What is more fearsome to home builders than a prodigious wood-eater like the Formosan termite... the bugs or a law written to curb their spread? Louisiana builders, until recently, would have pointed to the law.
The Formosan-fighting legislation in Louisiana allowed state agriculture commissioner Bob Odom the leeway to mandate last year the use of chemically-treated and pressure-treated Southern Pine in all residential construction as way to insure that new homes would be termite free; a costly and dangerous precedent. The mandate, however, needed the approval of two state legislative committees and did not even proceed to that point due to the lobbying efforts of the Louisiana Home Builders Association and in particular, the Home Builders Association of Greater New Orleans. In early March LHBA President Mike Dupont met with Odom and representatives from other industries adversely affected by the mandate and secured an agreement from Odom to drop the treated lumber mandate.
"We really kind of mobilized our forces here and had a good grassroots effort to fight it,'' says Scott Coulombe, executive officer of the New Orleans builder group. `'A lot a people around the country were watching this legislative situation closely and thankfully it turned out OK.''
Their lobbying efforts also yielded a part in addressing the growing bug problem. Builders and realtors were added to a governor's task force to study the termite problem charged with finding possible solutions over the next 12 months. Already the task force has placed a high priority on educating home owners about options for controlling the problem, says Coulombe.
The Formosan termite, indigenous to the Pacific islands, is having an increasingly devastating impact on homes in 11 U.S. states 50 years after it began arriving here in pallet-wood after World War II. Hardest hit are Hawaii and Louisiana, but the aggressive insects are also known to inhabit areas of California, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.
The problem is particularly bad in southern Louisiana, in and around New Orleans, where the bugs have been known to eat through plaster, asphalt and plastic to get to new sources of wood, resulting in tens of millions of dollars of damage and control costs each year.
Battling the Formosan has, in recent months, taken on a national dimension. At last fall's NAHB board meetings in Nashville, the association approved the formation of a new Formosan Termite Task Force, chaired by Louisiana builder Randy Noel. In addition, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman in January announced new research efforts to control the Formosan through a poisonous bait program called Operation Full Stop. As part of the program, Louisiana state agriculture officials directed $5 million to research being conducted in New Orleans' famed French Quarter using bait traps laced with an Australian fungus known to be toxic to termites. So far the tests have been promising, Noel says.