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Canadian fishers are boiling mad over Maine lobsters

Published: Thursday, August 09, 2012, 8:30 PM

Tensions between lobster fishers in Maine and Canada are boiling over in a dispute caused not by too few lobsters, but by too many. A huge and potentially record-breaking haul of crustaceans in Maine and Canada this year has caused a market glut and a crash in wholesale prices. Fearing for their livelihood, Canadian fishers in the past few days have angrily blocked truckloads of Maine lobsters from being delivered to processing plants in Canada that turn out lobster products for U.S. supermarkets and restaurants.

lobsters-portland-maine.jpgView full sizeRobert F. Bukaty, The Associated PressLobsters are unloaded from a fishing boat Thursday in Portland, Maine. August 9 2012

Unless something is done to prop up the price of lobster, "we'll go down the hole," warned Eugene Robichaud, a fisher in Richibucto, New Brunswick.

The blockades have brought Canada's lobster-processing industry to a near-standstill, put thousands of employees out of work, sent shockwaves through Maine's lobster industry and led to calls for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to intervene.

Portland lobster fisher Greg Griffin said he has been getting a paltry $2.35 a pound for his catch, a dollar less than a year ago, and he fears the blockade could drag prices down even more.

"At what point is going out and bringing in lobster no longer viable?" he asked.

The dispute isn't expected to have any immediate effect on lobster prices in the United States. National restaurant chains such as Red Lobster that buy processed lobster typically make their purchases and determine their menu prices far in advance.

But the troubles shine a light on the workings of the lobster business in North America's cold northern waters, and the way Maine's industry and Canada's depend on each other.

While much of the catch from both countries is sold live, a big share is canned, turned into frozen lobster tails or otherwise packaged. An estimated 35 percent to 50 percent of Maine's annual catch is shipped to Canadian processors. Canada has more than two dozen lobster processors, about half of them in New Brunswick. Maine has only three plants of any size, and they handle only a fraction of what is processed in Canada.

In recent years, the lobster industry has been suffering from too much of a good thing: The combined harvest for the two countries jumped from about 150 million pounds in 1992 to more than 257 million pounds by 2010, the latest year for which complete statistics are available. By all accounts, the 2011 haul was even larger -- Maine's catch alone topped 104 million pounds -- and this year's could set a record.

Because of so much lobster on the market, fishers have been getting barely enough to cover fuel, bait, boat payments and other expenses.

"If the price is too low, I'm going to have to pay to go fish," said lobster fisher Maurice Martin of Richibucto.

Last week, hundreds of Canadian lobster fishers stormed several processing plants in New Brunswick and surrounded trucks making deliveries from Maine. Blaming Maine for the low prices, they demanded that processors stop accepting Maine lobsters.

The protests spilled over to Prince Edward Island and to other plants in New Brunswick, and by Wednesday every processor in New Brunswick had shut down operations, said New Brunswick Fisheries Minister Michael Olscamp.

On Thursday, a New Brunswick judge granted a 10-day injunction barring lobstermen from blocking the plants across the province.

During the blockades, lobstermen held up "No More U.S. Lobster" signs and threw Maine lobster to the ground, calling it "garbage." About 100 lobstermen also went to the federal fishery minister's office in Fredericton, hurling large metal lobster traps into the reception area.

While processors have agreed to pay a minimum of $2.50 to $3 a pound for their catch, the Canadian lobstermen are demanding $4.

Olscamp said he told the lobstermen that prices are set by the free market, not by the government. And he warned that they could end up "cutting their own throats" by shutting down the processors.

"I've tried to explain to them they're going to be the architects of their own demise and it won't be just them, it'll be the processing plants," the fisheries minister said. "Whether that fell on deaf ears, I don't know."

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, wrote a letter Wednesday urging Clinton to investigate and raise the issue with the Canadian minister of foreign affairs. A Clinton spokeswoman said that she was not aware of the letter and that the secretary of state was traveling.


New Orleans City Council wraps up more Costco arrangements

Published: Thursday, August 09, 2012, 9:00 PM

The New Orleans City Council can't seem to finish its business with Costco. For the third time in its past four meetings, the council Thursday dealt with various approvals and financial incentives for the retailer's planned big-box warehouse store in the Carrollton area. Officials have said Costco plans to invest $45 million in the 148,000-square-foot store, its first in Louisiana.

