Helis Oil & Gas, the company that is seeking a permit to drill a fracking oil well in St. Tammany Parish, keeps an intentionally low corporate profile — so low that the company doesn’t even have a web page.
But with the opposition to the company’s planned Tammany well showing little sign of abating, Helis has altered that strategy and launched a slick new website specific to the St. Tammany Parish project at www.helisenergyproject.com.
Complete with bucolic pictures of azure skies, puffy white clouds, pine trees and the dirt road that leads to the 10-acre site where the company plans to put its well, the website endeavors to correct some of what the company calls “misinformation” floating around about the project, the parish’s aquifer and the process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
The website includes a description of Helis’ plans for the 960-acre tract from which it plans to harvest oil, a frequently-asked-questions page and a page of “fact versus fiction.”
Until the site was launched Wednesday, Helis’ statements on its plans had been restricted to letters and statements sent by a public relations firm. Helis’ executives have declined to attend any of the many public meetings on the project, saying they didn’t believe the often raucous public meetings provided a good environment for positive dialogue.
The company has said, however, that it is willing to meet in small groups with anyone, pointing to a meeting executives had with the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, which opposes the plan.
Aviation Board hopeful still resents losing post
Hahnville resident Neal Clulee’s nomination as St. Charles Parish’s representative on the New Orleans Aviation Board waited in limbo for more than two years, only to finally be taken off the table.
Instead, the Parish Council nominated Gary Smith Sr., the son of Henry Smith, the parish’s longtime representative, to fill the post his father held until his death in 2011.
Now, as questions swirl about whether Smith may be barred from continuing to serve on the board due to his ownership stake in a political consulting firm representing a company vying to build the airport’s new terminal, Clulee says he feels that he got a raw deal.
“I really wanted that job,” he said by phone. “I really, really wanted that job, but I knew (the elder) Mr. Smith had it locked up as long as he was living. So when he passed away, that’s something that interested me.”
In fact, Clulee filed suit in state court against the council in January over Gary Smith’s nomination, contending that the way the matter was handled violated the state’s open meetings law. The suit contended that the council’s Jan. 6 resolution nominating Smith was not on the meeting’s agenda and that the appointment was discussed in closed session, despite not having been one of two topics announced before the session.
Last month, Judge Michele Morel agreed, ruling that the council’s resolution on the appointment was invalid, though the New Orleans City Council’s subsequent approval of Smith’s nomination was still OK.
“I want it done right,” Clulee said about his reason for filing the suit. “Look, I can live with being beat out of a position or losing an election or anything like that, but I want it done right. I really want it done right.”
A 1985 pact gave St. Charles 15.5 percent of sales tax revenue from the airport plus the right to appoint a representative to the Aviation Board in exchange for allowing a runway to extend into the parish.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu had balked at accepting Clulee as St. Charles’ appointment, saying the politically active former sandpit owner did not have wide enough support, but an attorney general’s opinion said the mayor was required to accept the Parish Council’s appointment, pending approval by the New Orleans City Council.
Landrieu then filed a lawsuit against the council and Parish President V.J. St. Pierre, contending he did not need to accept the council’s nominee. That suit is ongoing in Orleans Parish Civil District Court.
“It does bother me a little bit,” Clulee said about his stalled appointment. “I don’t think a man in this state would believe it if I said it didn’t. But I am used to it. It was politics.”
Mandeville beautifier leaving for state post
Susan Russell, the director of Keep Mandeville Beautiful, is leaving to become the director of Keep Louisiana Beautiful, city officials said Thursday.
Russell, who was a contract employee with the city, became a focus of conflict between the City Council and Mayor Donald Villere during last year’s contentious budget hearings, when Villere proposed making her a full-time city employee.
The council balked, saying the position wasn’t worth the amount of money it would cost to make it full-time. In addition, some council members accused Villere — who had proposed creating a position of “communications coordinator” for Russell — of wanting to hire someone to act as his political mouthpiece.
Villere and Councilwoman Carla Buchholz made pleas on her behalf, but the council kept her on a contract.
In her May 28 letter of resignation, Russell did not refer to last year’s controversy but said it had been her pleasure to serve the community.
In response, Villere presented her with an engraved vase as a thank-you gift, and her brief remarks were greeted with a standing ovation by the council.
Compiled by Faimon A. Roberts III and Richard Thompson