LAA board holds final meeting

Peter Silas Pasqua

The Louisiana Airport Authority Board held its final meeting Thursday.

Senate Bill 212, which initially sought to the dissolve the commission, and was passed 36-0 by the Senate, passed the House after amendments allowed the board to continue with new appointees on a lesser scale and transferred findings to the Department of Economic Development to complete studies to decide if a 25,000 acre cargo airport near Donaldsonville is feasible.

If renderings are not favored the board will be dissolved.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Rob Marionneaux, D – Grosse Tete, awaits the signature of Gov. Piyush “Bobby” Jindal.

“After this meeting, the board will turn over the project to the state,” chairman Glen Smith said. “It has been a pleasure serving with each of you. This board has put its heart and soul into this project. We have done what we were asked to do.”

“The only downfall was when the state decided it had to wait, which was quite often but this board kept this project moving. You are going to face jurisdiction battles when you get into something this size. There are a  couple of senators, primarily one, that had positions that were negative to this project.”

Smith said the project has the backing of the Canadian Commercial Corporation.

Smith said DED director Stephen Moret never took a stand on the project because “he was fighting for his job the entire session.

“He just received a raise, so hopefully now he can sit back an take a position on a project that can change the whole landscape of Louisiana.”

Others weren’t as confident in the department.

“Those that have been around have seen departments of economic development ebb and flow,” said commissioner Lewis Smith. “There has never been anyone there that knows aviation. They never have a basis of expertise to operate. Right now, we are playing with an empty deck. We are going to be controlled by those who do not know what they are controlling.”

Smith also noted the sensitivity of investors concerning confidentiality.

“It is extremely important that we maintain that confidentiality,” Smith said. “I have known many prospects that have smiled, shook their head and walked away never to be heard again because their confidentiality was breeched.”

Commissioner Ken Perry sentiments echoed.

“I don’t appreciate the way we are being ushered out the door, however, I will keep my powder dry in saying that it has been a remarkable experience for me,” Perry said. “I believe in this project and that those of us who will no longer be on the board must stay involved because we know this project better than anybody else.”

The board got encouraging words from former Gov. Mike Foster, who spoke on behalf of the project in a House committee, through a phone call.

“The only reason I did what I did recently to try to keep this thing alive is because I personally believe in this project,” Foster said. “I think you have done a whole lot with very little appreciation. I just did not want any misconception about this board.”

Executive director Glenda Jeansonne said she will remain in her capacity till the newly appointed board decides whether to renew her contract.

Jindal could begin appointing members as early as of Monday but must have all 11 members of the once 27-member panel appointed by Oct. 15 to hold the commission’s first meeting.

“We need some that have knowledge of this project,” Jeansonne said. “I think it is important to have a couple reappointed because they understand but we don’t have any control over that.”

Members are set to come from Ascension, Iberville Assumption and St. James Parishes.

“This is pretty devastating,” Jeansonne said. “These commissioners are very dedicated and we have completed a lot of work against tremendous obstacles.”

“We have already proven this project is viable. The studies are done. If the administration wants to build this project, this commission can do it.”