September 2013 Coastal Scuttlebutt
SEPTEMBER TWELFTH, THIRTEENTH and FOURTEENTH
Jindal plays politics as usual
Today’s NOLA.com reported that our governor has decided not to reappoint Tim Doody and John Barry as the President and VP of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East (SLFPA-E), obviously because they’re too effective and independent. These two guys, who have been serving admirably for up to seven years, will be tossed off of the supposedly politics-free board as soon as two replacements willing to sign the governor’s iron clad loyalty pledge are nominated.
No one is surprised, of course, in that under the leadership of Doody and Barry the SLFPA-E had the temerity to file a lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies, some of whom have been large contributors to Jindal. These companies have caused enormous unmitigated damage to the coast over many decades but have never been required to pay for their impact. The governor’s position would require taxpayers to foot the bill. So much for his anti-tax philosophy.
SEPTEMBER TENTH and ELEVENTH
Levees, levees, levees
On September 11 NOLA.com published stories on two controversial hurricane levee projects.
Littice Bacon-Blood reported on a packed public meeting hosted by the Corps of Engineers Tuesday evening in Lutcher, during which east bank residents of St. James and Ascension parishes southwest of Lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas demanded the same levee protection that is being promised to their downriver counterparts in St. John Parish. The corps will decide among three alignments B, C and D, in which increasing length, construction costs, maintenance costs and ecological damage are taken into consideration. Option B would be the least expensive and damaging.
Not mentioned in the article (or presumably at the meeting) is the fact that alignment D of the proposed artificial levee would serve as a serious impediment to a critical river diversion project near Convent to allow rejuvenating sediments and river water to flow into the dying Maurepas swampforest (see black arrow and question mark). Solving this problem would require an expensive water control structure. Details, details.
Another controversial levee project stalled in DC
Bruce Alpert reported that the highly controversial 98 mile Morganza to the Gulf hurricane protection project, designed to protect the lower part of Terrebonne Parish, was removed from a house appropriations bill for water projects. The Louisiana delegation is predictably up in arms. This project is extremely popular with the residents of Houma. Once again, I predict that this $10.3 billion nose-hold project will never be paid for by American taxpayers, despite its twenty-year history of local support.
SEPTEMBER SEVENTH, EIGHTH and NINTH
Organizer of levee board defends its independence
In a notable grass roots organizing success story during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a New Orleans resident named Ruthie Frierson, founded Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans. The goal of her organization was to revise and depoliticize the multiple notoriously corrupt and useless levee boards in the greater New Orleans area that rubberstamped whatever the Corps of Engineers did or didn’t do to protect the public from flood risk. Ms. Frierson’s efforts culminated in the passage of legislation during the Blanco Administration that replaced the old levee boards with independent, science-based authorities that were intended to be as free as possible of political influence.
Sure enough, one of these upstart agencies recently tested this independence. The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East (SLFPA-E) sued 97 oil and gas companies that have significantly weakened the natural ecosystem that formerly protected the coast.
Governor Jindal reacted immediately, threatening to block the lawsuit and to replace the members who brought it, as attested in numerous media accounts. On September 8 Frierson wrote an op/ed column for The Times Picayune/NOLA.com, urging Governor Jindal to back off from what has become a vitriolic and heavy handed campaign against the lawsuit and its creators, Tim Doody and John Barry, President and Vice President, respectively, of the SLFPA-E. She didn’t voice an opinion on the lawsuit itself but she strongly defended Doody and Barry’s authority to bring it.
Ms. Frierson’s column is objective, factually grounded and rational.
On September 9 Mark Mosely, explained in TheLensNOLA.org why the Jindal administration opposes the lawsuit against Big Oil.
SEPTEMBER FIFTH and SIXTH
In the last few days at least two major articles have been published in the BRLA-NOLA region on the controversial lawsuit brought against 97 oil and gas companies by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East (SLFPA-E) for damages attributable to coastal energy exploration and production.
