Critics of a plan to build a $210 million power plant in New Orleans East are threatening to file a lawsuit aimed at blocking City Council approval of the project, claiming that dozens of people were illegally excluded from the process when the council's Utility Committee signed off on the proposal two weeks ago.
Lawyers for the Alliance for Affordable Energy, 350-Louisiana and the Loyola Law Clinic also claim the council committee’s agenda was improperly changed after it was made public, another alleged violation of state law.
Those groups are demanding that the committee rescind its decision and call a new meeting, two days before its vote is expected to be ratified by the full council.
After numerous complaints about the committee’s actions, “we are collecting affidavits in preparation for litigation to void the results of that meeting due to violations of the Open Meetings Law,” the lawyers wrote to the council.
“We bring this to your attention in case you would rather do the meeting over and do it legally, saving the city and everyone involved the time and trouble and uncertainty of litigation over the process.”
Council President Jason Williams issued a statement Tuesday evening rejecting the criticisms. “The meeting notice, agenda and meeting all complied with the law," he said. "The meeting agenda ... was posted on Feb. 16 — five days in advance of the committee meeting. The meeting lasted for nearly eight hours because the committee was committed to making sure that every member of the public who wanted to speak had that opportunity. Dozens of members of the public spoke and no one was denied that opportunity. ... The media were there the entire day and documented the unfettered public participation.”
At issue is the committee's Feb. 21 approval of Entergy New Orleans' plan to build a $210 million, 128-megawatt power plant on Old Gentilly Road in the Michoud neighborhood.
At that meeting, New Orleans police did initially bar dozens of people from a packed auditorium at the Pan American Life Center on Poydras Street, citing fire code restrictions. But the council let those people in later, after others had left.
Some who had been waiting could have left before the doors were opened. But all told, the committee met for nearly eight hours to hear from every resident who wanted to speak on the plant, making it one of its longest meetings in recent memory.
The second objection raised by critics of the plant involves the details of how the committee advertised its agenda ahead of the meeting.
Initially, council members were going to allow groups that had officially intervened in opposition to the plant a full 15 minutes to make their case, with other residents allowed the typical two minutes at the microphone. But those with the 15-minute time slots would not be able to speak again during the regular public comment period.
Then, after the agenda was published with those details, the council reversed course and decided any speaker would get two minutes, even if they had already had made a 15-minute presentation.
The groups threatening to sue argue the last-minute change technically violated open-meetings laws by deviating from the public agenda, even if the change actually gave them more time to speak.
“We’re essentially objecting that they allowed us to talk,” said attorney Susan Stevens Miller on behalf of 350-Louisiana and the Alliance for Affordable Energy, an argument she conceded seemed odd.
The group wants the full council to remand the matter back to its Utility Committee for reconsideration later this month. The council could do so on Thursday, the day the full body is supposed to take up the power plant issue.