Letters to the Politicians and Others: A Good Longread

It all started innocently enough with an email to Treasurre Lynn Fitch by Port Policy Wonk Dan Norfleet:

Good Morning Treasurer Fitch:

Edison Chouest Offshore learned to create subsidiaries to be responsible for repaying the money when the jobs do not materialize. Failing to do this in Galveston cost the company $9 Million and could have cost tens of millions of dollars more: Louisiana offshore firm owes Port of Galveston $9 million. Anything built in Mississippi will not be an Edison Chouest project, but will be “LaShip” or “TopShip,” or “MyShip”—a newly formed corporation with no track record and virtually no chance of making good on its promises but trading on the past record of Edison Chouest. As usual, the MDA is being played. This is just another making-energy-out-of-mud project that will put Mississippi further into the economic hole.

Never one to waste a good link I clicked the link in Dan’s email and ended up liking the story so much that, despite it being several years old, Slabbed put it out on Twitter.1 It was recognized as a quality link in short order by Lee Zurik’s investigative assistant Tom Wright.

The bottom line is the Chouest family well learned its lesson from its Galveston experience in 2006:

Could Topship end up in the same boat as Louisiana affiliate? ~ Anita Lee

Tom Wright, an investigative producer at WVUE Fox 8 in New Orleans, got in touch by email after I wrote about Topship. We met in person recently at an Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in New Orleans, where he promised he would let me know when WVUE updated the Chouest story in Louisiana.

This morning, Wright tweeted me a link to the story he worked on with chief investigative reporter Lee Zurik. It’s quite a story.

LaShip received public economic incentives valued at $75 million, the Associated Press had reported in February 2011.

As I reported back in March, LaShip was supposed to create 1,000 jobs by September 2012 and sustain the number through December 2015. The agreement was amended in August 2012, requiring LaShip to meet its job commitment by March 2014 and maintain the number through June 2017.

Zurich and Wright pick up the story: “The jobs still aren’t there. In the first quarter of 2016, LaShip had just 232 jobs. Again, they promised 1,000.”

But there’s more. Isn’t that always the case?

WVUE reports another Chouest affiliate, North American Fabricators, closed. “The state admits Edison Chouest simply transferred the workers from their shuttered company to the new one — and got a large incentive package for it,” WVUE’s story says.

It is against that backdrop that Dan’s initial email generated some spirited responses including the media representatives that were included in the distribution list. The first one is from a local biologist that answers to the nickname Crow:

MDA is not being played. They are part and parcel of the corruption, as is Governor Bryant and most of our elected officials, at both the state and federal level. These are the roots or offspring of the same good ole boys that shot Medger Evers in the back and killed and buried the 3 civil rights workers in the earthen dam in Philadelphia. They just not killling outright anymore – they divert monies and programs designed to aid the black and poor to their good ole hunting, fishing, drinking buddies.

And, we know why the Sun Herald doesn’t expose the whole truth and bang the drum about the Port waste and lies – $7,000 payoff for advertsing. Aint gonna bite the hand that feeds ya.

Sun Herald/WLOX – here’s some questions we won’t see you ask or investigate:

What qualifictions did Joe Ziegler have for his position at MDMR? How was he hired – through the normal process?

Who’s Zielgler’s brother-in-law? Who was Chairman of the Senate Committee on Marine Resources when all the shennagins under the Walker administration occurred? Who was Chairman of the Senate Committee on Insurance when the insurance companies falsified inspection reports and passed the costs on to the National Flood Insurance Program?

Where’s an accounting of all the missing MDMR monies? Where are the MDMR employess that were fired, jailed or under house arrest and what’s the status of their restitution?

How does the Governor plan to harvest his 1,000,000 sacks of aquaculture oysters from the waters where fishermen can’t harvest the natural oysters? Does putting them in cages make the water cleaner? I don’t thiink so, Bob.

What’s the status of the contempt of court charge against Jim Hood, Stacey Pickering, John Dowdy, et al.?

Where are those MDMR records and was there anything of interest in the records?

What’s the status of the lawsuit that Competition Marine filed against the MDMR re: repairs to one of the MDMR Foundation’s fishing boats? Who were the MDMR personnel that deliver the boat to Competition Marine?