On September 5 Bruce Eggler reported in NOLA.com on an ongoing struggle between the two opposing in the lawsuit: (1) the oil and gas industry; and (2) the SLFPA-E. The struggle is complicated by the fact that the state is weighing in on the side of the defendants and against the plaintiff, a state agent.
Eggler describes three conflicts: (1) the legitimacy of the suit; (2) the amount of coastal damage caused specifically by decades of oil and gas exploration and recovery; and (3) the role of Attorney General Buddy Caldwell in approving the lawsuit. Here’s where the article gets interesting.
On September 6 Jeff Adelson reported in The Advocate on the reasons, during the Katrina aftermath, for establishing the SLFPA-E and its sibling levee boards during the Blanco administration. Here’s a quote about Beth Frierson, who instigated the boards:
“This reform is so key to our future,” said Ruthie Frierson, founder of Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans.
“If the board is lessened in any way, either through the lack of these appointments or the Legislature touching the legislation, the threat would be monumental to the region.”
Famously started by 120 residents in Frierson’s home months after the flood, Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans was the primary grassroots organization that pushed for the region’s levee districts to be consolidated, overhauled and professionalized. The idea was born of widespread disgust that levee boards had been more interested in development proposals and money-making schemes than their primary job of protecting residents from flooding.
Former Governor Kathleen Blanco did not offer an opinion on the lawsuit itself but she clearly concurs with the right of SLFPA-E to bring it.
SEPTEMBER SECOND, THIRD and FOURTH
More on the oil and gas lawsuit
I just discovered that I missed an important report on August 30 carried by NPR affiliate WRKF-FM in Baton Rouge. The report by Eve Troeh was about the ongoing dispute between the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East (SLFPA-E) and Governor Jindal over a lawsuit brought by the former against 97 oil and gas companies.
The article includes the following shocking quote by Reggie Dupres a friend and former state senator who played a critical role in the development of comprehensive coastal restoration in Louisiana:
…oil and gas companies are not to blame for land loss here, he says. It’s the levees upriver that killed this marsh — cut off the land’s access to fresh water.
Reggie currently heads the Terrebonne Parish Levee District and, although he’s an attorney and not a scientist, he must have had his fingers crossed when he made such a naïve remark. As he knows very well one of the most obvious signs of damage in his backyard is a huge area of coastal forest that formerly provided natural protection for his home town. This magnificent swampforest was killed by the dredging of the deep draft Houma Navigation Canal (HNC) to service offshore oil and gas production.
The canal introduced ocean waters far inland where it killed the Baldcypress trees. Over time its banks have eroded and widened, becoming a major potential corridor for storm surge right into the heart of Houma. An expensive hurricane barrier was recently constructed at the mouth of the HNC, paid for by taxpayers, not by the energy companies for whom it was built.
Louisiana oil and gas lawsuit makes the Gray Lady
Coastal Louisiana has long been the despotic domain of the energy industry, run like a vast plantation by out of state corporate landlords who own 80% of the disintegrating coastal landscape but who care only for the lucrative minerals far beneath the surface.
Loyalty to their oil and gas ‘overseers’ by ‘sharecropping’ public officials is guaranteed by political campaign contributions. In addition, industry lobbyists have strongly influenced the state’s de minimis mineral leasing, regulatory and enforcement policy. Thus, no one raised an official finger while 10,000 miles of exploration and pipeline canals were slicing and dicing the coast.
On September 1 in the NY Times Campbell Robertson reported on a whistle blowing Louisiana public servant named John M. Barry, who has called out the energy industry in Louisiana for its contribution to coastal collapse.
Barry is a well known author/historian who has been serving as vice president of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E). He recently masterminded a highly controversial action by his board, bringing a lawsuit against almost 100 oil and gas companies to force them to pay for decades of coastal damage caused by their industry.
The lawsuit has caused a serious buzz in the Baton Rouge Capitol beehive, which is notoriously needful of oil industry ‘nectar.’ Angry political bees have predictably swarmed to the defense of their beekeepers now seen as under ‘besiege’ by Mr. Barry. The absence of any political influence or monetary motives on the part of John Barry is clearly a source of frustration for his opponents, who may not comprehend public service carried out for its own sake.