Environment
 

Two applicants for regional levee board wouldn’t shift support for lawsuit

Gov. Bobby Jindal is trying to appoint people to the regional levee board who oppose its lawsuit against oil and gas companies, but if he had to make his choice today, he would be one vote short of killing the lawsuit.

An independent nominating committee has to replace two people on the nine-member board whose terms have expired, one who supports the lawsuit and one who opposes it. So far, the committee has received just two applications — one from Paul Kemp, a current board member who supports the suit, and one from Baton Rouge engineer Mark Morgan, who opposes it.

That would leave the 5-4 majority for the suit in place.

But there’s still time for others to apply. The deadline is Aug. 18, and the nominating committee has extended it before.

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East is suing 92 oil, gas and pipeline companies for wetlands damage. It contends that wetlands losses have increased flood risk around New Orleans, raising its cost of protecting the area east of the river.

Jindal led a two-pronged campaign to protect one of the state’s most powerful industries.

He signed a bill aimed at retroactively preventing the authority from filing such a lawsuit. A federal judge is expected to hear arguments Nov. 12 on whether the law is constitutional and applies to the levee authority.

The governor also made good on a promise not to appoint people to the board if they support the suit. Since the lawsuit was filed, he has appointed four new members, all of whom oppose the lawsuit.

The board unanimously supported filing the lawsuit; by June that had eroded to a 5-4 majority in favor.

Jindal now has another chance to change that equation before he leaves office. The Louisiana Attorney General ruled that the terms of two members, who had been appointed to fill unexpired terms, expired July 1.

One seat belonged to Kemp, the other to Jeff Angers, one of Jindal’s new appointees. If both seats were filled with lawsuit opponents, the board could vote to drop the suit.

Morgan, 59, is president of Sems Inc., an environmental engineering firm.

He said he “would probably be against the suit, because I believe our focus should be on flood protection, not fighting legal battles.”

But he added, “I will listen to arguments on both sides, then make a decision based on what they think.”

Morgan, who served on the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-West board for five years, claims on his application that he is a reluctant applicant. Answering a question about why he wants to serve on the board, he wrote:

I don’t necessarily want to because of the effort required; however, I have a tough time saying no and when called over a dozen times by representatives of the authority I gave in.

Morgan said the list of those who asked him to apply includes:

  • Garret Graves, former head of the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority who led the opposition to the suit before he quit to pursue a seat in Congress

  • Jerome Zeringue, whom Jindal appointed to replace Graves

  • Jay Lapeyre, chairman of the nominating committee

  • Current and former members of the West Bank authority

Morgan said he did not apply for current openings on the West board because he has a brother living in Braithwaite, which is in the East’s jurisdiction.

The committee meets Aug. 28 to begin considering applicants. If they don’t reach a decision, they have scheduled two more meetings in September.

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