WSJ: La. pension boards can’t access money

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that two Louisiana pension boards have been unable to withdraw $32 million from an investment fund that promised a 12 percent annual return.

Instead, the Firefighters’ Retirement System of Louisiana and the Municipal Employees’ Retirement System of Louisiana received promissory notes from Fletcher Asset Management that pledged payment within two years.

A third pension fund, the New Orleans Firefighters’ Pension and Relief Fund, also plans to withdraw money from the investment fund, according to the Journal.

The three pension funds have invested a total of $100 million with Fletcher Asset Management.

“Fletcher reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission a 2009 year-end total for assets under management of $558 million. Yet its primary investment vehicle held just $187.8 million of securities, according to the firm’s financial reports. And these made up 95 percent of the firm’s market investments, according to a Fletcher consultant’s report filed in a New York state court,” the Journal reported. “This would translate to a 2009 year-end total for the firm’s market investments of about $198 million, more than half of it the Louisiana pension funds’ money.”

Ascension Parish studies chemical transport

Ascension Parish has hired consultant IEM to determine the amount of chemicals being transported through the parish by truck, train or barge.

“This is the first study of its kind in our area,” Ascension Parish President Tommy Martinez said in a news release. “Other regions are likely to be interested in what we are doing in Ascension Parish because it provides local officials and their LEPC with situational awareness.”

The six-month study will be funded by Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness money from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Shaw may have to cover nuclear project costs

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Westinghouse, which Baton Rouge-based Shaw Group and Toshiba Corp. own, may have to bear most of the burden of cost overruns on a nuclear project in Georgia.

The Georgia Public Service Commission’s staff has recommended protecting ratepayers from cost overruns by forcing utility Georgia Power to share the risk, the Journal reported. Georgia Power’s return on equity would be reduced in proportion to the overrun on the expected cost of the project.

If Georgia Power’s cost rises from the $6.1 billion to $6.4 billion expected to $8 billion, the company could lose $700 million in profit.

Georgia Power can’t begin construction until it has an approved reactor design, with detailed drawings, and a license for its Vogtle site. It had hoped to have both by the end of the year.

The project’s design has not been approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and a Georgia PSC consultant has said that is one of the problems with the project that could lead to higher costs.

According to the Journal, Georgia Power officials hope the utility will be able to meet the projected budget. Earlier, the utility had said Westinghouse would be responsible for most of the cost overruns.

Monroe company makes $258 million in investments

Monroe-based CenturyLink, Inc., which acquired Qwest Communications on April 1, has completed $258 million in investments in New Mexico, required under a 2007 settlement with the New Mexico Public Regulatory Commission.

In February 2007, Qwest committed to the PRC to invest $255 million throughout New Mexico in five specific categories, including broadband expansion. That effort focused on increasing availability by interconnecting each of its central offices in New Mexico. The goal was to expand broadband to 83 percent of New Mexico’s residents, and the company has reached 85 percent. In addition, CenturyLink’s broadband service now reaches an average of 75 percent of customers in rural areas.

CenturyLink became responsible for completing that agreement when it acquired Qwest.

More heat, more rain

There will be partly cloudy skies with isolated to scattered showers and thunderstorms Thursday afternoon, WBRZ meteorologist Dave Nussbaum says in the station’s daily weather blog.

Thursday will be a tad hotter than Wednesday with highs in the mid 90s.

The storms will continue into the evening hours before they dissipate around 8 p.m.

Low temperatures Thursday night will drop to the lower to mid 70s.