DALLAS — Louisiana’s coastal protection agency may seek a halt to a multi-billion-dollar lawsuit seeking damages from 97 oil companies for wetland losses.
The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority will meet at a small town in Terrebonne Parish Wednesday to decide whether to file for a dismissal of the suit or negotiate a solution with the levee district that filed it in July.
The lawsuit filed in July by Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East contends oil and gas activities in coastal parishes destroyed wetlands that once buffered New Orleans from hurricane storm surges.
Trustees of the regional levee district voted Aug. 15 to offer a 45-day cooling off pause in the suit after criticism of the lawsuit from Gov. Bobby Jindal, Coastal Authority Director Garret Graves, and a host of legislators.
The levee district is responsible for the system of levees and floodgates that protects areas of New Orleans east of the Mississippi River.
Graves and Jindal maintain that the flood protection district is overstepping its authority with the suit and endangering the state’s comprehensive, long-term coastal restoration program.
“The governor and the Legislature have a much broader perspective,” Graves said Monday at a meeting of coastal trustees.
The regional flood protection district oversees East Jefferson Levee District, Orleans Levee District, and Lake Borgne Basin, and areas of St. Tammany and Tangipahoa parishes without levee districts.
The terms of three members of Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East expired June 30.
The coastal authority approved a search process at its Monday meeting.
Authority president Tim Doody and vice president John Barry, who voted to file the lawsuit, said they intended to re-apply for their positions. A third trustee, a former TV weatherman who opposed the lawsuit, has not said what he will do.
Criticism of the lawsuit by Jindal, legislators, and the presidents of 22 levee districts in the state is based on political issues rather than the facts of the case, Barry said.
“People used to say the flag of Texaco flies over the State Capitol,” he said Monday in a speech sponsored by the Press Club of Baton Rouge. “People have to ask themselves if that’s still true.”
Wetlands once buffered New Orleans from hurricane storm surges, which caused the flooding with Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Barry said. Those once extensive protective areas have been damaged or destroyed by canals dug through them to provide access to Gulf of Mexico oil and gas fields, he said.
“We don’t have a rocky coast, like Maine or Oregon,” Barry said. “Our coastline is mud held together by plants, and the mud is melting into the ocean.”
The oil and gas industry is not the only culprit in the loss of Louisiana’s wetlands, Barry said, but it should be asked to pay for their share of the restoration.
The energy companies should be held to stipulation in their coastal permits to repair damages to the shoreline, he said.
Property tax revenues of the levee districts in southern Louisiana won’t be sufficient to support bonds needed to protect the areas, Barry said. If the wetlands cannot be restored, he said, the energy companies should help fund the expensive, complicated system of levees and flood gates needed to protect New Orleans.
“The industry wants taxpayers to pay for their damages, through higher state and federal taxes or higher flood insurance rates,” Barry said.