Sugar Mill Black Eye on JDP
Residents of Jeff Davis Parish should be livid over the recently audit of the Lacassine Sugar Mill that cost taxpayers $71,000,000. In April 2005, I wrote a letter to the editor of this paper assailing “big sugar”, ethanol production facts, and Bob Odom for using LDAF workers on construction projects.
My questions about it then, was fairly straightforward: How can we justify it?
“In 2000 and 2001 there were 48,500 acres of sugar cane farmed for District 7 comprised of Acadia, Jeff Davis, Vermillion, and Calcasieu Parishes. In 2001 there were 46,500 acres of cane farmed. In 2003 the number continued to shrink to 44,400 (Source: Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry). The sugar cane yields of District 7, also run a little below the top 5 producing parishes. By contrast, the top 5 sugar cane producing parishes use 199,000 acres for sugar cane. With less than 10 percent of the statewide acreage used for sugar cane what are we doing with a Sugar cane mill when the top producing parishes have lost 2 sugar cane mills already? Of the 44,400 acres in District 7, Vermillion parish made up 70 percent of acreage planted in sugar cane. In a period of declining acreage with average yields and in a parish with only 5600 acres of land committed to sugar cane, why are we the ones getting a sugar cane mill? It just seems like the State would be working to construct a sugar cane mill in one of the top cane producing parishes or in the traditional cane producing areas, where cane mills have gone out of business.”
The response from the sugar mills backers at the American Sugar Cane League at the time and in this paper was, “therefore it is without reservation that we take this opportunity to tell the writers, reporters, nay-sayers and the individuals who sit back and complain of the methods used to achieve our goals to take a moment and reflect on ‘What have they done to assist this effort?’” The easy response to this at the time was of course, “ours is the largest contribution…we pay for it”! That aside, this Lacassine Sugar Mill project was supposed to cost $45 million and the one in Bunkie was to be $85 million. The end result is that the cost was much higher than anticipated, as usual, to the tune of $71 million. Of course the sound bites were that this would help the farmers with their trucking costs and it held the promise of energy independence. In the one month of operation of this debacle, this facility didn’t generate enough resources to run itself much less helped fuel the country. It’s production capacity couldn’t even keep up with my own sweet tooth. As far as generating jobs, it only provided jobs to people who already had them at the Louisiana Department of Agriculture.
In my article during that time, I suggested that if you want to help the farmers you could distribute the original $45 million to the farmers to help rid themselves of failed promises of the government. Using typical government math my lame suggestion would have saved tax payers $26 million.
Perhaps it would have been a better investment to distribute $2,268 tax-free to every man, woman and child in the parish and let them sink it back into the local economy. Or, perhaps, $12,532 each for persons below poverty level in the parish. There are several ways to carve it up to put things in perspective. Another way is, the funding for the Sugar Mill came from gaming proceeds, which was originally earmarked for boll weevil eradication. When that ended the money was used for sugar mills by Bob Odom. Originally, gaming proceeds were supposed to be earmarked for supporting education.
The lost money could have funded new schools in the parish but instead we have to tap in to the public for extra taxes.
There is plenty information available to the public that points to the all out corruption surrounding this big sugar debacle. We were programmed to ignore it. This should serve as a benchmark to taxpayers for what is promised never comes to pass. According to the recent audit, “there was no formal, comprehensive, and independent study performed to support the economic or financial feasibility of the mill project.” Imagine that! This wasn’t a small venture that could have been built up over time. It was a behemoth project and state of the art from the onset . It amazes me how this started without an economic or financial feasibility study, meanwhile the private sector has to endure all sorts of state, federal and local mandates skyrocketing start up costs, on top of normal economic and financial feasibility studies. It seems to be okay to shortcut the norm since it is taxpayer money.
It’s also interesting to learn at this point in time that it did not have a study performed, since so many parish political subdivisions rushed to jump on board with this project at the time. Let’s not forget these supporters were ferocious in their responses to anyone opposed.
Far too many people were overwhelmed by their sugargasm to question it. This is a major black eye on the parish along with its movers and shakers of the now defunct Sugar Mill.
The public can brace themselves because there will continue to be newer and more creative ways cooked up to separate us from our money, in the form of mandated taxes, fees, fines, penalties, permits, insurances, and interest rates to continue to support all their so-called worthwhile efforts.
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