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September 2013 Coastal Scuttlebutt

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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.

What about river diversion 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

The 17th Street Canal breach during Hurricane Katrina. (NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune archive)

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.

Adelson got an important confirmation from former Governor Blanco that the boards were intended to be immune from political pressure. This independence is now under fire from Governor Jindal and Garret Graves, his coastal advisor. Signals from the attorney general are more ambiguous, with rumors that he opposes the suit, but no definitive statement.

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 

Run that by me again, Reggie!

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.

John M. Barry (photo from the NY Times)

SEPTEMBER FIRST

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.

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  16. The 2013 WRDA reform bill also requires the Corps to study its tree removal policy. This is the start of that portion of the bill; it continues on for another 3 pages. Hot topic in Metairie.

    SEC. 124. VEGETATION ON LEVEES.
    14 (a) REVIEW.—The Secretary of the Army, in accord
    15 ance with subsection (c), shall undertake a comprehensive
    16 review of the Corps of Engineers policy guidelines on vege
    17 tation management for levees (in this section referred to
    18 as the ‘‘guidelines’’). The Secretary shall commence the
    19 review upon the date of enactment of this Act.
    20 (b) FACTORS.—
    21 (1) IN GENERAL.—In conducting the review,
    22 the Secretary shall examine the guidelines in view
    23 of—
    24 (A) the varied interests and responsibilities
    25 in managing flood risks, including the need to

    1 provide the greatest levee safety benefit with
    2 limited resources;
    3 (B) preserving, protecting, and enhancing
    4 natural resources, including the potential ben
    5 efit that vegetation on levees can have in pro
    6 viding habitat for species of concern;
    7 (C) protecting the rights of Indian tribes
    8 pursuant to treaties and statutes;
    9 (D) determining how vegetation impacts
    10 the performance of a levee or levee system dur
    11 ing a storm or flood event; and
    12 (E) such other factors as the Secretary
    13 considers appropriate.

    • Thanks for the info, Anonymous.
      I’m told that the Corps is allowing a dispensation from their blanket prohibition against trees on levees in the Sacramento Valley. They’re trying an experimental planting of willow trees in association with levees there. I’ll post more details soon.
      Len

  17. Len, you’re stirring the pot well and thanks for considering no toes sacred, including my own. The lawsuit conceived by John Berry, and the reaction of Jindal, Graves, Reggie Dupres, and etc. doesn’t seem shocking to me. And neither does the silence of the eco-lambs. What I do find shocking is the speed and degree, by which large green groups (not all), a significant portion of the scientific community, and the corporatist government have welded themselves together as owners of wetland restoration. Now, we have a whole cultural matrix perpetuating the cause of a win-win, economic-environmental fix. River commerce and the petroleum industry are just two of the economic sacred cows, which have to grown alongside restoration efforts. This collective combination is banking on the idea of geoengineering to keep growth and environmental stewardship one big happy family. From my perspective, this is a deeper denial that right-wing climate change deniers. Many know this, but you can hear a pin drop.

    Greenhouse gas emissions are driving sea level rise and as far as I know, comprehensive restoration plans include no strategy for addressing the major problem. This is rapidly becoming a neoliberal/conservative, economic-environmental orthodoxy. Something has changed since we all pulled together to stop shell dredging in Lake Pontchartrain. The reduction of GHG emissions is simply not possible with economic growth as usual.

    The silence is also noticeable by so few responses your excellent coverage has generated on this controversial issue.

    • Ed-
      As luck would have it I’m working on a post on that very subject.
      Len

    • Thanks Len, I look forward to reading your post on it. I see where CRCL is putting out a new blog called Coastal Connections, which is supposed to be science based. It will be interesting to see if that blog really gets into the critical science or if it will extrapolate interpretations from science as a promotional tool. I’m hoping for the former.

      Ed

  18. It must drive the Jindal administration crazy that John Barry and the Commissioners have no personal agenda in filing lawsuit against Big Oil.

  19. The damage that Jindal and co. are doing to La’s national image and credibility by their ruthless efforts to crush this action by an independent levee board are real. The NYT story is one example of national scrutiny that is seeing how the oil industry is the real government of the state. It’s another nail in the coffin of La’s chances of getting sizable appropriations from the federal government for coastal restoration. After the ruthless partisanship of Jindal and our GOP delegation, this episode will continue the erosion of trust that the rest of the country has that La would use national resources in the national interest. Jindal and Graves have made it clear that state policy is to use federal dollars to pay for damage that the oil industry has done and should be compensating us for. The scale of the damage to our reputation likely won’t be clear until after Jindal leaves office. Then it can be blamed on Obama.

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