Cargo airport bill rapped as too broad

June 18, 2007

Supporters of a bid to build a cargo airport near Donaldsonville agreed to dramatically change legislation they want after a member of a Senate committee said Thursday he read the bill and became frightened.

"I read the bill last night," state Sen. Robert Adley, D-Benton, said. "I'm afraid this bill does a great deal more than what has been presented to us."

The Senate Committee on Transportation, Highways and Public Works postponed voting on the House Bill 841 until next week to allow time to draft amendments.

HB841 would expand the powers of the Louisiana Airport Authority, called LAA, to help develop a long-sought cargo airport on a 25,000-acre site that covers parts of Iberville, Ascension and Assumption parishes, said state Rep. Roy Quezaire, D-Donaldsonville, who sponsored the measure.

Quezaire argued that the secrecy called for in HB841 would protect negotiations and would aid the state in making the $4.4 billion airport become a reality.

But Adley said regardless of LAA's intentions, the wording of the legislation would allow LAA to take people's property and skirt state agency leasing rules. LAA, under HB841, could spend taxpayer dollars and make all manner of business arrangements, plus allow the chairman of the authority to decide what information to keep confidential, he said.

"You're taking taxpayers' money from my parish and not telling me what you're going to do with it," Adley said.

Quezaire responded that the measure had already been vetted by the House of Representatives, where a committee approved HB841 unanimously and the full House passed it on a 97-2 vote.

"This is not the first hearing," Quezaire said.

"Then I surely must be missing something," Adley replied. "Go to page eight, Roy, and read what the bill says."

Adley took Quezaire line-by-line through the 13-page bill, reading provisions, comparing the passages to other phrasing in the measure and noting how they all would relate to current law.

For instance, Adley said, the sum of several clauses scattered through the bill would allow the LAA to force people from all over the state to sell their private property to the quasi-government agency through a procedure called expropriation.

"That's taking expropriation to a degree we have never seen it before," Adley said.

LAA counsel Brian Burke said the airport authority never intended to use the legislation to take property 500 miles from the site of the airport.

"Well, show me where it says that. It clearly doesn't say that, sir," Adley replied. "There's nothing in this bill that would keep you from expropriating in other parishes or anywhere else."

Quezaire agreed to make changes, including removing provisions that would keep confidential the state records that deal with negotiations on land acquisition, planning, design, construction and leasing.

Adley asked that the committee's staff draft an amendment to limit LAA's ability to expropriate property, take out the language that directs courts to interpret the bill broadly and to remove parts that allow the authority to keep its activities secret.

Burke said the main issue for LAA board members is to protect the identities of companies with whom airport officials negotiate. Adley said he did not care that trade secrets were kept confidential during negotiations.

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