Iberville School Board eyes BP lawsuits

The Iberville Parish School Board has voted unanimously to hire three attorneys to investigate and possibly sue BP and several other oil companies possibly responsible for polluting more than 600 acres of the district’s Section 16 land.

The school district stands to gain 60 percent of any possible settlement Plaquemine attorneys Joe Dupont, Chad Brown and William Goodell would recover if a lawsuit filed on its behalf is successful, according to the deal.

“This is not going to cost the School Board a dime,” Dupont said during Monday’s School Board meeting. “We run the risk. We’re going to spend large amounts of money pursuing this.”

The contract says the attorneys will retain 40 percent of any settlement monies after recouping any up-front expenses they use to test the land for contamination.

Dupont said the lawyers intend to spend approximately $500,000 to finance research and extract soil samples from a Section 16 tract of land near Sullivan’s Lake and Grand River Field.

Between the mid-1960s and 1990s, oil companies, including BP, drilled on the land, installed “tank batteries” and dug oil pits, which possibly led to the land’s current contamination, Dupont told the board.

Brown told the board it could be facing potential liability from regulatory agencies that can demand the school district clean up the land, as well as possible lawsuits from neighboring residents.

“Unless it is cleaned up or addressed, the potential for liability exists,” Brown said.

Dupont said any research and possibly litigation could take up to four years before a resolution.

Congress adopted the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which initiated the rectangular survey of public lands, cutting the land into townships that were subdivided into 36 sections. In each township Section 16 was given to the state in trust for the benefit of public education.

Property deeds for those 640-acre sections have always belonged to the states.

In Louisiana, there is no state agency, board or commission that oversees Section 16 lands, leaving the matter to individual school systems.

The School Board also Monday night unanimously contracted with the law firm Pendley, Baudin & Coffin to file a claim for recovery funds related to the judgments in the class action lawsuits against BP stemming from the April 20, 2010, Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion.

According to the contract, the school district will have to pay the law firm 25 percent of any recovery funds the claim generates.