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Chaney, Pickering to announce investigation results this afternoon

July 13th, 2010 No comments

State Auditor Stacey Pickering and Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney will hold a joint press conference this afternoon to announce the results of an investigation into the possible misuse of rebate funds by officials of the city of Sledge.

Pickering and Chaney will release their findings of their two agencies’ joint investigation at 1:30. Magnolia Marketplace will be there and we’ll have the particulars as soon as they’re available, so check back here around mid-afternoon.

Mississippi music historians will recognize Sledge as the birthplace of country music star Charley Pride. Legend also has it that the town was once home to a man named Leroy Brown who inspired the Jim Croce song. There are some folks who label Sledge as the birthplace of the blues. We’ll find out this afternoon if some of the town’s leaders should be singing the blues. Talk to you then.

Categories: News, Politics Tags:

China investing in Mississippi steel facility?

July 8th, 2010 1 comment

A handful of national and international business publications and blogs are reporting that a state-owned Chinese steel company has purchased — or has serious plans to purchase, depending on which one you read — a 20 percent stake in a Steel Development Corp rebar facility being built in Amory.

While that’s not news by itself, what is interesting is that a group of about 50 lawmakers who call themselves the Congressional Steel Caucus are opposing the move. They wrote a letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner last week asking him to open an investigation into the Anshan Iron and Steel Group. The group cites national security and American job interests as their reasons for opposing the deal (if there, in fact, is one).

For the record, there are no Mississippi lawmakers listed among the Caucus’ membership.

We have an email into Steel Develoment Corp. If and when we hear anything back, we’ll post it. Until then, a few more details can be gleaned here.

UPDATE: Verbatim from a Steel Development Corp. spokesperson, who said via email this would be all the company would have to say on the matter:

“Steel Development has a number of investors.  As a private company, it is not our practice to share investor names or the level of their investments.  However, due to unfounded concern regarding controlling interests in our company, we confirm that Anshan contributed less than 20 percent of the total investment in Steel Development.

As Steel Development endeavors to finalize the financing necessary to create 1,200 construction jobs and 100 permanent jobs in the domestic steel market, it has come under fire for incorporating this investment from Anshan. With Steel Development projecting production of 350,000 tons of rebar per year in a 120 million ton steel market (less than three tenths of percent), the promotion of national security fears due to the Anshan investment is, at best, difficult to rationalize.

Notwithstanding the extensive political pressure applied by certain members of congress and other steel producers seeking to impede competition by stopping Steel Development’s efforts to build one of the world’s most technologically advanced steel mills, we will continue to focus our efforts on creating jobs right here in America.”

Categories: Economic development, News Tags:

This year’s Viking most important ever?

July 6th, 2010 No comments

Though it doesn’t tee off for nearly another three months, the 2010 Viking Classic has already shaped up to be a critical event for its organizers, its sponsors and the Metro Jackson area as a whole.

If you haven’t already seen our story about it in this week’s MBJ, check it out.

What makes this year’s Viking probably more important than any other is that the contract that names Greenwood-based Viking Range as the title sponsor expires when the tournament ends Oct. 3. This is also the last year of the agreement between the PGA Tour and Annandale Golf Club for the course to host the tournament. All the involved parties are in negotiations to extend both deals.

Nobody we talked to, on either side, was comfortable putting a timetable on when a decision would be made. But it was clear that, at least from the perspective of the local folks, the Viking means an awful lot, and not just economically, even though the tournament pumps an estimated $20 million into the area.

Randy Watkins, golf course magnate and executive director of the Viking, talked for a long time about how much pride he and his team, and the folks from Annandale, take in putting on a good show for the players and spectators. That makes what happened last year — when the tournament was canceled all together by heavy rains — especially difficult for them to swallow. It also makes them more determined than ever to put their best foot forward this year.

A lot rides on this year’s Viking, maybe the future of the tournament itself.

Categories: News, Viking Classic, Viking Range Tags:

Barbour and Mabus discuss the oil spill

June 30th, 2010 2 comments

Current Gov. Haley Barbour and former Gov. Ray Mabus, who’s now the Secretary of the Navy/Gulf Clean-up Czar, appeared together at a press conference this morning, and three themes kept recurring:

1. BP is responsible for funding the plan to restore the Gulf Coast to its pre-spill condition.

2. The plan will be formulated by Coast stakeholders and not the federal government.

3. Right now, there is no plan.

“I don’t have the answers now,” Mabus said. “I shouldn’t have the answers now.”

In an effort to perhaps glean some answers, Mabus has spent the past several days in Louisiana and is headed today to Mississippi and Alabama before traveling to Florida.

He will meet with government officials, business owners, residents, basically everybody who’s been affected by the Deepwater Horizon disaster that just started its 11th week.