The membership-only facility will occupy the vacant 14.7-acre site of the former Carrollton Shopping Center, across South Carrollton Avenue from Xavier University. Like other Costco outlets nationwide, it will sell both general merchandise and food and will feature a pharmacy, tire center and gas station.

One of Thursday's actions was necessary because the council's hurried initial approval June 28 of architectural plans for the giant store was legally defective and had to be redone. Council Chief of Staff Evelyn Pugh declined to identify the exact problems, saying only that some "blips" with the initial approval had to be "cleaned up."

The June 28 vote was not on the council's announced agenda for that meeting and was added at the last minute at the request of Costco officials and the Landrieu administration. Without hearing the usual report from the City Planning Commission, the council removed or modified some provisos recommended by the commission that company officials opposed. In the most important change, the council agreed to let Costco have 670 on-site parking spaces, well above the maximum of 499 that the commission recommended.

A motion rescinding the June 28 vote and re-endorsing the same store designs was adopted Thursday as part of the consent agenda, a package of items that the council approved by a single unanimous vote without discussion.

Besides reapproving the architectural plans, the council also voted for a second time to give Costco a tax break of as much as $3.3 million -- $660,000 a year for five years -- to help pay for expenses that officials say the company would not encounter in other cities. The money will be used for site elevation work needed to meet FEMA base elevation requirements to mitigate flooding. The work includes driving 2,600 timber piles.

The tax break, amounting to 1 percentage point of the city's 2.5 percent general sales tax on sales at the store, will be diverted from the city's treasury to a new entity, the Carrollton-Palmetto Economic Development District Trust Fund.

Thursday's revote on this issue was necessary because the council took it while sitting as the governing board of the new district, which the council voted to create two weeks ago. The council members recessed their regular meeting, immediately reconvened as the newly created board, voted in favor of the tax diversion, adjourned that meeting and then resumed normal council business, all within five or 10 minutes.

Sales at the new store are projected to rise from $80 million a year to $150 million a year during the store's first five years of operation. The city will put the diverted tax money into a special trust fund, which will reimburse Costco for its expenditures on pile driving and site elevation.

Aimee Quirk, Mayor Mitch Landrieu's top economic development adviser, has said that even with the tax rebate, the city will get "a strong return" on an investment without which Costco would not have agreed to build a store in New Orleans. The city expects to receive a total of more than $6 million in sales-tax revenue and $1.7 million in property-tax revenue from Costco during the store's first five years. With the end of the tax rebate, the city's sales tax take is projected to grow to $2.2 million a year.

The city also will spend up to $2.5 million to improve streets, sidewalks, curbs, catch basins and lights around the new store, including on Palmetto, Cambronne, Dublin and Dixon streets. A left-turn lane will be added to Carrollton Avenue.

Bruce Eggler can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 504.826.3320.


Louisiana's solar tax credit price tag high above estimates

Published: Thursday, August 09, 2012, 1:19 PM     Updated: Thursday, August 09, 2012, 1:19 PM
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BATON ROUGE -- A tax break passed by lawmakers four years ago to spur investment in solar energy has become a more costly deal for the state than expected, siphoning millions of dollars from Louisiana's coffers above what had been estimated.

When lawmakers passed the Wind and Solar Energy Systems Tax Credit in 2007, fiscal analysts said they expected lost state tax income to be less than $500,000 a year.

solar-panels.jpgXinhua, Liang Xiaopeng via APWhen lawmakers passed the Wind and Solar Energy Systems Tax Credit in 2007, fiscal analysts said they expected lost state tax income to be less than $500,000 a year. But in four years of the tax break, the state has shelled out $37 million for the tax credit â?? more than 18 times the maximum estimate.

But in four years of the tax break, the state has shelled out $37 million for the tax credit -- more than 18 times the maximum estimate, according to data provided to The Associated Press by the Department of Revenue. The bulk of the credits have gone to a few thousand individuals.

Supporters of the tax break say it encourages clean energy investment and has helped create new jobs across Louisiana in the solar industry, providing sales and income tax revenue that far outweigh the cost of the credit.

Jeff Shaw, owner of Gulf South Solar, said his Baton Rouge-based company was one of only two solar system installers before the tax break was created. He said Louisiana now has more than 200 registered licensed solar installers in the state, bringing with them new jobs and new tax revenue.

"Louisiana has the best tax credit in the nation, which makes it very favorable to do business here. A lot of companies have moved here and started here. Everything seemed to explode in 2008, after the tax credit was passed," said Shaw, a retired engineer and executive director of the Louisiana Solar Energy Society.

