BELLE ROSE — As attorneys in a legal battle over the 163-mile Bayou Bridge crude oil pipeline awaited clarity on the sweep of a court-ordered shutdown Friday of construction, about 30 environmentalists took matters into their own hands Monday.
Some of them sat on a piece of the future pipeline in this Assumption Parish community, briefly halting its continued construction east of Bayou Lafourche for about two hours until law enforcement ordered them to disperse and subsequent arrests of three of them shut down the protest.
Environmental groups and crawfishermen sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last month in an attempt to block a key permit over concerns the agency did not adequately consider the pipeline’s environmental impact to the Atchafalaya Basin, including the loss of ancient cypress and the effects of future oil spills.
U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick in a preliminary injunction Friday halted pipeline construction by Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC.
In her ruling, Dick wrote she would provide written reasons for her order "as soon as possible." But, in the absence of them, Bayou Bridge lawyers argued in court papers filed Monday that her order did not extend beyond the Atchafalaya Basin into areas like Belle Rose, where construction could continue. A lawyer for the plaintiffs, however, said he interpreted the order to say all work should be halted until the case is decided.
"I think it extends outside the basin. Now we'll see if (Dick) clarifies that as well. We're all waiting to see what she has to say about it," said Jan Hasselman, an attorney from Earthjustice who is representing the plaintiffs.
Alexis Daniel, spokeswoman for Energy Transfer Partners, the majority investor in the pipeline project, said Monday that construction within the Atchafalaya Basin has been stopped.
Bayou Bridge lawyers have also asked the judge to suspend her work stoppage order, saying the construction halt would cost the company almost $1 million daily. They have asked Dick to resolve that request by Tuesday and want the suspension of the work stoppage while they pursue an appeal with the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The plaintiffs in the suit and the protesters who gathered Monday in Belle Rose are both battling Bayou Bridge, but to different ends. Much of the testimony in the suit discussed the harm being done to the Atchafalaya Swamp. The plaintiffs urged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to order the pipeline company to perform meaningful work to offset the damage locally, such as by repairing existing oil infrastructure. The protesters, meanwhile, viewed the pipeline as inherently unsafe and demanded its complete removal.
Margaret Logue, 23, one of three protesters who refused to leave the Belle Rose-area construction site off La. 70 and was later arrested Monday, called on Bayou Bridge and the state government to respond to their demands.
“We believe in the power of the people to stand up peacefully and prayerfully against a government and a company that have proven themselves unwilling to and incapable of protecting our greatest treasures: our water, our air, our land and our people,” she said.
Lonny Cavalier, Assumption Parish Sheriff’s Office commander, said Logue, 3217 Annunciation St., New Orleans, and two others were each booked on counts of resisting arrest, criminal trespass and remaining on property.
Benjamin Quimby, 27, 1621 Rampart St., and Pippin Frisbie-Calder, 22, 1923 Ursuline St., both of New Orleans, were also arrested Monday, Cavalier said.
Daniel, the Bayou Bridge spokeswoman, said the company respects “everyone’s right to peacefully and lawfully express their opinion, but they are not allowed to trespass on private property." She said the company will call law enforcement as a precaution any time it sees trespassing that “creates an unsafe situation.”
Work resumed on the pipeline about 1 p.m. Monday.
The pipeline will be built between Lake Charles and the west bank of St. James Parish near the Mississippi River. It is expected to be able to handle up to 480,000 barrels per day once finished.
The $700 million line is a joint venture of Energy Transfer Partners and Phillips 66. Energy Transfer has a 60 percent stake and will serve as the operator. The future pipeline — work had begun in January after final permits were issued — would link with an existing pipeline that extends from Lake Charles west to Nederland, Texas.
In Bayou Bridge’s motion Monday, lawyers argued that Dick could not have meant to stop work on the entire pipeline's length. They noted the environmental groups that sued last month over the line have only argued about the line’s potential effect on the Atchafalaya.
The attorneys also noted that Dick's two-page order did not specify its breadth, saying it enjoined "in only the most general terms 'further action on this project.'" The lawyers added that if the order does extend to the entire project, the cost to Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC would be as much as $1.675 million per day.
Hasselman, the plaintiffs’ attorney, did not dispute that their suit was narrowly tailored to the swamp basin but added that Dick's ruling, as written, applies to the "project" and not a specific area. The two-page order enjoins "any further action on this project in order to prevent further irreparable harm until this matter can be tried on the merits."
He added that Bayou Bridge may try to continue work off the expectation that the judge "just made a mistake" but he said that if the company is wrong, continued work is in violation of a court order.
Hasselman added the plaintiffs disputed Bayou Bridge's claims for delay costs.
Bayou Bridge says that the plaintiffs didn't challenge the cost figures in court, but Hasselman said the company's attorneys offered nothing to back them up or explain them. He noted that the project overall is supposed to cost $700 million to build and questioned how daily costs for delays could reach so high.
Bayou Bridge's lawyers raised the cost of construction delays in the motion Monday as they also argued that Dick should have required a bond from the environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association-West. The bond, which Hasselman said Bayou Bridge wanted to be $500 million, would cover any damages from work delays if Bayou Bridge ends up prevailing in the overall case.
"That is just a joke, right? $500 million for the crawfish association? They don't have any money. They don’t pay their executive director. He's a volunteer," Hasselman said.
Bayou Bridge, in its motion, said the Sierra Club has access to $125 million from its national foundation and can solicit donations, while the crawfisherman's group is a commercial organization that shares in the basin's $1.3 trillion in annual economic impact.
Among the protesters at the site Monday was the climate activist group 350 New Orleans, whose members include Logue and Quimby, and other groups, like the United Houma Nation, L’eau Est La Vie and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade.
“You can’t drink oil!” protesters shouted at construction workers Monday. They also held signs saying “Protect what you love” and imploring Gov. John Bel Edwards to view pipeline construction sites himself.
Peter Gibbons went to the protest with his young child strapped to his back. His family lives in Ohio near another pipeline operated by Energy Transfer and was visiting friends in New Orleans and wanted to demonstrate with them.
“Our kids have got to live in the world that our generation is creating,” he said. “The whole industry should be gearing down … not building more infrastructure.”
The crew of maybe two dozen workers took some photos and videos but generally stood on the other side of La. 70 and didn’t respond to the demonstrators.
Bucket Brigade founding director Anne Rolfes sized up their license plates: Tennessee, Missouri, Texas.
“Are any of you from this state?” she asked, but got no response.