Ken Clark says he's been running the Ozone Pines water system for about 12 years. Credit: Tom Wright / The Lens

A state law set to take effect in 10 days could leave Louisiana with a single clinic providing abortions — the Women’s Healthcare Center in New Orleans — staffed by only one doctor who will able to legally perform the procedure.

In 2011, there were 7 abortion clinics in Louisiana. By the beginning of this year, there were only three, due to what pro-choice activists describe as a concerted effort by the state government to restrict abortion access to the greatest extent possible.

Now, a law passed by the state legislature in 2014, requiring that doctors providing abortions have “admitting privileges” at nearby hospitals, could mean two of the state’s remaining three clinics will no longer be able to perform the procedure beginning Feb. 4.

On Friday, lawyers for the Center for Reproductive Rights announced they would challenge the law in the U.S. Supreme Court. In a last-ditch attempt to block the law, they also filed a motion to stay a Jan. 18 Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that upheld the law. The group asked that the law to be put on hold until the Supreme Court has a chance to rule on it.

“The access to abortion in Louisiana is already hanging by a thread,” lead council Travis J. Tu said. “And if they let this law go into effect it may be virtually extinguished before the Supreme Court ever gets a chance to weigh in.”

Tough choices ahead for Louisiana’s struggling water systems

State authorities warn that local communities will have to make tough choices — and soon — as they cope with public water systems that are showing their age and falling apart, especially in rural areas Louisiana.

The options are limited and all of them are expensive. In a 2011 report, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated a cost of over $5.3 billion to address all the needs of water systems across the state. But the alternative to dealing with aging public water systems now is to recast clean drinking water as a luxury item, no longer to be taken for granted by the public at large and available only to those who can afford to secure their own water sources.

One person all too familiar with the high cost of water service is Ken Clark, acting operator of the Ozone Pines subdivision’s water system outside Slidell. Clark is a boat mechanic by trade but agreed about 12 years ago to help maintain the small well system, which serves about 75 people — living in about 30 houses in the neighborhood — in rural St. Tammany Parish, according to state records.

Entergy power plant hits another snag with air quality permit application

Last week, the City Council announced it would convene a special meeting to consider a resolution to rescind its March 2018 approval of Entergy New Orleans’ proposed power plant in eastern New Orleans. The resolution, originally scheduled to be heard this week, has been rescheduled to February.

But that wasn’t the only development last week that could put the $211 million plant’s future into question. In recent state filings, two groups opposed to the plant said Entergy New Orleans botched its application for an essential state permit.

But an official from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, the state agency handling the permit application, told The Lens that what the groups characterize as a “failure” is actually fairly typical for permit applications. In an interview, he indicated that it may not be enough to trigger a revocation.

Watch Friday’s NOPD consent decree hearing

On Friday, the federally appointed monitoring team overseeing the New Orleans Police Department’s federal consent decree — meant to bring the department into compliance with the U.S. Constitution — presented a top-to-bottom review of the progress the department has made over the past six years.

Friday’s “comprehensive reassessment” presentation was supposed to happen in 2015, two years into the consent decree, under the terms of the reform agreement. But because the department had made such little progress in its first few years, the hearing was delayed.

But according to Jonathan Aronie, who leads the monitoring team approved by U.S. District Court Judge Susie Morgan to measure and assess the department’s progress, the NOPD has now demonstrated gains in every major section of the decree. Aronie’s team now deems the department substantially compliant in 10 of 18 major sections of the consent decree — including provisions covering uses of force, off-duty details and sexual assault investigations.

Council postpones votes on Entergy plant repeal, $5 million fine

The New Orleans City Council has delayed a vote on a resolution that would repeal its March 8 approval of Entergy New Orleans’ proposed $211 million power plant in eastern New Orleans.

The resolution, announced last week, was originally scheduled for a special City Council meeting on Wednesday. But on Monday, Council President Jason Williams and Vice President Helena Moreno announced that the vote will be pushed back to February. On Tuesday morning, the council formally cancelled the special meeting.

The move followed critical remarks from Councilman Jay Banks, who asked that the public be given more opportunities to comment on such a major vote.

Behind The Lens episode 16: ‘We will not go backwards’

Producer/host Tom Wright and the Lens team wrap a busy end of the week in New Orleans, with breaking news on two fronts.

First, Michael Isaac Stein reports on a last-minute bid by reproductive rights advocates to block a new state law from going into effect. The law requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans rejected the bid but the court action effectively delayed the law’s taking effect a week, until February 4. Stein has more on that in a report posting later Friday evening.

Earlier Friday, federally-appointed monitors delivered a benchmark assessment of the New Orleans Police Department’s work to comply with the 2013 consent decree. “NOPD had a very slow start but progress in recent years has been remarkable,” said lead monitor Jonathan Aronie.

Finally, Lens contributor John Sullivan of Enterprise Community Partners discusses his column, “How to ‘undesign’ the legacy of racism and redlining that still shapes New Orleans“. It’s a fascinating if troubling review of how discriminatory housing practices still impact the City of New Orleans.

Opinion: Botched refereeing rekindles a familiar Whodat Nation vibe: paranoia

Columnist C.W. Cannon on the city’s reactions to last week’s game:

“The persecution fantasy that many Whodats are now giving vent to reflects a very Americanist fear—that “they” won’t let us succeed on the American playing field, that for some reason New Orleans is singled out and denied the fair play that Americans are supposed to have a right to. This fear is supported by a conglomeration of inconclusive but suggestive facts: officials in the Dome last Sunday missed an egregiously early and high hit against Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis, a call that would (most likely) have sealed a New Orleans victory. AND (big reveal coming)…many of the refs that day had vague ties to Los Angeles.”

Opinion: Two perspectives on New Orleans at 301: a celebration of resilience, a call for rebellion

Columnist Matt Sakakeeny:

“Reckoning with the city’s past while gesturing toward the future is what mayor Mitch Landrieu had in mind on the eve of the Tricentennial, when he called for the removal of four Confederate monuments. The memorials to the President of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis, Commander Robert E. Lee, General P.G.T. Beauregard, and the 1874 Battle of Liberty Place were inscriptions on the very environment, spelling out for all who matters and who does not. ‘To literally put the Confederacy on a pedestal in our most prominent places of honor is an inaccurate recitation of our full past,’ Landrieu said in a press conference on May 19, 2017.’“It is an affront to our present, and it is a bad prescription for our future.’ With the four symbols now removed, the question still lingering is how we distinguish the past from the present and future, the tangible from the intangible, symbolic change from actual policy.

“Two recent books provide some answers.”

Charles Maldonado

Charles Maldonado is the editor of The Lens. He previously worked as The Lens' government accountability reporter, covering local politics and criminal justice. Prior to joining The Lens, he worked for...