Barbour made the point a couple of weeks ago that those most affected by the spill should develop an environmental and economic recovery plan, while the federal government merely implemented it, instead of the other way around. Mabus said today he was on board with that concept.

“It’s really important this be a bottom-up process and not vice versa. I understand people are worried, they’re scared, they’re mad about what’s happened, and they have every right to be.”

A good portion of the anger has been directed toward BP since oil started spewing into the Gulf of Mexico April 21. The company’s CEO, Tony Hayward, hasn’t helped the situation with some of his comments.

Magnolia Marketplace asked Mabus how he would rate BP’s handling of the situation. He paused for about five seconds and said, “I think I’m going to rate my boss’ response to this. I think the president’s done a great job and has moved aggresively on this. I’m not in a position to rate (BP).”

Barbour had his own rating for the immediate efforts to remove at least some of the oil from Mississippi waters. In short, the state needs more skimming vessels than it has now, Barbour said, in what he called “a better execution” of the overall approach. “We had a significant amount of oil in Harrison County yesterday,” Barbour added, to go with the oil that washed up on the beaches of Jackson County earlier this week.

Barbour said more skimmers should arrive soon, now that an agreement has been struck with Sweden and a handful of other countries to provide assistance. About 4,000 people are working now to divert the oil from the state’s beaches and clean it up if and when it gets there.

Mabus flew over the spill yesterday.

“The scope of this thing is huge,” he said. “It’s bigger than anything we’ve ever faced, and not just a little bigger. It’s magnitudes bigger.”

Feinberg meets the Mississippi press

June 18th, 2010 12 comments

Ken Feinberg, who will oversee the process devoted to paying oil spill-related claims, was in Jackson visiting with Gov. Haley Barbour this morning and held about a 30-minute Q&A with assembled media.

Before we get into what was said, let’s talk a little about Feinberg. He’s an interesting character. He administered the fund created by the federal government to pay victims of 9/11. He did the same with a private fund set up to reimburse victims and relatives of victims of the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech.

The Wall Street Journal has dubbed  him “The Special Master of America.”

The first thing I noticed about Feinberg when he took the podium today was how enthusiastic he seemed, and how his voice boomed. I kept trying to come up with a good way to describe him to somebody who had never seen him, and the best I could do was this: He’s Houston Nutt with a thick Boston accent.

Anyway, Feinberg will set up an independent claims facility he says will be independent of the White House and BP. BP is funding the cost to run the program, whose budget, Feinberg says, is virtually unlimited.

The goal is to reimburse any legitimate loss related to the spill — business interruption, wage loss, personal injury, even death claims, to name a few. BP will pay those claims, Feinberg and Barbour emphasized repeatedly.

That’s about all we’re certain of right now. What separates a legitimate claim from one that’s not is something Feinberg says he has yet to establish guidelines for.

He did say that he would rely heavily on Mississippi law for answers. For instance, if somebody files a claim whose legitimacy is less than clear, Feinberg would turn to Mississippi law to determine if the claim, if it were filed as a lawsuit, would be eligible for settlement or reward money arising from litigation.

“We’ll be looking at, if you go to court in Mississippi, where does the law cut (settlement or reward eligibility) off?,” Feinberg said.

Speaking of lawsuits, Feinberg said that if somebody files a claim, there is a strong possibility part of the terms of the claim being paid will include the claimant waiving his/her right to sue BP afterward, especially if the claimant receives a lump sum payment.

“That’s the way I see it,” Feinberg said.

BP has established an escrow fund that will, starting this year, receive annual payments of $5 billion until it reaches $20 billion, to pay spill claims.

“We’re entitled to recover all of the losses (from BP), even administrative costs,” Barbour said. Barbour had raised a few questions about the escrow earlier this week. He said he was worried pumping $20 billion into a fund immediately would rob BP of the working capital it needed to continue to make money so it could pay spill claims. He was satisfied with the annual installment plan.

Feinberg and Barbour both seemed comfortable that $20 billion would be enough to cover the damage done by the spill. Feinberg added that bankruptcy for BP “is not an option.”

In Gulfport, it’s hot but there’s no oil

June 15th, 2010 No comments

Magnolia Marketplace took a trip to the Mississippi Coast this past weekend to watch the wife compete in a tennis tournament.

Here’s what we know: It’s as hot as I can ever remember it being this time of year. But that’s about as bad as the news got as far as the conditions in Gulfport, where we stayed. The beaches are clear. The water of the Mississippi Sound is murky but it always has been. There was no oil that I could see anywhere — in the water or on the beach. There was no smell of oil that I detected.

So take that for what it’s worth.