Why are we contracting for someone to survey the western MS Sound oyster reefs and to survey and find 3 new 15-acre sites for oyster habitat development? Haven’t we already surveyed the reefs at least twice if not three time recently with the same technology -side scan and echo sounding? Do we not already pay people do this job at either MDMR, MDEQ, USM-GCRL, USM-Stennis-Marine Science? Do we not have a boat that could be used – personnel that could assist – equipment that could be used? Doesn’t MDMR, USM-GCRL or USM-Stennis have side-scan equipment that we bought with state or federal monies?

Why would you want to dredge the Port of Gulfport channel and expand industrial development in the heart of downtown Gulfport, when we already maintain two deep water channels at Pascagoula, have the rail lines and flyover in place, and have a port located in a designated, industrial area?

Simple questions, simple answers, simple minds want to know. Ask the damn question and print the damn truth, WLOX and Sun Herald. If you ain’t part of the solution, you part of the problem.

I personally thought Crow was a tad hard on the Sun Herald. Anita Lee has done some excellent work on the problems at the Port of Gulfport which is on point to the points Dan made but I also understand Crow’s frustration. The next response from Julia O’Neal was eye opening:

Rampant nepotism insures that the same low-intelligence, shyster genes will be transmitted to the next generation(s), ad infinitum. Manny McPhillips (MDA) is Wicker’s son-in-law, various son-in-laws of Philbilly are scattered around; I just found out what most people had known for a long time–the woman who is now the “Secretary” of the PSC is the daughter of the guy who went around for MS Power, buying up people’s houses in Kemper County. (Oh, and that land is no longer taxed at the residential rate, but MS Power got a huge discount in ad valorem tax [HB 1639, March 2009] so Kemper County is now facing a 41% tax hike and DeKalb, its county seat, had to eliminate its police force

If it weren’t for the national media, we’d never know about much in our back yard. Unfortunately, it’s all dreadfully embarrassing. Do any adults live in MS?

The debacle in Kemper County is a complex story. It impacts everyone in the southern half of the state but the closest media market to Kemper County is in Meridian. Its easier to report the cost overruns as reported in Southern Company’s SEC Filings than attempt to deconstruct a complicated construction project so its natural the largest of media outlets would have the best reporting. This much is clear, the residents of a very impoverished county in East Mississippi are the ones paying the highest price for Haley Barbour and company’s clean coal pipe dream. From the link contained in Ms O’Neal’s email:

As Southern eyes international deals, the deeply deprived Mississippi county of Kemper wrestles with the plant’s unfulfilled jobs and tax promises.

As Fanning spoke in Philadelphia at the end of July, reaffirming the project’s September 2016 start-date, Kemper residents were called to an emergency meeting on a proposed 41% tax hike to pay the county’s crumbling schools.

The region’s public services have been starved of revenue as long-time homeowners were forced to move in order to make room for the facility’s gigantic footprint.

DeKalb, the town nearest the plant, had to eliminate its police department due to a lack of money.

And, if Southern sells its clean coal technology abroad, the County does not stand to receive any of the proceeds — as per the government agreement.

To be continued.

Footnotes:
1. Slabbed New Media once amazingly burned a Twitter follower posting an old link that was salient to today’s news. To the extent Twitter is a microcosm of society, it is not surprising in hindsight that the intellectual leap required to connect the dots would fry the grey matter circuitry of one of the simpler members of the microcosm.

6 thoughts on “Letters to the Politicians and Others: A Good Longread”

  1. This is a great post.So many things to comment on. My favorite is the local biologist nicknamed “Crow”. He is asking many of the same questions myself and others have asked over and over and over. Of course people like Stacey Pickering,Phil Bryant,Jamie Miller,Jim Hood,John Dowdy and many others do not care about the public hearing the truth pertaining to all of the legitimate questions Mr.Bivalve aka”Crow” asked. These men are no different than Bill Walker, Joe Zeigler or Chris Epps. They need not wonder why they are not trusted and despised by so many in our state.I do not want to even start about Kemper or Edison Chouest. The taxpayers are always the ones that end up paying for all of this corruption and crony capitalism. When we ask why,when,who and how we only get lies or excuses. Something must change

