Environment
 

New board members challenge status quo on Flood Protection Authority

The local levee authority might want to start using a bell instead of a gavel at its meetings.

That might be more appropriate for the intramural boxing match that has broken out at the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East over the fate of its controversial lawsuit against oil and gas companies for damage to coastal wetlands.

This fight was expected after Gov. Bobby Jindal promised to fill three open seats on the panel with candidates who opposed the suit. So far it has been a spirited match — and the governor can only be pleased with his selections.

The pro-lawsuit forces took round two on Thursday, with a 5-3 vote to reaffirm its support for the suit. That evened the contest at one round apiece.

But judging by those recent meetings, this bout could go the distance.

The pro-suit side still has a clear majority on the nine-member panel. But the three-person faction that opposes it — Joe Hassinger, Jeff Angers and Kelly McHugh — has displayed the ability and willingness to keep its opponents on the defensive, as well as a keen sense of what makes a good soundbite.

Rather than assault the substance of the suit – the claim that wetlands damage by the industry has increased storm surge risk — so far they have mined for legal problems in the board’s process of selecting and hiring outside attorneys.

At the board’s November meeting, the new members questioned the legality of certain terms of the contract and its possible impact on the board’s finances. That led the board to send the contract to the Legislative Auditor for review and to table a resolution reaffirming support for the suit.

Suit supporters largely believed those actions signaled that the board was wavering in its commitment to the suit.

Also at that meeting, the three new members flustered attorney Gladstone Jones of Jones Swanson, the main law firm handling the suit, by insisting that he name his hourly rate — which he could not do because of the accounting used in these type of cases.

The soundbite carried a clear message: The board didn’t know how much its lawyer was charging.

The verbal sparring has been intense, with members sometimes interrupting one another and refusing to back down from their positions.

On Thursday, Hassinger asked repeatedly why it was necessary to call a special meeting to discuss an issue addressed just two weeks before.

Richard Luettich said he made the resolution and asked for the meeting because he believed votes by the pro-suit majority at the last meeting left supporters of the suit “all of sudden wondering if they still had a leader. It was important, I felt, for our board to re-establish its resolve and reestablish its leadership in this.”

A few minutes later Hassinger repeated his question.

Luettich: “I already explained that.”

Hassinger: “And I still don’t understand.”

It was the kind of edgy tit-for-tat seldom seen before the new members arrived in October.

At this week’s meeting, the board members who oppose the suit showed more quick moves and political acumen. Because the only item on the agenda for the special meeting was another resolution to reaffirm support — and it takes three members to call a special meeting — it was a good bet that the pro-suit side had the votes to recover after round one.

But the anti-suit members came prepared with more questions about the legality of hiring Jones-Swanson.

Angers, president of the Center for Coastal Conservation, a sportfishing organization, wanted to know if the board had followed its hiring policy. That calls for a three-person search committee and a public request for qualified applicants.

Board president Tim Doody said he didn’t recall forming a special committee.

Another soundbite carrying an unflattering message about the board: It may have violated its own hiring policy.

Bob Lacour, the board’s attorney, later said that board policies do not have the force of law, but in this case the board did follow them.

“The president or the board can change policy any time it wants,” he said. “In this case we did have a three-man committee. Tim appointed himself, me and John [former member John Barry] during an executive session.

“And this was done in executive session because it was regarding legal action, which we are allowed to do in executive session.”

Lacour said the board did not publicly solicit firms to apply because that would have revealed its legal intentions, which would have jeopardized its options.

“The Legislature was in session at the time, and it was our feeling if some members knew about this they might have taken action to prevent us from proceeding,” he said.

After the meeting Angers and Hassinger accused the board of trying to act in “secret” by not following the written policy. Hassinger said he was considering sending a copy of the hiring policy to the Legislative Auditor for additional review.

Lacour said the search for a firm had been extensive. The board asked numerous environmental groups and legal experts for recommendations for firms with experience suing the oil industry. They choose Jones Swanson after looking over the recommendations and listening to the firm’s presentation.

Barry said an assistant state attorney general assigned to the board was at all the executive sessions.

When asked if the process violated any state laws, Lacour said, “The simple answer is: No.”

The same answer would be be given to the question: Will this end the match on the board between pro- and anti-suit factions?

The bell for round three rings Dec. 19 at the St. Bernard Parish Council chambers.

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  • 1NONewsladder2

    These assholes are simply going to try to teabag our Levee Authority.

  • Tim

    This was supposed to be a board consisting of professionals. Gov Jindal has now polluted it with political hacks who are trying to run it a aground with parliamentary tricks. We need to strengthen the authority of these boards and further separate them from the governor.

    Suggestions?