This oil spill mess is going to affect just about every industry and its interests in Mississippi, and it will affect them for a long time, not unlike Katrina.

So this week we’re continuing our look at how some of those industries are adjusting their game plans and preparing for if/when oil reaches the Mississippi Sound or our beaches.

Presley is pulling for Kemper, but admits it’s a huge risk

June 7th, 2010 5 comments

Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley spent the better part of 40 minutes addressing the crowd at the Stennis Capitol Press Corps luncheon.

While Presley didn’t break any new ground in his remarks about Mississippi Power Company’s plans to build a lignite coal-fired electric plant in Kemper County, he did reinforce his position that the plant represents a huge financial risk for MPC’s 190,000 customers in South Mississippi.

Specifically, Presley said the mechanism that allows MPC to charge its ratepayers for the cost of the facility as it’s being built — known as Construction Work in Progress financing — is particularly unnerving for him.

“All risks and all costs will be borne by the ratepayer,” he said.

Also, the technology the plant will use to generate electricity is new and unproven, Presley said, adding that “we can’t get anybody to put a stamp of approval on it, to promise us that it’s going to work.”

Presley went out of his way several times to say that he hoped the plant was successful, but his was the lone dissent when the PSC held a final vote on the issue.

“I hope the majority of the Commission’s crystal ball is a good one,” he said. “We’re spending other people’s money. I hope and pray it works. If (electric) rates go up, we’ve just made it harder for somebody to go into small business.”

The prudent thing to do, Presley said, would have been to delay the project until some of the murkier issues surrounding the technology are resolved. The unpredictability surrounding things like cap and trade and natural gas prices also presents a risk for jumping head-long into the plant immediately.

“This may be a wonderful project, but there’s no harm in waiting,” Presley said.

UPDATE: See video of Presley’s speech here.

Oil and coal start the week

June 7th, 2010 No comments

So it seems as if the cap BP installed over the leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico might be working, at least slightly, depending on who you ask.

If the leak was stopped completely right now, the clean-up and aftermath of billions of gallons of oil floating in the Gulf would be astronomical and take many years to complete.

We’re working on a package of stories for next week’s MBJ taking a look at some of the economics of the disaster.

In other energy news, Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley will address the crowd at today’s Stennis Capitol Press Corps luncheon. Presley cast the sole “no” vote on Mississippi Power Company’s bid to build a lignite coal-fired electric plant in Kemper County. Presley is never shy about giving his opinion, and today should be no different. Magnolia Marketplace will have the particulars of his speech as soon as we can.

Remnants of oil reach shores of Petit Bois Island

June 1st, 2010 No comments

Like we mentioned in our previous blog post, it was very unlikely that Gov. Haley Barbour had any good news to share in his press conference updating the latest with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

And while it’s not the worst news possible, it’s sobering: A yard-wide, two-mile long patch of residue that broke off the main oil slick reached the southern shore of Petit Bois Island early this morning. Petit Bois is the easternmost of Mississippi’s Barrier Islands.

The residue, which has been in the Gulf so long it’s lost most of the properties that at one time made it oil, is not considered toxic. It will take about 24 hours to clean it up.

But it’s still a major cause for concern.

“This is the first significant amount of oil residue, but certainly won’t be the last,” Barbour said.

In response to the find, Barbour said readiness efforts south of the Barrier Islands will be intensified, including adding more ships to the fleet that is searching for sub-surface oil and oil residue. To date, most of the reconnaissance efforts have been done by airplanes.

Barbour did say there is no evidence that any oil or any kind of residue has made its way between the passes in the Barrier Islands, which is good news because that would mean it would have a clean shot at Mississippi beaches.

“There’s no reason to panic  yet, but there is a likelihood that more intrusion is coming to the Barrier Islands,” Barbour said. “If that happens enough, some will make it through the passes in the islands.”

Barbour said it’s way too early to tell what effect the spill will have on the Coast, because it’s uncertain whether BP’s latest attempt to plug it will be successful.

He then spent a good chunk of time complaining about some of the coverage the spill has gotten from the national media, which Barbour said made it sound like “the Mississippi Coast is ankle deep in oil. If tourists were there today, they wouldn’t know anything was happening. We are ready to fight this fight. But we are certainly concerned about what could happen.”

Barbour to update oil spill today at 3

June 1st, 2010 No comments

Gov. Haley Barbour’s office just issued a press release announcing that he will provide the media with the latest involving the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The timing is important. The past few days have seen yet another attempt by BP to plug the spewing well fail, and the news that a new attempt using another method will be made this week.

So it’s not likely the news from Barbour’s presser will be very good. But we’ll be there with eyes and ears open, and we’ll let you know what happened as soon as it’s over.