New Port Commission seated, ready to act


   Saying the nine individuals were chosen for the “special skills” they can bring to the table, state Rep. Robert Johnson introduced the new members of the Avoyelles Port Commission during a press conference at the port offices in Simmesport on Nov. 1.
    The new commission held its first meeting this past Monday (Nov. 14). 
   Each member represents one of the nine Avoyelles Police Jury election districts. The new commissioners are: District 1- Scott Williams, an agri-businessman/farmer, from Effie; District 2- Tony Pierite, a member of the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe, from Mansura; District 3- Barry Laiche, an attorney, from Marksville; District 4- Stephanie Carmouche, an employee with the Avoyelles Clerk of Court and APAC board member, from Mansura; District 5- Marshall Sampson, vice chairman of the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe and official with Paragon Casino Resort, from Marksville; District 6- Craig Foster, retired educator, from Bunkie; District 7- Melanie Barr, an accountant, from Moreauville; District 8- Bruce Coulon, electrician/businessman, from Bunkie; and District 9- Michael Moras, retail owner, from Plaucheville.
    “This board has a grand task ahead of them,” Johnson said after introducing the group. 
    “When I was first elected to office, the port was just a big field with a walking trail and a lot of dreams,” he continued, noting that it has grown since then. He said Gov. John Bel Edwards has indicated a desire to focus on economic development and working with entities such as the ports in the state.
     “I am looking forward to a great relationship between the state and this port so that we can make it the great economic engine it can be,” Johnson added.
    Among those attending the event was Larry Sayes, Avoyelles representative to the Red River Waterway Commission. Sayes said the RRWC is committed to helping the port and considers it part of the waterway, even though it is located on the Atchafalaya and not the Red.
    “We are ready to work with this port on all future projects,” he said.
    Sayes said there is a lot of potential at the Simmesport site. He said he would also like to see a port in northern Avoyelles, near Moncla, but there are no plans for that at this time.
Johnson said commissioners need an update from auditors on the port’s financial operations.
    Johnson told the commissioners they can start with at least one bit of good news in that the threat of defaulting on a state economic development grant has been averted since Brudd Construction was able to comply with the terms of that grant. The next hurdle is to address an IRS lien on a subcontractor for that grant-funded project. 
   Until that is resolved, the Police Jury -- and thus, the Port Commission -- are not eligible for economic development grants. Once the lien is removed, Johnson indicated efforts will begin immediately to attract grants to move the port development forward. 
     Police Jury President Charles Jones announced at the Nov. 8 jury meeting that the IRS is “anxious to resolve” the lien issue.
    “Finally, something is going our way,” Juror John Earles remarked.
   The previous 7-member panel was criticized for having five members from Simmesport, no minorities and no women. The new 9-member board has no voting member from Simmesport, but will have a non-voting member from the town government. There are four minority-race members. There are two women, one white and one black.