    Peace,

    Tim

  • Chris McLindon

    The elephant in the room is the reality that the board is being disingenuous with its constituents. There is no question that the board failed to follow proper procedure in attorney selection, but the much larger issue is the intention of the suit. The board is making a representation to its constituents that money won in a successful judgment against oil companies can be employed in coastal restoration projects that will provide enhanced flood protection. This is simply not true, and they know it. Coastal restoration projects of every kind have been operational for a most of the last twenty years. Not a single one of them has provided any measurable flood protection to anyone. Groups like The Save Louisiana Coalition are working hard to stop diversions, the method of choice for coastal restoration, because they are doing more damage than good to the marsh. If this board is truly concerned about the people they represent, they should openly state that coastal restoration has proven not to work, that diversion projects are harmful to the marsh, and that they will not use any money won in a judgment for these purposes.

  • Matt

    I’m certain Mr. McLindon is sincere in his belief, but his position as a geologist for an oil and gas exploration company, and his citation of an organization – the Save Louisiana Coalition – whose board is stocked with commercial and recreational fishing interests makes his rather certain statements about the efficacy of diversions more a (pardon the pun) diversion than a contribution to the conversation.

  • Chris McLindon

    ” The results of the present sediment budget sugges…t that only a relatively small proportion of the upstream sediment load is available for coastal restoration approaching the Gulf … large sediment inputs into the lower parts of the shallow Breton Sound and Barataria interdistributary basins are inefficient at land-buildling…” – Mead Allison, Director of Physical Processes & Sediment Systems, The Water Institute.

    “The sediment load of the Mississippi River has been reduced by 50% through dam construction in the Mississippi Basin, which could affect the effectiveness of diversion plans… We conclude that significant drowning is inevitable.” – Harry Roberts, Director of Coastal Studies Institute, LSU.

    “..three long-running diversion projects initiated to restore Mississippi Delta coastal marshes failed to increase vegetation cover or overall marsh area”. They also found strong indications that the high influx of nutrients caused by the introduction of Mississippi River water into the marsh caused stem collapse, low root growth, and “accelerated decomposition of marsh grasses”- Eugene Turner Chair in Oceanography and Wetlands Studies, LSY

    Matt, if you would, please reply with scientifically valid documentation that any of the 11 active dirversion projects have created any new marsh, restored any ecosystem, or provided any flood protection anywhere.

  • nickelndime

    The only way for anybody to actually pay attention to what is going on in this gawd4saken city and this state is for somebody like (########, or ########) to take an interest (Hello! THE MOVIES!). The media is moving way too slow(ly). Damn dat brutha dat taught me English, Anglish, or watever it was he taught me. It mite have been character. Damn it again. Don’t wait til you get all yo dicks (i mean, ducks) in place. Here it is: 2014 City Budget (Gnawlins – City of the RAT – no intent of disrespect to the RAT, #1 is Eastern astrology); Charter Schools (way too much in this small space to address); Charity Hospital (help, I can’t breathe); Coastal Loss Lawsuit (now where was dat parish, county, or whatever it it was you call it); Lethal Injection (“I can see clearly now, the pain is gone” and “one toe over the line, Sweet Jesus”); Coastal Restoration (what coast – where is…? OMG, another one lost); Friends of King School – FOKS (WDF!)

  • Tim

    It may turn out that restoring wetlands is not feasible. The science is still being developed and the cost is daunting. In that case, as Jihn Barry clearly stated, we are going to need bigger and better defences to protect the city. SLFPA-E has that responsibility. Now they are doing what they can, what they must, to get the funding necessary to carry out their obligations.

    Peace,

    Tim

  • Chris McLindon

    Tim,
    I agree with you 100%. The consituents of the SLFPA-E deserve an honest assessment of the situation like that from the board. I think that if people believed that money recieved in a judgment or settlement were going to be employed exclusively to improve the existing levees and offer buyouts to those outside the levees, there would be much broader public support. Right now it just looks like money will be shifted from one sector of the economy (energy) to another (restoration contractors). If, as history would suggest, the restoration projects do no good, all of that money will have been wasted.

  • ricky ricardo

    Chris: would you reject this week’s winning $30 million dollar Power Ball ticket because last week’s winner got $100 million? That is the argument you are essentially making when you say the MR has a reduced sediment load. Are dams reducing it (400 million MT’s in 1900 vs 145 million MT’s today)? Undoubtedly. Are you really arguing 145 million metric tons annually isn’t enough to build land? On top of that, groups like the Save LA Coalition inherently contradict themselves when arguing for hydraulically dredged restoration: in one breath they say (just like you have) that the MR has a reduced sediment load and isn’t viable for restoration…then in the next breath say we should hydraulically dredge the river for restoration.

