But the city attorney said there are state and local laws to consider before land can be sold. The mayor said the golf course remains a city park; that may require a vote of the people to alter things.Still, we should hold hope that things will work out. District 4 Councilman Harold Doucet talked about moving the property to the tax rolls and realizing some profit from Pleasure Island, rather than the expense of maintaining it. We agree.Pleasure Island is special now, and might become more special still.We have a right to hope. District 2 Councilmember Cal Jones, for one, held some misgivings about the city selling Pleasure Island property. Jones, who represents the island, said he would prefer a lease — even a long-term one. Nonetheless, he’d love to see the business.In short, most people would love to see the business. Pleasure Island holds substantial, natural beauty and is a destination now for fishermen and boaters. LaGrone’s plans might alter that natural setting somewhat. But the island is 18 miles long; isn’t there room for everybody?There’s a long road to travel between Pleasure Island today and what LaGrone discussed. He says he has investors and — Lord knows — he has no shortage of appealing ideas.We’d love to see a local product do well in developing the island; surely only a local could speak with such passion about reviving what many people recall as the glory of Port Arthur past. In our past, we might find our future. Kerry LaGrone’s pitch to the Port Arthur City Council this week drew some early, favorable reviews.The Houston-area developer, formerly of Port Arthur, unveiled a proposal for substantial development on Pleasure Island, within easy eyesight of the fifth-floor council chambers at City Hall.Councilmembers nodded, mostly approvingly, as LaGrone of LaGrone Services LTD talked about reviving the moribund golf course, The Palms, that rolled along the ship channel; constructing a major hotel; developing shopping and dining areas; and, in short, creating the tourist drawing card that Pleasure Island enthusiasts have long envisioned. LaGrone himself held some cache among councilmembers. He’s developed and built several projects in Port Arthur, including those along Highway 69 to include Walmart, Lowe’s, Saltgrass, Cheddars, the Regional Professional Building and more.His website cites numerous successful projects in Houston, too, including grocery stores, banks and more — none as ambitious as this. He talked glowingly about Pleasure Island past, where he played football and golf, and even talked about the island’s long ago glory years of almost a century ago. What’s not to love?LaGrone said he’d love to see a carousel there. Why not a dock where cruise ships might pull up? Outside the chambers, he talked about high-rise condos.
Environmental watchdog Global Witness has called on the Liberian Government to investigate ‘acts of violence’ against communities that palm oil giant Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL) is allegedly committing and to enact laws to protect citizens and regulate all plantation companies operating in the country.A Global Witness press release said the Liberian Government must also enact a law recognizing rural community ownership of their lands and regulate the country’s agriculture sector to bring an end to the impunity enjoyed by plantation companies.It said there is a need for an urgent reform, claiming that Liberians are reported to have been beaten, threatened, and arrested for taking a stand against GVL as the company sweeps across the southeast of the country.Global Witness said between August and October 2014, when the Ebola outbreak was at its peak, GVL used the opportunity created by the crisis to sign Memorandas of Understanding covering 134 km2 of community land. Prior to the outbreak the company had signed MOUs covering 166 km2.“Between April and December 2014, GVL used bulldozers to expand its plantation over 54 km2.In the three years prior to this, GVL had only cleared a total of 58 km2.GVL has stated that its activities in 2014 were part of its long-term plan,” Global Witness said.It noted further that “It is unacceptable to view the well-being of tens of thousands of people as inferior to an investment contract.“Development is not development if it involves robbing the country’s poorest citizens of their land. If Liberians are to benefit from palm oil they must be free to choose for or against it, and have the information and support they need to negotiate on their own terms.”Global Witness said the Liberian government should stop GVL from expanding onto new land and set a precedent for the other foreign companies poised to cash in on Liberia’s vast natural wealth.“Liberia is rolling out the red carpet to a company that has swindled communities, forcibly grabbed land and chain-sawed its way through rainforests in Asia,” Global Witness claimed in its release.It noted GVL’s first foray into Africa, at the peak of the continent’s deadliest Ebola epidemic where it has manipulated villagers into signing away the lands they depend on.“This will affect at least five generations of families who will likely never see their land returned to them,” Global Witness said.It said GVL has bought the rights to convert 2,600 km2 of southeast Liberia into an oil palm estate – an area the size of London and Barcelona combined.“Its contract is valid for up to 98 years, affecting some 41,000 people. This is the first time its parent company GAR has expanded outside its home country Indonesia, where it has an appalling track record for human rights abuses, land grabbing, and environmental devastation,” Global Witness claimed.However, at a press conference yesterday at a local hotel in Monrovia, GVL Head of Corporate Communications, Virgil Magee, who said he had not read the Global Witness report, told journalists that the company is involved with 28 communities in the areas of its operations.Magee said to a reporter’s question that GVL’s contract in Liberia is for 65 years, with possible extension for an additional 35years.Though not directly answering to issues raised by Global Witness, Magee said close to 4,000 Liberians are presently employed with GVL with a target of 5,000.He said the recent destruction at its Butaw facilities following violent demonstrations by angry youths, is estimated at U$1m.He said that contrary to unverified reports, GVL has been involved with 80 companies during the Ebola epidemic, and provided awareness to residents in both Sinoe and Grand Kru counties, since awareness information from Monrovia did not reach them.He also said contrary to reports, the company’s expansion activities are not done in isolation but on the invitation and with the participation of the communities.He said GVL is in the process of establishing the first palm oil mill in Tarjuwon, Grand Kru County and another will be built in Sinoe County.Further in its press release “Global Witness claims it has found evidence that some GVL staffers are reportedly not employed by the company directly, but instead are being subcontracted. It is unclear if such subcontractors will get the same benefits as employees.“GVL has stated that it may employ some subcontractors but is not aware of any such arrangements,” the release said.GVL’s parent company, GAR, Global Witness shareholder listings, Standard Chartered, holds US$710 million in GAR stock, the release said.Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)