The immediate future of the local flood protection authority’s landmark suit against oil and gas companies for coastal wetlands damage could be decided Thursday when the nominating committee for the authority board votes on candidates to fill two open seats.
The meeting starts at 11 a.m., 5307 Toler St., Harahan; I will live-blog it below.
If Gov. Bobby Jindal is presented with two nominees who oppose the suit, he would secure the 5-4 majority needed to kill the court action, a goal he has pursued since the litigation was filed in July 2013. Jindal has slowly gained seats on the board after pledging to reject any nominees who support the suit.
The committee has only three names to consider for two open seats on the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, two of whom do not support the suit.
Jeff Angers, head of a Baton Rouge-based sports fishing lobby, was appointed by Jindal last year to fill the remainder of an open seat after pledging to oppose the suit. Mark Morgan, a Baton Rouge engineering contractor and a former member of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-West, has said he does not favor the suit, but would listen to supporters’ arguments in its favor.
Paul Kemp, a coastal geologist and hurricane researcher from Baton Rouge who backed the board’s unanimous decision to file the suit, has applied for re-nomination.
The committee’s complicated qualification matrix for seats on the board adds a measure of intrigue to Thursday’s proceedings. State law requires the nine-member committee to select candidates in fulfillment of the following requirements:
Five members “shall either be an engineer or a professional in a related field such as geotechnical, hydrological, or environmental science. Of the five members, one member shall be a civil engineer.”
Two members must be “professionals” with at least 10 years of experience in fields other than those of the scientists/engineers.
One — but not more than one — member must reside in the each of the five parishes in the authority’s jurisdiction: Jefferson, Orleans, St. Bernard, St. Tammany and Tangipahoa.
Four must live outside of those five parishes.
Two “at-large” members may have no academic or professional requirements.
The committee is required to send the governor only one name for the scientist/engineer seats, but two for the at-large and professional categories. State law says a board member continues to serve until replaced, but the committee passed a resolution saying it was under no obligation to send the governor a new name if he rejects a qualified nominee. So if Kemp is nominated, it is conceivable that he could continue to serve even if not affirmed by the governor.
In his prior term on the board, Kemp held one of the seats reserved for an engineer/scientist, while Angers filled a seat for a non-resident professional. Those two slots are now open.
The law does not prevent the committee from using a version of “musical chairs” to fill seats if it has trouble finding enough applicants – as has often been the case in the past. For example, a sitting scientist member who also meets the requirement for a professional’s seat might be shifted from the scientist slot to make room for an applicant the committee thinks can help the board.
Before politicians made the lawsuit an issue, the committee routinely made such switches with no public notice. But with the controversial suit now hanging in the balance, Thursday’s decisions will be closely watched.
A win for the pro-suit forces in the nominating process will not guarantee the suit moves forward, however. Jindal was successful in pushing a bill through the Legislature this year that retroactively removed the board’s authority to file the suit. A federal judge is due to rule on the constitutionality of that law in November.