070217 Aquifer saltwater intrusion 2000.jpg

Five days after the longtime director of a Baton Rouge-area groundwater commission quit on the spot, the state regulator announced Tuesday it was seeking his replacement with help of management consulting firm Emergent Method.

Tony Duplechin, director of the Capital Area Ground Water Conservation Commission since March 2011, quit Thursday in a commission meeting as some members were pressing to have him removed.

For the past several years, the commission, which was created in the 1970s to manage the Baton Rouge region's drinking water aquifer, has been at a center of controversy as salt water has continued to migrate slowly underground and gradually threaten drinking and other water wells. 

Baton Rouge-area groundwater commission director quits on spot during a meeting

The commission is looking for a candidate with a blend of management, scientific, regulatory and public relations skills. Members are preparing to take on a more costly and science heavy phase in developing a long-term plan to balance the aquifer's use among competing interests and to maintain its overall ecology. That plan could result in new regulatory efforts, water conservation programs or even partnerships to create new water supplies and help major users get off the aquifer. 

The commissioners include state agencies but also several groundwater users — on the industrial, agricultural and public drinking water sides — who have financial interests in continued use of the aquifer.

Though Duplechin quit, some commissioners pointed out Tuesday that they have been working on finding a full-time commissioner since last year. The job description was finalized earlier on the same day Duplechin announced his departure. 

Commissioners had hoped to keep him around on a part-time basis once a new director was hired but his resignation ended that plan.

Qualifications include a requirement have a bachelor's in geology, earth science, environmental science, civil engineering and other fields or a combination of experience and education that demonstrate comparable knowledge and skills. After a push by some commissioners, the job also considers degrees in business, law, public administration or other related fields a plus, though not a requirement. Other qualifications are available online.

Commissioner Matt Reonas, who had pressed for that business management addition as a representative of the state Office of Conservation, said the commission needs "a high-level manager."

"One with great communication skills that can evaluate deficiencies and devise and implement solutions, make sound and quick decisions based on available information, and communicate the need for these decisions to commission members, interested stakeholders in the public and private sectors, and the public at large. That is my top priority in any hire," he said. 

Commissioner William Daniel, who has been critical of Duplechin's tenure and had sought last week to have him removed when a new director was hired, said he has wanted a new full time director for two years.

"So we've been planning for this. We ready for it," said Daniel, a former legislator and local government administrator.

Applications are due July 7, just three weeks away. Daniel said he expected a lot of applicants.

Nelson Morvant, who is chairman of the commission, explained that Emergent Method would vet the first round of candidates and eventually some number of finalists would be brought to full board for interviews. The commission is set to consider a motion on that point Thursday.

Morvant said he wasn't certain if those final interviews would be public; Daniel said he believed at least some portion of them would be.

Morvant, who had worked closely with Duplechin, said he didn't believe he deserved what happened last week and called the circumstances of Duplechin's resignation an "unfortunate set of circumstances."

Email David J. Mitchell at dmitchell@theadvocate.com

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.