- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

April 14

American Press, Lake Charles, La., on bridges being inspected more:

A recent report from the legislative auditor said the state Department of Transportation and Development should inspect bridges more often, regularly update its bridge inspection records and better indicate which bridges require a load rating.

The report said 1,806 of the state’s 12,905 bridges were considered structurally deficient last year - up from the 1,758 bridges found during a 2012 audit.

The I-10 bridge has been noted in other publications for being dangerous. A 2013 Travel and Leisure magazine article, “America’s Most Dangerous Bridges,” ranked the I-10 bridge No. 7 on its list, with a sufficiency rating of 9.9 out of 100.

Another issue is the state’s $2.7 billion backlog in bridge and maintenance construction projects. According to the DOTD’s annual State Highway and Bridge Needs report, just over $1.1 billion of that backlog includes work on three structurally deficient bridges, including the I-10 bridge.

DOTD officials said the department continues to inspect the state’s bridges to ensure safety. To improve the process, most local districts have added an engineer and another team of bridge inspectors.

It appears state transportation officials are taking steps to make sure bridges are inspected regularly, but the process could be better. But that isn’t enough.

The state should also address the backlog of bridge projects, especially when one local bridge has tens of thousands of cars travel over it each day.




April 12

The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, on management of red snapper being a mess:

Red snapper — according to a count by Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and reports from anglers — are plentiful in the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, fishers say it’s difficult not to hook a snapper these days in the western Gulf.

Yet the federal Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council decided Thursday to limit the recreational season this year to 11 days, down from what was expected to be 40 days.

The council was reacting to a U.S. District Court ruling in a lawsuit filed by a group of commercial fishers. The judge found that federal fisheries managers repeatedly had allowed recreational anglers to haul in more than their allotted share of red snapper in recent years.

The new federal limits on this year’s season prompted Louisiana Secretary of Wildlife and Fisheries Robert Barham to give licensed fishers permission to catch red snapper anytime they want through the end of the year in state-controlled waters. In Congress, Alabama Rep. Bradley Byrne introduced legislation Thursday to repeal “inflexible quotas” on commercial and recreational fishing in the Gulf.

Barham and Rep. Byrne are understandably frustrated. And they are right: Federal management of red snapper is a mess. Dates and regulations are constantly changing, sometimes in mid-season. Thursday’s decision comes just two months before the 40-day recreational season was to begin, and many fishers had already booked their trips.

In addition, the data produced by federal agencies has significantly underestimated the snapper population.

It is not surprising then that Barham and Gov. Jindal are pushing for regional management by Gulf states of the fisheries.

In June 2012, the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission voted to extend the state’s waters to roughly nine nautical miles to match the other states. Louisiana Sen. David Vitter and U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge introduced legislation in Congress in 2013 to change the boundary, but it hasn’t been adopted.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard is policing those waters to make sure anglers looking for snapper off the Louisiana coast don’t fish there — and threatening to cite those who do. That isn’t fair.

Ironically, NOAA Fisheries — the federal agency that oversees the Gulf management council — pledged earlier this month to be a good partner to fishers.

“Resolving issues facing our fisheries today requires partnerships between managers, scientists and people who enjoy the resource,” Eileen Sobeck, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries, said in an April 2 press release about the agency’s Saltwater Recreational Fishing Summit. “I commit that NOAA Fisheries will actively engage the recreational fishing community, and we will do our part to find cooperative solutions.”

Let’s hope that is true, but fishers in Louisiana and elsewhere along the Gulf don’t have much reason to have faith in the promise.




April 14

The News-Star, Monroe, La., on FEMA and flood insurance:

Although passed into law last month, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has not enacted lower flood insurance premiums promised by the legislation.

Sens. David Vitter, R-La., Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., co-authored a letter Thursday to FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate asking him to explain why property owners are still paying high insurance rates despite the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act.

“Are you kidding us?” Vitter said in a statement. “It’s been nearly a month since we’ve passed the law, and FEMA has done virtually nothing to protect flood insurance policyholders. FEMA needs to take action immediately because if policies lapse, people could literally lose their homes - a risk that new rates would protect against.”

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., authored a letter to FEMA days after the bill became law calling for swift action from the agency to implement the law. On Thursday, she also called on FEMA to act.

“Our constituents cannot afford to pay $10,000 or $20,000 premiums and wait around for refunds. Subsidized rates must be restored immediately, and I will continue to hold FEMA accountable until this bill is fully implemented,” Landrieu said.

The new law is aimed at controlling the skyrocketing premiums people in the national flood insurance program experienced after a 2012 law was passed to make the flood program solvent. The new law lowers current rates and limits premium increases to no more than 18 percent per year.

“We understand that implementing the recently enacted Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act will take time. It is completely unacceptable, however, that since President Obama signed the law on March 21, 2014, you have not made it a priority to protect these policyholders,” the letter read.

A FEMA spokesperson said the agency is working with private insurance partners to implement the law as quickly as possible. The agency posted an information packet online about priorities in implementing the new law.

“It is not possible for changes to happen immediately. While the new law does require some changes to be made retroactively, applying to certain policies written after July 6, 2012, other changes require establishment of new programs, processes and procedures,” FEMA’s packet read in part.

Let’s hope pressure from the Senate helps speed relief for the thousands of Louisiana homeowners affected by the dramatic increases in flood insurance rates.



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