    What no anti-diversion group has ever proven is where in the world they will get the money to restore meaningful volumes of coastline. If you take the last 20 years of restoration acreage created by dredging and sum it, you still will be left with less than what we lose in an average year. On top of that, it costs 70-100 thousand dollars an acre to hydraulically dredge and create land. I would love to hear your magic bullet solution to the fact that we want to build a 5000 square foot house equivalent coastline, yet only have the money for a single wide trailer coastline at best. The entire reason engineers conceptualized diversions is because they move the sediment for you. They will undoubtedly re-plumb estuaries, but those estuaries are already dying, and will cease to exist within our lifetimes if we do nothing. It is a sad situation with no good solution, but its time to stop living in fairy tail land. We must make hard choices here, but they also must be realistic. We must all educate ourselves on the ever-evolving coastal sciences as the situation is dire, hence levee boards, cpra, usace, and everyone else under the sun losing their minds and suing each other.

  • Tim

    Chris, I’m not sure where you’re getting your information from, but I don’t think it’s the intention of the SLFPA-E lawsuit to raise money in order to restore coastal wetlands. It is their intention to obtain damages to support their mission, and their mission is to operate a system of levees to protect a specific part of Louisiana. The damages stem from the fact that with less wetlands to dampen storm surge and waves, SLFPA-E will have to do much more to raise and armor levees and walls. I guess if the science supports it, SLFPA-E could use the money to restore wetlands, but really they are a levee board, not an environmental group. It will have to be proven that a dollar spent on restoring wetlands gives real value compared to a dollar spent on higher walls and levees.
    And your contention that people outside of the levee system should be bought out–again, I don’t know what that’s based on. Levee boards are chartered to maintain levee systems in specific areas. People outside of the levee system are not protected, so I don’t know what obligation a levee board has to them. Should the State of Louisiana be engaged here? Sure.
    But this all underscores the key problem here, and that is, it’s a damn shame that SLFPA-E is having to sue for real damages caused by oil companies because the State of Louisiana under the leadership of Bobby Jindal refuses to do it. I’m no lawyer but you can bet that any damages awarded to SLFPA-E will be limited to the degradation of the overall protection system and the levee authority oversees. It does not include all the damages (seafood industry, loss of real estatae value, etc) and it does not include all of Louisiana’s coast, only the parts that have a direct effect on the levee system operated by SLFPA-E. Notice that other groups like Plaquemines Parish are starting their own lawsuits to get reimbursed for damages they suffered.
    If there are any lawyers out there who know better I’d be happy to hear their take on it.
    Peace,
    Tim

  • Chris McLindon

    Tim,
    As you know, this suit was engineered by John Barry and Gladstone Jones. Mr. Barry makes no bones abouth it, they are looking for money to fund the restoration projects under the Master Plan. As he said in an opinion piece in this publication “Our job is not simply to operate and maintain a levee system handed to us by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Our job is protecting people’s lives and property… Nothing we’re doing is inconsistent with the Master Plan. What
    we’re doing will let us carry out the Master Plan in our area. Here’s the problem: The Master Plan has no funding”. The problem still remains that the Master Plan seeks to duplicate projects that are already operational, such as the West Bay Sediment Diversion, which after ten years of operation, can only be characterized as a failure. There is no logical reason to expect that any of the planned diversions would perform any differently.

  • Chris McLindon

    Ricky,
    As you can see, I am quoting the leading experts in the field. The primary problem with diversions is that in order to mimic natural bifurcations of the river, they must be allowed to develop channel bars that naturally obstruct the flow of the river and redirect the bedload sediments toward the new opening. This is what happened at the West Bay Sediment Diversion. The continued development of the channel bar, as documented by the Corps, may have eventually resulted in a significant redirection of sediment load into the Diversion, but the shipping industry objected because it was silting up the Pilot Town Anchorage. The obstructing bar was dredged out of existence, and no significant amount of sediment moves through the Diversion. This will be true for any future planned diversion. Now the Port of New Orleans wants to dredge the River channel to a depth of 50′. This will create a deep groove in the lower delta up to New Orleans. All bed load sediments will remain in this groove and jettisoned into the Gulf.
    By far, the better choice for building new wetlands would be to allow the full flow of the Mississippi River to follow the natural course it wants to down the Atchafalaya. All of the distributary channels at the Atchafalaya Deltas are obstructed by mouth bars. They are not suitable for navigation, but they are building some beautiful new wetlands. The addition of the sediment load of the Mississippi would serve to accelerate this natural accretion process, and we would be on the road to actually restoring the wetlands.

