The St. Bernard Parish Council took a first step on Tuesday toward  joining Plaquemines and Jefferson parishes in suing oil and gas companies for industry damage to coastal wetlands.

The Jindal Administration has not supported the parish suits but also has not opposed them vehemently, as it has the Flood Protection Authority’s suit.

The council voted unanimously to hire three law firms, including the same firm representing the other parishes, Carmouche and Marcello of Baton Rouge, to investigate its options for suing oil and gas companies. The other firms include Cossich, Sumich, Parisola, & Taylor, of Belle Chasse,  and Connick and Connick of Metairie.

“We’ve been concerned with the erosion and saltwater intrusion caused by the dredging of canals,” said George Cavignac, the council’s chairman.

“We’re basically asking the firm to look into this and tell us what our options are, what we have to gain by this. It’s really exploratory at this point.”

That action parallels the paths taken in the  Jefferson and Plaquemines suits, which seek damages from dozens of oil and gas companies for various violations of coastal work permits, including failing to remove waste materials. The Carmouche firm has won tens of millions of dollars in similar cases, called “legacy-lawsuits” by the oil and gas companies because they go after damage that might have been done decades earlier.

The parish suits differ from the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East suit against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies. The Flood Protection Authority is seeking damages under state laws for wetlands loss that it claims has intensified the destructive effect of storm surge against the levee systems it is charged with maintaining. The parish suits seek compensation for site-specific damages under state law allowing parishes to regulate actions in their coastal zones.

Cavignac said the Carmouche firm would prepare a report for the council that will estimate damage to St. Bernard wetlands by oil and gas interests.

“Then we’ll have to make a decisions about going forward at that point,” he said.

The Jindal administration has not supported the parish suits but also has not opposed them vehemently, as it has the Flood Protection Authority’s suit. Garret Graves, head of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, said that while he prefers the parishes to work with the industry to solve these problem, state law allows them to take legal action.

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...