake Charles land near its Bulk Terminal No. 1 on the west bank of the Calcasieu Ship Channel. The gasification plant is expected to create 1,500 construction jobs during its peak period.

And work is expected to continue on the Ameristar Casino Project even though the company was bought by Pinnacle, owners of L’Auberge Casino in Lake Charles.

In short, Southwest Louisiana enters 2013 on the brink of a period that could see as many as 20,000 construction jobs performing at one time.

That, though, will create problems — good problems to have — but nonetheless more stress on the area’s infrastructure, particularly roads, and area housing. And that will call for innovative ways for public officials to handle that strain.

Another issue that deserves attention is under-performing schools in Calcasieu Parish. Of the 57 schools in the system, 12 earned a grade of D and three earned F’s for the 2011-2012 schools year.

Some of those grades are attributable to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education raising the threshold for an F from 65 last year, to 75 this year.

Still, parish residents should be uncomfortable with the fact that there is even one failing school in the parish.

Another lingering issue is funding for the Calcasieu Parish Public Defenders Office. State budget cuts have forced layoffs in the indigent defense office, which historically has had a caseload nearly twice the national average. That has raised questions of adequate defense for the accused and has caused a backlog in criminal cases in 14th Judicial District Court.

In Baton Rouge, the daunting hurdle continues to be the state budget. Gov. Bobby Jindal has said tax reform will be the top priority for his administration when the regular session of the state Legislature convenes this spring. Jindal has promised that any changes in the tax code will be revenue neutral, but there is a growing sense around the state that some tax breaks that have cost the state more money that it receives should be eliminated.

Also worth watching is whether state lawmakers can muster the courage to buck Jindal on the unfair teacher evaluations that were instituted by the state Department of Education last year.

While the new year has its challenges, it’s difficult not be optimistic about what lies ahead for our area.

• • •

This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

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