Critics say the credit is too costly when the state has been cutting education and health care spending because of years of ongoing budget shortfalls.

"I love solar. It's a great clean energy, but let it pay for itself. We're cutting education and prisons and other things," said Clyde Holloway, a member of the Louisiana Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities in the state.

Beneficiaries of the tax credit program are a small pool. Nearly $36 million went to 3,100 taxpayers who sought the breaks on their individual income tax returns. Another $1 million was claimed by businesses, according to the data.

As questions have been raised about the generosity of the tax break, the revenue department is taking steps to put some limits on who can get the credit and what items are eligible for reimbursement.

The department released a draft proposal this week that would tighten regulations governing the tax program. It would clarify the term "energy system;" make sure a credit can't be claimed by both a homeowner and installer for the same solar system; and require itemized lists of equipment and installation costs.

Twenty-two states offer tax credits for solar energy systems, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But Louisiana's is among the most generous.

Louisiana's tax credit tops out at $12,500. The credit is for 50 percent of the cost of a wind energy or solar energy system, including installation costs, up to that maximum. Taxpayers also are eligible for a federal tax break on solar systems that can cut the cost by another 30 percent.

The Alliance for Affordable Energy says the 80 percent in tax credits can shrink the price for a solar power generation system, which can run up to $35,000, to the range of $5,000 to $7,000 in Louisiana.

Discussion about the price tag of the tax credit comes as a legislative study panel is combing through billions of dollars in tax breaks on the books to determine their worth and benefits to the state.

Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, leader of the study commission, said he doesn't fault the Legislative Fiscal Office for improper estimates of the solar tax credit's cost. He said lawmakers are considering whether fiscal analysts should be given more time to determine the true costs of the program, rather than a few days or weeks when lawmakers are in session.

"Perhaps some of these are passed too quickly without enough time for legitimate analysis of possible costs," Robideaux said.

He also said lawmakers are considering whether to put expiration dates on tax breaks programs so they can be forced to revisit the law, consider its benefits and see if it has exceeded cost estimates.

Shaw said a review of the solar tax credit's benefits should consider the industry's value.

He said his business has grown from a two-person operation in 2003 to as many as 10 full-time employees today. And he said the installation companies rent warehouse space, buy vehicles, generate jobs and advertise on TV and radio and in newspapers. He said those spillover effects pump money into the economy and generate local and state tax dollars.

"They're getting more back for their money than what they're paying. The tax credits have started all these businesses that have hired all these people," Shaw said. If the tax break is reduced, he said, "I think it would almost crush the industry."

While he criticizes the cost of the tax breaks, Holloway also objects to what he calls an unfair subsidy paid by other utility ratepayers.

He said homes with solar panels get traditional power when the panels aren't generating enough solar energy, but Holloway said those solar panel homes aren't paying for the transmission costs and infrastructure maintenance that others pay on their utility bills.

"It's people on a fixed income who are paying this bill for the solar customers," he said.

Holloway wants the PSC to assess a new utility charge on people who use solar power, while he's also asking lawmakers to get rid of the tax break program altogether.

Related topics: legislature

Jefferson Parish proposal would prohibit electronic signs with special effects

Published: Tuesday, August 07, 2012, 5:45 PM

The electronic sign outside Phoenix Pawn on South Clearview Parkway in Metairie has plenty of special effects, color and motion that makes it difficult to miss. Owner Benny Leehans said it's been about four months since he put up the sign, which highlights some of the items for sale at his 20-year-old business. "It's awesome," he said. "I've been real happy with it. People in the neighborhood like it."

flooring-depot-sign-elmwood.jpgView full sizeBrett Duke, The Times-PicayuneAfter nearly 18 months of research, parish planners have come up with Jefferson's first comprehensive electronic sign ordinance.

However, under a proposed electronic-sign ordinance drafted by the parish's Planning Department, all of those special effects would be illegal.

After nearly 18 months of research, parish planners have come up with Jefferson's first comprehensive electronic sign ordinance. The new rules, if approved by the Parish Council, would limit the size of on-premise and off-premise signs, establish brightness standards and do away with what is known in the industry as "transition and frame effects."

That includes everything from messages that scroll, fade or dissolve to animation. Frame effects include things like boxes tumbling in the message and fireworks going off in the background, said Terri Wilkinson, director of the parish's Planning Department.

"We think, first of all, the effects add to sign clutter," she said. "It makes signs stand out and we think that the effects are not germane to communicating the message."

