12xx16 Bayou Bridge Pipeline

As they quarrel with state regulators and company officials over whether Bayou Bridge is being constructed legally in St. James Parish, environmentalists are trying to drag the local District Attorney's Office into the fray. 

However, DA Ricky Babin has let it be known that he's not interested in getting into the middle of the pipeline battle.

Last month, 23rd Judicial District Judge Alvin Turner said the state erred when it issued a permit to Bayou Bridge. DNR did not adequately consider protocol in case of a pipeline emergency that could affect residents who live along the pipeline route, he wrote in his judgement.

Looming over the arguments, and addressed in Turner's remarks, is that the St. James community is predominantly black and feels the company and state are taking advantage of them.

Locals and environmentalists cheered the decision, but they didn't celebrate long. Pipeline construction has continued, causing continued strife between the two sides on the controversial pipeline project.

Bayou Bridge is an under-construction 163-mile crude oil pipeline from Lake Charles to St. James. DNR has jurisdiction over about 17 miles of the pipeline route that runs through the coastal zone of St. James Parish, including the terminal.

DNR has appealed Turner's decision, though no appeal date has been set.

"Our folks did right when they issued the permit," DNR spokesman Patrick Courreges said.

Until the appeal is settled, the state has no standing to stop the pipeline company's work, and DNR considers Turner's judgment to be on hold, Courreges continued.

However, the conservation groups contest that and contend that the work must halt.

"They do not have a permit. The permit they are constructing under now is invalid and illegal," said Misha Mitchell, attorney for the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper.

To that end, she has asked Babin, the District Attorney for the 23rd Judicial District, to step in and take action. Louisiana DAs have special authority to bring injunctions against people who alter the coastal zone without appropriate permitting, she wrote in a letter.

Babin did not return a request for comment. Mitchell said she hasn't heard back either, but said some of the local plaintiffs in the case spoke to Babin and reported back to her that the DA was uninterested in entering the fracas.

Pipeline builders, meanwhile, have maintained that they are operating fully within their rights.

"Contrary to what is falsely being said by those who oppose the project, our construction is in compliance with the law," the company wrote in a statement.

"Our construction activities have been and will continue to adhere to the stipulations of our permits. Our commitment to the safe construction and operation of this pipeline remains a top priority."

They pointed to a June 1 letter written by DNR's legal staff. It says the state "neither has cause nor a defensible legal position to issue and cease and desist order."

DNR, Bayou Bridge and the environmentalists will all appear before Turner again on July 3 to determine whether construction should be suspended while the state appeals.

Mitchell said she feared that it may be a moot point by then, since construction is proceeding so quickly. Lisa Jordan, of the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, represents St. James residents.

In a May 18 letter, she wrote Bayou Bridge that her clients continued to see pipeline construction in areas that might interfere with a future evacuation route.

Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.