  • KRoberts

    Chris

  • Tim

    And a few paragraphs later, Barry states, “If some areas are impossible to fix, industry should compensate us so we can upgrade flood protection to take care of the increased risk they caused.”
    It appears your major point of contention is you are convinced that sediment diversions are a waste of money. As I said before, I might agree with that position. I strongly encourage the SLFPA-E to make the best decisions with the best science available. I’m confident that the professionals on the board will do that unless the politicians take over. To me, that’s the problem.
    Peace,
    Tim

  • boathead12

    I believe the USACE is on the record that there can be no defense against a Cat 5 storm without wetlands as part of the system.

  • ricky ricardo

    “Now the Port of New Orleans wants to dredge the River channel to a depth of 50′. This will create a deep groove in the lower delta up to New Orleans. All bed load sediments will remain in this groove and jettisoned into the Gulf. “

    You do realize (I hope) that when USACE dredges the river for navigation, it is the nav. channel only, which, in general, only constitutes at most half of the river channel’s cross section. In many, many places the nav. channel is only 20% of the river channel’s cross section.

    You are cherry picking pieces of quotes to support yourself. Allison continued on to say: ““We were not saying there isn’t still enough in the river for coastal restoration — this is a huge system and there’s still plenty enough mud to work with,”

    During annual high water events over ~800,000 cfs, the bed load becomes mostly suspended in the water column and does not get stuck in any groove. Some of Mead Allison’s own work was documenting this phenomena. That is why plans are only to open the diversions when the bed load is suspended throughout the water column in the first place. Tell me: how does the relatively shallow Bonnet Carre diversion infill with literally feet of sand every time it is opened (during turbulent high water) if all the sediment is trapped in the deep 45 foot groove of the river bottom? It does not get stuck at all.

    The Army Corps regularly performs maintenance dredging on the lower Atchafalaya, it is navigable, hence the existence of Morgan City, Amelia, Berwick and all of O&G industry-related docks on their shores. A quick internet search will even provide you with the precise volumes they extract.

    Read further regarding West Bay…although no subaerial land was formed until the 2011 high water event and baffling ridges were built (which we will get to in a second), the entire bay greatly decreased in depth over the project’s lifespan. Management of diversion outfalls through dredging and creation of artificial containment or baffling will have to be a component of their construction. Likewise, management of the navigation industry’s desires so that the river can serve everyone, not just them, is also a necessary component. The approach must marry all concepts, but people are trying to point out flaws in a vacuum.

  • Chris McLindon

    Ricky,
    you and I could obviously bat this back and forth for some time. At the end of the day the people living in the jurisdiction of the SLFPAE deserve the truth. We are probably approaching $500 million spent on coastal restoration projects, and we have almost nothing to show for it. West Bay was supposed to create 9300 acres in 20 years. After 10 years it has created less than 1% of that total. There is no good reason to expect that any future diversions will perform any differently. People are making life decisions based on what government officials are telling them. I just don’t think it is unreasonable to expect an honest conversation of the grave uncertainties facing the future of coastal restoration.

  • red snapper

    I have been reading with interest about the Louisiana Flood Protection Authority about the levees and the lawsuits against the Corps and the Oil/gas companies. I wish you
    good luck.

    The Citizens of Louisiana need to stay the message. Let the corps and the oil/gas know that you, will not stand for the Corps with its special interests groups nor the oil/gas destroy your state any more. Do not let the Oil/gas and shipping industries and Corps of Engineers confuse and conquer you with the mix messages that they are putting out to all of the different areas of the gulf coast.

    The Corps has been ruining the areas around all Gulf Coasts that have shipping and oil/gas since the 1970′s. They do not want “the people” stopping the oil/gas and the shipping industries and the Corps seems to make up different rules for different areas, as they go along.

    And if you think that the Port of New Orleans River channel will be dredged to a depth of only 50′ and not 65′ or more feet for the new Panama Canal, then someone is dropping plastic fish dust over your brain. You might want to research the corps involvement with the New Panama Canal and the Ports and the size of the container-ships involved. If all of the containers off of the ships were to be put on trucks, there would be no room on the roads for cars to travel.

    It is all about the money and the imports coming into the country. Check and see who owns the land within the Ports now and in the future.

    Also, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but as I understand with the new Fema insurance rates for New Orleans, the lawsuit over the levees will moot because nobody will be able to afford the premiums and ultimately their will be no insurance for south Louisiana.

    One other question you might want to ask:
    Is it legal for a State or Federal government official to lie to a tax-paying citizen? And if a citizen catches and proves the government official is lying is that government official fired?

    So maybe all we have to do is get all of the lying government officials fired, and the country will become sane again.