Here is a rundown of Lafourche’s top 10 stories of 2018.
1. OIL BUST HITS BOTTOM
A report from a well-known Louisiana economist summarizes the state of Houma-Thibodaux’s economy since an offshore oil bust began four years ago.
“After much bloodletting, the corner appears to have been turned,” Loren Scott’s annual forecast, released in September, says. “The numbers obviously do not show great growth, but at least they are up.”
The area lost 100 jobs in 2018 through November, preliminary state figures show. The relative stability comes after the local oil-based economy lost 16,000 jobs — nearly one of every five — since mid-2014 as low crude prices sparked layoffs and work slowdowns.
Scott predicts the area will add 700 jobs this year and another 2,100 jobs in 2020, driven largely by oilfield gains. But that will hinge on whether oil prices rise to around $80 a barrel after posting their biggest yearly drop since 2015. U.S. benchmark crude closed at $45.41 a barrel Monday, down 25 percent for the year.
2. NEW JAIL OPENS
Officials cut the ribbon on Lafourche’s new jail Dec. 19, replacing a facility long described as antiquated.
The $40 million complex, near the old jail on La. 3185, took two years to build, paid for by a 0.2 percent sales tax parish voters approved in 2014. Inmates will move into the 118,095-square-foot facility in about three weeks, authorities said.
Built in 1976, the current jail holds about 245 inmates. Lack of space forced the Sheriff’s Office to send inmates to other parishes at higher cost.
The new jail will house more than 500 inmates, with room to grow, and will focus on rehabilitation, officials said.
3. KILLER SENTENCED TO DEATH
David Brown of Houma, convicted of killing a Lockport woman and her two children six years ago, became the first person in 40 years sentenced to death for a crime committed in Lafourche.
District Judge John LeBlanc issued the sentence June 22.
4. STUDENT DEATH THREATS
Two Thibodaux High students were arrested in February after being accused of threatening to shoot and kill other students, authorities said.
Mason Dupre, 17, of Thibodaux, is charged with terrorizing. The other student, Keith Usea, 17, of Chackbay, was charged with terrorizing and simple assault. Both have since been released on bond, and their charges are pending.
They were among 14 students accused of similar threats across Lafourche, Terrebonne and Assumption in the two weeks following a Feb. 14 rampage that left 17 people dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., authorities said.
Voters elected the parish’s first female district attorney, Kristine Russell, in March. Russell replaced Cam Morvant, who stepped down over health concerns.
Nine of the 15 Lafourche School Board members who take office this month will be newcomers after winning election in the fall. Many campaigned promising to reduce the board’s size from 15 to nine members.
Among other races, Thibodaux Mayor Tommy Eschete was elected to his third term, unopposed for the second election in a row, a first for the city.
6. COUNCILMEN’S FEUD
A fight between two Lafourche Parish councilmen made headlines. Parish Councilman Jerry LaFont was granted a temporary restraining order against Councilman James Bourgeois. LaFont claimed Bourgeois threatened his life after a council meeting in April.
Bourgeois was charged with simple battery and has been arrested twice for violating the restraining order, once in June and again in September.
Bourgeois was convicted in September for filing false public records after a jury found he did not live in his home in Raceland. After the conviction, Bourgeois was suspended from his council seat and an interim replacement was named.
The restraining order was set to expire at the end of 2018.
7. SCHOOL ISSUES
Declining revenue prompted the Lafourche School Board to cut $6 million from its budget in March. The cuts eliminated 20 percent of the system’s bus drivers and left many positions unfilled. Teaching positions were unaffected.
A new Chackbay Elementary opened in August, and the system installed artificial turf at its three high school football stadiums.
In December, Superintendent Jo Ann Matthews retired after nearly 14 years. The board chose Louis Voiron, the system’s human resources director, as the new superintendent.
8. NICHOLLS GETS NEW PRESIDENT
Jay Clune became the sixth president of Nicholls State University in January, succeeding Bruce Murphy.
Clune, a Houma native and Nicholls graduate, has advocated at the state Legislature for higher education and TOPS tuition funding, instituted the first faculty and staff pay raise in 10 years and pushed for new projects such as renovation of the campus greenhouse, library and student union.
The new president has spoken about his vision to expand the university into a lifelong learning environment, stretching from the students at the Little Colonels Academy to a future housing center for senior citizens.
9. THIBODAUX MASSACRE
Researchers continued their efforts to locate and identify the remains of at least 30 people killed during a racially motivated attack nearly 150 years ago.
On Nov. 23, 1887, a mob of white men attacked black sugar plantation workers who were protesting a wage system that effectively kept them tied to the farms where they worked. Historians estimate 30-60 were murdered during the daylong attack.
The burial site wasn’t recorded, but researchers suspect it may be on property of American Legion Post 513 in Thibodaux, where initial tests led them to conclude further investigation is warranted. The project, funded by a nonprofit, seeks to locate and identify victims’ remains and provide proper burials.
10. PARISH ADMINISTRATORS
The Lafourche Parish government has gone without a permanent administrator since February 2018 despite several nominations for a replacement.
The resignation of Leif Haas at the end of January prompted a continuing dispute between Parish President Jimmy Cantrelle and the Parish Council over who should take the No. 2 job.
Cantrelle has made four nominations since February, one every 60 days. The council rejected all four. Two interim administrators have also been removed by the council by different means. Tommy Lasseigne was removed by a majority vote, while Brent Abadie was removed by a court after his nomination for the permanent job failed.
Posted on Fri, January 4, 2019
by By Julia Arenstam and Dan Copp Daily Comet, Houma Today Staff Writers