So much for olive branches, or for the Jindal administration calling the oil and gas industry to to the table to discuss its role in damaging coastal wetlands.

A week ago, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East used the term “olive branch” to describe its offer to start talks with the Jindal administration about its lawsuit against oil and gas companies for contributing to coastal loss. Gov. Bobby Jindal vehemently opposes the lawsuit.

But ever since the offer was tendered, Garret Graves, the head of the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, has done a thorough job of showing the Flood Protection Authority that the olive branch won’t bear fruit.

Central to the levee authority’s offer was a willingness to consider a 45-day “pause” in some aspects of the lawsuit if the administration convened a task force with representatives of the oil and gas industry.

Graves quickly made it clear that the administration wasn’t going to “let the tail wag the dog.” Since then, the dog has been busy.

On Monday, Graves said that the administration would use the annual process of replacing expired seats on the levee authority board to seat new members who agree with its position.

At Wednesday’s monthly meeting of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, Graves led the group to a unanimous vote opposing the suit and promised more aggressive court action soon.

He seemed to shred the last leaves from the olive branch with this comment about the future of the Flood Protection Authority: “I don’t see any scenario where this levee district doesn’t get gutted — or, say, ‘reformed’ — in the next legislative session.”

John Barry, vice chairman of the levee authority and its lead spokesman on the suit, noted that the “pause resolution” was made after a closed-door session with Graves — although no such agreement was discussed then.

“The idea for a pause, I believe, came from Garret in a conversation with Tim [Doody, president of the authority’s board] before our meeting,” Barry said. “And while you could infer from the fact that we made the resolution after meeting with him, I don’t recall Garret making any specific commitments to a task force.”

However, Barry, who also sits on the state coastal agency’s board, said Graves told him that the board would discuss the olive branch idea at Wednesday’s meeting, either openly or in executive session. That didn’t happen.

“The only words spoken about [pausing the suit] at the entire three-hour meeting, three hours devoted exclusively to our suit, were uttered when I referred to the proposal early in the meeting,” he said. “Every CPRA member who did speak — some remained silent —  spoke only of how good the industry was to the state.”

The coastal authority’s action was the third defeat for the levee authority in its effort to gain political allies for its suit.

Three weeks ago the executive committee of the Association of Levee Boards of Louisiana voted unanimously to oppose the suit, and one week later a joint legislative committee roundly criticized it. In each case, opponents echoed the sentiments expressed by members of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority: They didn’t want to hurt the oil industry.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Graves again intimated that the state would try to have the suit dismissed on grounds that the local levee board lacks the legal authority to sue. And, once again, Barry said he welcomed that court action because his side would win the argument.

All of which means the two sides remain where they were before the olive branch was offered: The Flood Protection Authority is preparing for its court battle while looking for other ways to bring the oil and gas industry to the bargaining table, and the Jindal administration is getting ready to purge the board through legislative intervention.

Bob Marshall

From 2013 to 2017, Bob Marshall covered environmental issues for The Lens, with a special focus on coastal restoration and wetlands. While at The Times-Picayune, his work chronicling the people, stories...