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Local officials join forces to prepare for future

Last Modified: Tuesday, February 05, 2013 10:10 PM

By John Guidroz / American Press

A group of local officials have joined forces to prepare for the anticipated challenges that could arise once several industrial projects — including Sasol’s plans to spend an estimated $21 billion at its Westlake facility ­— get under way.

The Southwest Louisiana Task Force for Growth and Opportunity, or GO Group, will discuss its development and objectives at a 3:45 p.m. news briefing today in the Lake Charles Civic Center’s Contraband Room. The Calcasieu Parish Police Jury is the group’s lead organization, and District 14 Police Juror Hal McMillin is its chairman.

Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach said the group began meeting after Sasol announced in December that it planned to spend up to $7 billion on a chemical plant and up to $14 billion on a gas-to-liquids plant. He said the group has discussed how to manage the influx of workers for the project, including 7,000 construction jobs at peak time and 1,200 permanent jobs.

“You’ve got thousands of construction workers coming into town,” Roach said. “There are things you have to consider that may not have come to mind. Where are they going to eat? Where are they going to stay?”

Roach said the organization of the Go Group is similar to the Louisiana Recovery Authority, an agency that the state organized after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

“If you go back and look at the structure of the LRA, they looked at objectives and broke them down into subcommittees,” he said. “There are things we have to consider, like workforce development, health care, law enforcement and utilities.”

McMillin said Southwest Louisiana should “be prepared on the forefront” for issues that may arise from the Sasol project and other projected development.

“The Westlake area is going to be the epicenter of this project; a project of this magnitude is going to affect the five-parish area and Southeast Texas,” he said. “Twenty to 30 years from now, this is our chance to leave a legacy on how things were done right.”

George Swift, president and CEO of the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance, said the group will also have to discuss traffic issues that may occur with thousands of new workers coming into the area.

“There might have to be some new roads or extra lanes,” he said. “We might have to have park-and-ride lots for workers. When we get into the permanent workers, we have to consider schools, health care capacity and law enforcement.”

Swift said the group will get hiring projections from the various industries and information on peak work times. He said this will help determine housing both temporary and permanent employees.

“I think it’s very progressive of elected officials to get on top of this right now,” Swift said. “Everyone wants this growth to be a positive thing, and we’re trying to avoid a lot of problems.”

Port of Lake Charles Executive Director Bill Rase said the group will continue studying how the development projects will affect the area and which adjustments should be made over time.

“There needs to be a plan to make sure the community is not caught in an embarrassing position to not handle the good fortune that is bestowed upon us,” he said.

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