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

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.

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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.