There also is a safety concern, though Wilkinson pointed out there is no existing research that indicates sign animation negatively impacts driver safety.

Leehans said he doesn't agree with the regulations.

"I think that's horrible," he said. "I think you should have motion on the sign. I really don't find it's a safety concern. I haven't had anyone complain about my sign."

Christian Rooney, president of Flooring Depot in the Elmwood Business Park, said he also has concerns about the new sign ordinance.

"We spent a lot of money, and a big part of that investment is to get attention and to have a sign that's superior to a standard sign," he said of his 9-foot x 18-foot sign that sits atop a 70-foot pole.

The sign features animated butterflies and plenty of moving words and border effects. "I think it grabs more attention than a sign that does not have animation."

Rooney pointed out that he is not aware of any complaints about his four-year-old sign, which does not face a major thoroughfare.

"One of the key questions our showroom sales people are required to ask is how did you hear about us," he said. Many people mention the sign."

Another major component of the electronic sign ordinance is the dwell time. That's the period of time any message must remain on an on-premise electronic sign before moving on to the rest of that message or another message.

Planners chose six seconds for on-premise signs, which is two seconds shorter than the eight-second dwell time required by the state for billboards on state highways, Wilkinson said.

For any sign regulations that can be handled by reprogramming, business owners will have until Jan. 1 to come into compliance with the ban on effects, brightness rules and other regulations.

Another significant part of the sign ordinance has to do with regulating the size of electronic signs. Planners decided to go with a maximum of 100 square feet in most commercial districts, which is in line with interim rules that were put in place 18 months ago when the electronic sign study began.

However, in more neighborhod-oriented commercial areas, such as Metairie Road, on-premise electronic signs cannot exceed a maximum of 50 square feet.

Wilkinson said the limits are in line with a survey of 38 other communities similar to Jefferson Parish. However, the Civic League of Jefferson Parish, an umbrella organization of civic associations throughout the parish, has concerns about electronic signs as large as 50-square-feet.

"That's an extremely large sign," said Debbie Settoon, a Kenner resident and Civic League member. She pointed out that the regulations would allow a 50-square-foot sign on virtually every business on Metairie Road.

"To me, that's pretty bad," Settoon said. "That could destroy the historic character of that road."

Current signs that are too large will be grandfathered in as "legally non-conforming," Wilkinson said.

A public hearing on the sign ordinance is set for Thursday at 5 p.m. before the Planning Advisory Board in the Parish Courthouse, Second and Derbigny streets. Wilkinson said she expects the council to receive the ordinance by the end of the month.

Leehans, meanwhile, said he hopes the council doesn't force him to reprogram his new sign.

"Government is always messing with something," Leehans said. "Sometimes, I wish they would stop."

Bob Ross can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 504.883.7053.


New Orleans entrepreneurs eligible for Under 30 CEO awards

Published: Tuesday, August 07, 2012, 5:29 AM

Last October, New Orleans ranked #1 city for young entrepreneurs as a write-in candidate for Under 30 CEO, an online platform that provides young entrepreneurs with expert advice, the latest news, and entrepreneurial insight. 


Now, the website is looking for the top 300 entrepreneurs from around the country to be featured online for the first annual Under 30 CEO Awards.

Through Sept. 15, entrepreneurs from the top 10 entrepreneurial cities are invited to apply, and then 30 from each city will be selected for the list of top entrepreneurs.  We have already demonstrated to the country that New Orleans is a top city for entrepreneurs and highly promising companies, so let’s prove it again by showing them what rising companies continue to come out of our marvelous city.

Winners will be chosen based on the metrics below, provided for revenues, funding, and users. The most promising 30 companies from the top 10 entrepreneurial cities will be announced starting Oct. 1 and featured on Under 30 CEO for its more than 500,000 international readers.

The competition is a great way to gain worldwide brand awareness and credibility for your startup, as well as the opportunity to represent New Orleans for entrepreneurs.


  1. One founder must be under the age of 30 as of July 1st, 2012.
  2. Your company must be based within 30 miles of one of the following cities: New York, Boston, Chicago, Kansas City, New Orleans, Austin, Seattle, Washington D.C., Boulder, San Francisco.
  3. Your company must meet at least ONE of the following metrics as of July 1st, 2012.
  • Between $50,000 – $10,000,000 in revenue
  • Between $50,000 – $10,000,000 in funding
  • Over 10,000 users
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