Friday, November 03, 2006


Agriculture panel signs off on 2 controversial cane syrup mills

By Robert Travis Scott

BATON ROUGE -- A Louisiana agricultural agency endorsed plans Thursday for a state-supported $135 million sugar cane syrup mill in Bunkie and gave agriculture commissioner Bob Odom the green light to sign a deal for private operators to take control of a state-owned Lacassine syrup mill.

Without opposition, the board of the Louisiana Agricultural Finance Authority, chaired by Odom, passed a resolution to seek state Bond Commission approval for the Bunkie mill proposal.

The department of agriculture was the construction manager for the Lacassine plant, but a private company would be hired to build the Bunkie mill, Odom and others familiar with the project have said. Odom used agriculture department employees, including many white-collar staff untrained in construction work, as well as contractors to build Lacassine.

The agricultural authority approved a motion without objection Thursday authorizing Odom to finish negotiating and sign a contract on Lacassine with a private firm. Local cane farmers own 20 percent of the firm and investors from Colombia own 80 percent. The Colombian group filed incorporation documents in Louisiana on Oct. 25 as Andino Energy Enterprises LLC. The investors include the family of Alejandro Santacoloma, who recently sold the cement operations of the Colombian company Cementos Andino.

Odom has sometimes referred to the Lacassine mill deal as a sale of the syrup plant for $60 million. But there is no upfront money to purchase the plant and relieve the state of its long-term debt obligation. The state is paying back $45 million plus interest on the Lacassine bonds.

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