Louisiana news briefs
Highway department taps ads as source for new revenue
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Motorists soon may see an explosion of advertisements plastered on state roads, bridges and rest areas in Louisiana’s latest bid to raise cash during lean times.
Rhett Desselle, assistant secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development, said funding for transportation has stagnated over the last several years.
DOTD officials are seeking proposals from consultants who would oversee a campaign to open sponsorships to ferries, ferry terminals, toll plazas, rest areas, highway signs, traffic camera feeds, unique roads and bridges, scenic areas, buildings and even vests worn by state transportation workers.
The state already faces a $12 billion backlog of road and bridge needs.
However, any money raised through advertisements would be used to defray agency operation expenses, not trim the state’s staggering backlog.
Police warn women of home invasions in Baton Rouge
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Baton Rouge police are warning residents, especially women who live alone, to be vigilant after four home invasions in one week.
Baton Rouge police have enlisted police dogs, night-time helicopter surveillance and more street patrol officers to help catch the man or men responsible.
Police Chief Carl Dabadie says the first two reported break-ins happened Jan. 12. The third took place Jan. 14 and the fourth happened Friday around 2 a.m.
Police have not released the exact locations of the home invasions in an effort to protect the victims. Police said three of the victims are women in their 70s, the other is a 34-year-old woman.
In three of the cases, the intruder groped the victims before leaving.
Baker police arrest
suspect in shooting death
BAKER (AP) — Baker police say a suspect wanted in the fatal shooting Sunday of a 19-year-old man turned himself in.
Police Chief Mike Knaps said the 17-year-old was booked Monday night on counts of second-degree murder and illegal use of a weapon
Knaps says three witnesses identified the teen in a photo lineup.
He says investigators believe the fatal shooting was drug-related.
Police say Kortlon Trevon Johnson died after suffering multiple gunshot wounds.
State insurance payments delayed by Blue Cross
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Doctors, hospitals and other providers aren’t getting paid for the care they deliver to a quarter-million state employees and retirees insured through the Office of Group Benefits.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana recently took over the management of the agency that had overseen health care coverage for state employees and retirees.
Blue Cross notified the state by letters that payments would be delayed while computer programs were upgraded.
Blue Cross says patients should not be affected, but physicians and health care providers may not get paid for six to eight weeks.
Brian Keller, a senior vice president of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, said the computer alterations deal with health plans benefit changes made by the state agency and were finalized Dec. 11.
Suspect arrested for using woman’s credit cards
BAKER (AP) — Baker police say a 48-year-old woman allegedly used the debit and credit cards of an 84-year-old woman and make more than 100 purchases totaling more than $38,000.
Police booked Barbara Smith, of Baton Rouge, on Friday with 24 counts of felony theft.
Police say the victim’s son contacted police Dec. 30 regarding several charges on his mother’s account that he said she did not make.
$8M veterans cemetery
SLIDELL (AP) — Muddy roads will soon give way to asphalt and bare ground transformed with sod and landscaping as construction of the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Cemetery near Slidell enters its final stages.
The $8 million cemetery is scheduled to open in April. The 75-acre site is on the north side of Interstate 12 next to the Louisiana National Guard’s Camp Villere in St. Tammany Parish.
SBS Construction of Baton Rouge is building the cemetery on property donated by the National Guard. Work began in December 2012.
The administration building is more than halfway completed. Elsewhere, crews continue to work at the entrance to the cemetery and the pavilion where funeral services will be held.
Visitors will enter the cemetery on a new road beginning at the entrance to Camp Villere. The administration building will have restrooms open 24-hours a day. In the lobby will be a kiosk where visitors will be able to find the location of a grave, said Robin Keller, communications director for the state Department of Veterans Affairs, which will operate the cemetery.
Valentine’s strawberries scarce but lots for festival
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana strawberries may be scarce and pricey around Valentine’s Day, but the freezes delaying the winter harvest could mean a sweet bounty for Easter and the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival in April.
Mark Liuzza said he double-covered his 30 acres of berries in Amite, setting older torn “blankets” over the newer ones already in the fields, when temperatures dropped into the teens.
“I keep all my old blankets and save ‘em for years like this,” he said.
Strawberries are the state’s most valuable fruit crop. The $14.5 million harvest in 2012 made up nearly 45 percent of the year’s total value from fruit, on 17 percent of the land planted in fruit.
But it’s a local crop, sold locally to grocery chains and at farmers markets and roadside stands. The total acreage — 380 acres in 2012, 350 acres last year, about 285 this year — is minute compared to California, the country’s No. 1 producer, with 38,500 acres in 2012; and Florida, with 8,700 acres.
The 65-acre drop between last year’s and this year’s plantings was largely because of losses from a wet winter a year ago, said Sandra Benjamin, LSU AgCenter agent in Tangipahoa Parish, where most of Louisiana’s strawberries are grown from plants brought in from California, Canada, Michigan and North Carolina.
“I could take this cold weather way better than I could take rain,” said Eric Morrow, who has 10 acres planted in Ponchatoula and sells most of his crop at the Red Stick Farmers Market in Baton Rouge. “Once you get the ground wet, it’s hard to get it dried out. ... Your roots are not able to breathe.”
He said his plants lost a lot of flowers and a small amount of green fruit, but the chill may prompt the plants to produce better in the spring.
“We’ll have a little slack time the first week or so of February,” he said.
Liuzza, who sells most of his berries through the Rouse’s supermarket chain, said he expects to have some Valentine’s berries if it warms up. He agreed that the later harvest likely will be above average, thanks to the cold.
“It’ll probably be March before we have plenty of berries because we’re having all this cold,” Liuzza said.
The Strawberry Festival is April 11 to 13 and Easter is April 20.
“We should have plenty of berries for that,” Morrow said.