Ousted Flood Board Member Touting New Organization

By KEVIN McGILL | November 21, 2013

Historian John Barry is helping launch a new organization formed to boost public support for a south Louisiana flood control board’s lawsuit against oil and gas companies over the loss of coastal wetlands that form a natural buffer protecting New Orleans from hurricanes.

Barry was recently ousted from the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East by Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Jindal, who opposes the lawsuit, refused to reappoint Barry after his term expired.

Barry discussed plans for the new nonprofit group – Restore Louisiana Now – at a Tuesday afternoon news conference at a restaurant on Lake Pontchartrain. He said the group will raise money to educate the public and lobby lawmakers, who will be under pressure next year to take steps to stop the suits.

“It’s a legal issue,” Barry said. “Let the courts decide.”

He said the new group, which will seek donations from the public, has already done polling that shows strong public opposition to the Legislature intervening to stop the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, the flood control board he once served on is set to consider competing resolutions this week. One would halt action on the lawsuit that says oil and gas companies contributed to loss of coastal wetlands; another would reaffirm the board’s plan to press on with the suit.

Barry predicted Tuesday the board will vote to continue the suit. “I’m very confident the lawsuit will be affirmed,” he said.

Organizers of Restore Louisiana Now also include Sandy Rosenthal, founder of Levees.org and documentary film maker Walter Williams, best known for creating the short Saturday Night Live films featuring “Mr. Bill.”

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East filed a lawsuit earlier this year against more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies. It alleges that oil and gas activity in the wetlands is a major contributor to the loss of thousands of acres of coastal land. Corrosive salt water from a network of oil and gas access and pipeline canals has killed vegetation and swept away vast amounts of soil, the lawsuit claims.

Jindal and his top coastal official, Garret Graves, have criticized the lawsuit as a boon to trial lawyers that could interfere with the state’s efforts to restore the coast.

Oil industry advocates have also attacked the authority’s suit and more recent lawsuits filed by attorneys for two coastal parishes.

Those suits – 21 in Plaquemines, seven in Jefferson – allege a variety of environmental law violations by various oil- and gas-related companies at coastal sites. The alleged violations include operating unpermitted waste pits and dredging canals without proper permits and without using techniques aimed at preventing erosion and encroachment of salt water from the Gulf of Mexico.

Barry said Restore Louisiana Now supports all of the lawsuits and hopes that the legal pressure will persuade oil and gas companies to come to the table and agree to make restoration efforts.

Chris John of the Louisiana Midcontinent Oil and Gas Association said recently the suits could blunt the Louisiana congressional delegation’s efforts to get a larger share of federal offshore oil revenue. Don Briggs, of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, has called the lawsuits attempts to extort money from oil companies.

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