NOLA News in Brief

Lauren Duncan, Senior Staff Reporter

Here are a few recent, local news stories that should be on your radar. 

NOPD officers shoot gun-wielding man in French Quarter

Four New Orleans Police Department officers shot and injured Austin Bentel, 21, after he pointed a handgun at three civilians and the responding officers near Dauphine and St. Louis streets on Jan. 25.

Surveillance video and body camera footage show Bentel pointing his weapon directly at the officers before they fired 15 shots at him. NOPD later learned that Bentel’s gun was not loaded.

As of Tuesday, Feb. 4, Bentel is still hospitalized and is alert and conscious. 

Bentel is charged with three counts of aggravated assault with a firearm, one count of aggravated assault upon an officer and one count of possessing a gun on the premises of an alcoholic beverage outlet. 

The officers involved in the shooting are on desk duty while NOPD continues its internal investigation.

New Orleans Mayor Cantrell, husband owe more than $95,000 to IRS

The Internal Revenue Service filed liens against Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s Broadmoor home on Jan. 28 since Cantrell and her husband, Jason Cantrell, owe the agency $95,011 in unpaid income taxes. 

According to the IRS documents, the Cantrells incorrectly filed their taxes every year since 2010 aside from one year — 2016. Cantrell was elected mayor of New Orleans in 2017.

“Unfortunately, our family has been struggling with this debt for years. We are working with tax experts to resolve and pay this off as soon as possible,” Cantrell said in a public statement.

Westwego City Council nixes chemical facility proposal

Westwego City Council met Jan. 28 to consider Wanhua Chemical’s proposal to build a $500 million storage and distribution plant on the west bank of the Mississippi River, across from Audubon Park.

The plant would receive shipments of chemical methylene diphenyl diisocyanate, which, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, can cause asthma and potentially fatal lung damage. This chemical would be distilled onsite to then be used in producing consumer products such as paint, shoe soles, insulation and furniture padding.

Eduardo Do Val, chief executive officer of Wanhua’s U.S. operations, said the project would create 75 full-time jobs and 500 construction jobs.

In a unanimous vote, the Westwego City Council voted to deny the Chinese chemical company the permits necessary to build the facility, surprising both the residents in attendance and Wanhua representatives.

City budget stretched thin after Hard Rock collapse, cyberattack

The direct expenditures and lost revenue associated with the partial collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel development last October and the cyberattack on New Orleans’ city government last December have cost the New Orleans city government nearly $14 million so far, with this number expected to rise to $18 million.

City officials say they plan to recover nearly $11.7 million from the Hard Rock developers but have yet to receive any repayments. 

Costs to be repaid include salaries of public safety personnel securing the site of the collapse, North Rampart street damage from a fallen crane, damage to streetcars, light poles and other infrastructure, repairs and lost revenue costs to the Saenger Theater, and the Regional Transit Authority’s relocation costs. 

The cyberattack expenses so far are projected to total $7.1 million.

The city does, however, have a nearly $30 million “rainy day fund” dedicated to emergencies which has not been touched.

According to Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert Montaño, to keep with this year’s budget, the city may have to hold off until the summer to make any big purchases.

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