Two commissioners who led a New Orleans-area levee board's lawsuit against oil and gas companies and were then ousted from the board by former Gov. Bobby Jindal are looking to get their old positions back.
John Barry and Tim Doody have applied to return to the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East board next year. If they succeed, that could basically return the board to the orientation that existed before it filed the 2013 lawsuit, which sought to hold nearly 100 energy companies responsible for damage to Louisiana's coastal wetlands.
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A nominating committee will meet Wednesday to consider the two men's applications along with those of 16 others and will forward its recommendations to the Governor's Office.
The applications come in a dramatically different context than when the two men were last on the board. While Jindal and his administration sought to gain a majority on the board that would kill the lawsuit, Gov. John Bel Edwards has taken a more aggressive approach against oil and gas companies, supporting efforts by parishes to file legal actions of their own.
At the same time, the Flood Protection Authority's suit remains in the courts, though just barely. The case is waiting on a ruling from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to determine whether it can move forward.
Barry, who was one of the most outspoken proponents of the suit both on and later off the board, said the case is now largely a legal issue and not one for the board itself.
An author who frequently lobbied federal officials on behalf of the board, Barry said he initially was not considering reapplying but decided to try to get back on the Flood Protection Authority at the last minute.
"Unless the political environment had changed, I wouldn’t have any chance of getting back on the board," he said.
In 2013, the Flood Protection Authority unanimously approved a wide-ranging lawsuit that accused oil and gas companies of destroying wetlands that lie outside the levee system in southeast Louisiana and serve as a buffer that protects populated areas by reducing storm surge during hurricanes.
The case, potentially worth billions of dollars, drew immediate backlash from the Jindal administration.
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In the years after the suit was filed, Jindal replaced several members of the board, including Barry and Doody, but never was able to get a majority to vote to kill the suit.
A federal district judge dismissed the case, arguing the Flood Protection Authority did not have a cause to sue. The board appealed the decision to the 5th Circuit, which has not issued a ruling.
Barry said that regardless of who is appointed, that decision will likely determine the fate of the suit. Should the 5th Circuit allow the case to go forward, the board will likely go along with it. If the court rules against the board, it's not clear the issue will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
While the legal battle over that suit was playing out, several parishes filed their own suits against oil and gas companies for coastal damages.
Both Edwards and Attorney General Jeff Landry have intervened in those suits, and the governor has recently beefed up the legal team representing the state in the cases, adding high-powered attorneys who also are allies of his administration.
The other applicants for spots on the Flood Protection Authority are
- Joe Hassinger, the current president and Barry's replacement on the board.
- Deborah Settoon, a retired engineer for Shell.
- Ashton Avegno Jr., an engineer and consultant.
- Elizabeth Williams, president of the National Food and Beverage Foundation.
- Herbert Miller, an engineer.
- Andrew Englande Jr., a retired Tulane University professor of global environmental health sciences.
- Edward McGinnis III, a project manager for Monsanto.
- Clay Cosse, a current commission member and the retired director of housing and redevelopment for St. Bernard Parish.
- James Roussel, senior counsel at Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell and Berkowitz.
- David Quigley, an engineer for Lockheed Martin.
- John Nyman, a professor at LSU's School of Renewable Natural Resources.
- Roy Arrigo, a sales manager at Butcher Distributors and a homeowner near the 17th Street Canal who has been critical of the Flood Protection Authority.
- Quentin Dastugue, chief executive officer of Property One.
- William Gwyn, chairman of the board of Eustis Engineering Services.
- John Grieshaber, an engineering consultant.
- Michael O'Brien, president of Avondale Container Yard.