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Area where the Bayou Bridge pipeline project is taking place near Bayou Sorrel. Dean Wilson, executive director of Atchafalaya Basinkeeper drives the boat while taking to the swamp to show areas where oil and gas companies have ravaged the natural ecosystem Friday April 27, 2018, near Bayou Sorrel, La.

Federal judges may support construction of the Bayou Bridge pipeline, but a St. James jurist may have thrown the brakes on construction near the structure's terminus.

The state, in issuing its permit, did not adequately consider protocol in case of an emergency that could affect a minority community along the pipeline, according to a ruling from 23rd Judicial District Judge Alvin Turner Jr. 

Bayou Bridge is an under-construction pipeline designed to carry crude oil between Lake Charles and St. James. Proponents say it's easier and safer than other transfer methods, while detractors worry about spills, especially into drinking water and environmentally-sensitive areas.

St. James residents, represented by Tulane University lawyers, sued the state Department of Natural Resources, arguing the state was negligent in issuing a permit for the project before having an approved emergency response plan in the event of an environmental catastrophe.

Judge Turner, who sided with pipeline opponents in their challenge of the DNR permit, did not return calls Monday seeking an explanation of his decision.

DNR has jurisdiction over a small portion of the pipeline near its terminus in St. James in the state's coastal zone. Elizabeth Livingston de Calderon, an attorney for Tulane's Environmental Law Clinic, said Turner's ruling should halt construction in the coastal zone, though it was unclear whether construction along the rest of the pipeline route would be affected.

DNR believes it has followed all applicable laws, said press secretary Patrick Courreges. He declined to speculate whether the department would formally contest Turner's decision. The Attorney General's office, which represented Natural Resources, did not return calls seeking comment.

Energy Transfer Partners, the lead backer of Bayou Bridge, responded to the judgment with a brief statement.

"We do not typically comment on pending or current litigation. We would like to reiterate, however, that we will continue to follow all of the stipulations of our permits, as we have always done," wrote spokeswoman Alexis Daniel.

Federal judges have wavered on whether to allow the pipeline to proceed as designed through the Atchafalaya Basin but — at last count — have given their approval over the objections of environmentalists and crawfishermen. 

Pipeline proponents argue the Bayou Bridge pipeline will allow oil to be transferred more safely and will bolster Louisiana's energy sector.

In St. James, opponents have specifically noted that the state is quick to wave through oil and gas infrastructure, as long as they're in minority communities.

Turner tangentially referenced the disparity in his decision.

"The permit application does not include an emergency response plan nor does it address potential spills that may occur after construction once the pipeline is operational. The Department of Natural Resources did not consider the potential pollution, noise and traffic in the St. James community, an area which is largely populated by African Americans," the decision states. 

Pipeline opponents were elated by Monday's announcement.

“It seems like the state agency didn’t think too much about the people who live here when it was giving Bayou Bridge this permit, and neither did Bayou Bridge. So we went to court, to somebody who we felt would listen to us, and he did," Harry Joseph, pastor of Mount Triumph Baptist Church, wrote in a statement. 


Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.