DULAC — The state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority voted Wednesday to oppose a lawsuit that the Southeast Flood Protection Authority — East filed last month against about 100 oil and gas companies for wetland destruction.
The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority stopped short of voting to take legal action, but Garret Graves, chairman of the authority board and coastal adviser to Gov. Bobby Jindal, suggested other things could happen to make the lawsuit go away.
Graves said it’s possible the lawsuit won’t pass procedural tests and won’t be allowed to proceed. Alternatively, he said, the governor could make new flood authority board appointments who would put an end to the lawsuit or the Legislature could intervene.
“Huge waste of time. Huge waste of money. And we’ll end up right back where we were in July when this was filed,” he said. “Why?”
The authority’s vote to oppose the lawsuit followed a stormy, three-hour session at which members, one by one, spelled out reasons they disagree with the suit filed by the Southeast Flood Protection Authority — East.
The vote was taken after a 10-minute executive session.
The lawsuit was filed last month against about 100 oil and gas companies and seeks compensation for coastal wetlands damaged or destroyed during the course of the industry’s work.
The damage includes primarily land loss through the digging of canals to provide access to drilling and pipeline locations, as well as damage from increased saltwater intrusion, erosion and alteration of wetland hydrology that the canals and canal spoil banks caused.
Although all speakers said they agree coastal land loss is a major issue that needs to be addressed, the flood authority members listed a variety of reasons why they thought the flood authority’s approach was the wrong way to go.
The reasons included:
- The lawsuit will hurt the economy.
- The levee district and the state already get help from the oil and gas companies on restoration projects.
- The oil and gas industry only account for a portion of the cumulative cause of coastal land loss.
- The lawsuit is a distraction from other coastal work.
- Working together cooperatively will get more done.
- The lawsuit is counterproductive to larger state goals when it comes to coastal restoration.
The vice president of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority — East, John Barry, who also is a member of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, was on the hot seat for most of the meeting. He started off the discussion trying to answer concerns he had heard previously.
Responding to Graves’ question as to why the lawsuit was filed agains the industry, Barry said: “The reason is we think it’s necessary to protect the public.”
He said the flood authority doesn’t see how the lawsuit could affect jobs or other efforts, projects or actions of the state, such as the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill lawsuits.
“What’s at stake here is the very existence of Louisiana as we know it,” Barry said.
“The lawsuit presents a choice: Protect the industry from having to live up to it’s word and obey the law or protect people’s lives and property from the crawling death of a vanishing shoreline and the violence of a hurricane storm surge.”
He said the oil and gas industry has done work to help address coastal restoration projects, but it hasn’t been enough.
Although coastal land loss has multiple causes from the sinking of the land, erosion, saltwater intrusion and more, Barry said, that doesn’t mean an industry that caused part of the problem should be let off the hook.
“It has to fix the part of the problem it created,” Barry said.
However, other flood authority members said the lawsuit was counterproductive and not the best way to get real action taken on something they all agree is a problem.
“Everything (about coastal land loss) is true. We have a lot of problems,” said Billy Nungesser, Plaquemines Parish president and member of the state authority. “But you’re going about it the wrong way.”
The director of the South Lafourche Levee District, Windell Curole, another member of the flood authority, echoed several other speakers when he said, “The oil and gas industry is part of our community.”
Daniel Walker, a Houma lawyer, agreed.
“The lawsuit is a bad idea. It’s a cannibalization of our own community,” he said.