  2. Oh boy – has this post hit the nail on the head!! I am happy that someone, anyone, is paying attention to the same things that I am seeing. I agree that something, somewhere, needs to be done to bring this illegal action to a screeching halt. But the Federal people had their chance with the DMR before, and let the biggest fish go free. And the lignite plant? It would take too much time to start on that huge boondoggle. And the Gulfport seaport – what a joke. It is my opinion that F@t-a$$’s minions, including but not limited to, Billy the Boy, his F@t-a$$ concrete contractor friend, Philly, Stacey Pickering, and MDA are all in bed together on keeping the reconstruction money from the people it was sent here to help, and diverting it to the boondoggle of deepening the port (which it doesn’t take a brain scientist to know that it will just silt back in…sooner than later). Now, the city of Gulfport is running a new shipyard on the seaway in an effort to drum up some more employees to pad the numbers promised originally at the Port. Do they think we are all idiots?? We have been too lax for too long people. That bunch of northern Mississippi trash need to get off of their porches and get their fat lips out of the alcohol and get a job like the rest of the people of this State and stop sponging off the Government monies that are put there to benefit us all. I pray daily that God will send our State a true leader that cares about this State and its’ people.

  3. The shell game that has been played by the Edison Chouest Companies in three different states is not shocking or surprising. You just have to wonder if the Ms. MDA did any due diligence as simple as just maybe have a secretary Google the damn name of the owners or company. The taxpayers had to know when the politicians in Jackson bragged about how quickly (a few hours in one day) they “approved the hundreds of millions of dollars of state money and incentives Thursday for a shipyard and a tire plant” that another round of cutting state services would be needed. Any company owner that can give a $1,000,000 bribe,I mean campaign donation, to a man running for the highest office in the land can afford to operate his own very successful business without demanding desperately needed taxpayer money from the poorest state in the union. Louisiana Gov.Bobby Jindal’s wife may have been the only person who thought her husband had even a remote chance of success to win 10th place in the Republican primary. The game of starting a new company every few years to get more tax money has worked real well for billionaire Gary Chouset. All these businessmen need for this to work is politicians with their hands out who can transfer the money from one crony pot to another. Wash,Rinse Repeat.

  4. The New York Times published a great article called”Piles of Dirty Secrets Behind a Model ‘Clean Coal’ Project on July 5,2016. CEO Tom Fanning repeats all of the Southern Company talking point excuses for the over budget much delayed Kemper project. My favorite one is the “unknown unknowns”The Wall Street Journal also had a great article published on May 14,2016 called “Southern’s Clean-Clean Coal Woes Mount”. This is not Southern Company only troubled ongoing project.The Vogtle Nuclear Plant is way over budget and behind schedule with no end in sight. Despite all of these ongoing mega problems, the stockholders awarded CEO Fanning $11,854,151 in compensation last year. Why? Because they did not suffer like the ratepayers did and will.The dividend was again increased like every other year since 1982. I guess you can do this when the ratepayers and the taxpayers got your back.

  5. From the Ms Business Journal- Fanning in the past has downplayed the long-term importance of natural gas despite having run the plant on it for two years, awaiting the commercial startup with its synthetic gas derived from lignite, a soft, low-energy coal in what the company says is a nearby 40-year supply. Southern is parent of Mississippi Power, which has 186,000 customers in the state.
    There have been “dribs and drabs” of extra costs, including for improvements, Fanning said during the teleconference, a transcript of which was provided by Thomson Reuters.
    “And one of the improvements that we have made is the capability to deliver a dual fuel investment here.” “Dribs and drabs of extra cost” has to be right up there close to the top on the list of understatements made this century. Fanning must think he has 186,000 fools for customers here in Mississippi.

    1. When I read your comment I thought the man was talking about Kemper being a dual fool plant. I was confused for a minute or two, Phildo is one of the biggest fools, but he’s just along for the ride on the Kemper reaming, not really able to do much one way or the other…and how do you narrow Kemper down to two fools…

      Oh.

      Dual fuel.

      Then I thought he was talking about Kemper burning both lignite and the dollars taxpayers and ratepayers are paying for Kemper…

      But he wasn’t.

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