Columns » The State of the State by Jeremy Alford

Land Loss, Job Gains

How a New Orleans lawmaker managed to soothe the fears of contractors in an effort to link local jobs to coastal projects.

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Beginning Aug. 1, contractors overseeing major developments along the coast and Lake Pontchartrain must take steps to bring local workers onto their job sites. It's not a blanket mandate, but if the projects are being funded by certain state or federal monies, contractors must at least make an effort to hire locals.

  The Louisiana First Hiring Act also will connect local residents to construction projects in the regions where they live. Authored by Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, the act will target projects that are funded via the following sources:

  • The federal Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economy Act, more commonly known as the RESTORE Act. New research from Mather Economics released earlier this month indicates the federal RESTORE Act could create as many as 58,000 jobs nationwide, including many coastal restoration and protection jobs in Louisiana, making the timing of Leger's law spot on.

  • Settlements or fines related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Under the federal Clean Water Act, many expect BP to be fined $1,000 to $4,000 for each gallon of oil it spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. The total fines could run into the billions. State officials already are taking steps to create a framework for how this money will be assigned.

  • The state's Master Plan for Integrated Coastal Protection, which recently was passed into law, anticipates more than $50 billion in projects.

  Leger says his law will protect jobs for Bayou State residents by leveraging the new money and the new projects. "This legislation will strengthen our communities by making sure federal disaster dollars that come to Louisiana are spent here, creating real jobs across the entire state," he says.

  Contractor groups originally expressed concerns about the program, but Leger added exemptions for projects authorized in response to an "imminent threat to life or property" or when a state of emergency has been declared by the governor. The chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority also is allowed to grant exemptions for contractors if the new law creates an "unreasonable hardship."

  Scott Kirkpatrick, president of the Coast Builders Coalition, says the Louisiana First Hiring Act could help coastal residents get higher-than-average wages and will create opportunities for economic mobility in high-growth industries and occupations. "Business owners are invested in the health of our communities and are eager to use local workforce where practical," Kirkpatrick says.

  The new law also will require contractors to submit paperwork to the Workforce Commission within 10 days of being awarded a coastal contract. Those forms and documents will include information relative to the number and types of jobs that will be created, the kind of wages that will be paid and the methods contractors will use to recruit workers.

  Within 10 days of receiving that information, the Workforce Commission will provide the contractor with a list of people who are eligible for employment. Under the law, an eligible person is defined as a "resident of a parish within the coastal zone," which recently was redefined to include more areas of the state.

  Minor Sinclair, U.S. regional director of Oxfam America, an international relief and development organization, describes the new state law as an "innovative approach" that looks beyond the environmental and engineering challenges of Louisiana's coastal land loss and recovery from the BP oil spill.

  While it's far too early to predict the total impact of the act, already there are signs that it could help commercial fishermen supplement their income by giving them access to other jobs. It also could help improve the overall employment picture and benefit others along the coast, just as long as contractors stick to the plan and don't lean too heavily on the exemptions.

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