Flood board member says farewell

CHALMETTE (AP) — Author John Barry gave a brief farewell speech Thursday to the flood board he has served on since 2007, anticipating his ouster by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration because of a lawsuit the board has filed against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies over the erosion of wetlands.

“This could be my last meeting,” Barry said during a meeting of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East.

Barry praised the work of the board, which oversees three New Orleans-area levee districts.

“As you know I’m a historian, and I don’t believe history happens. People make history,” said Barry, author of an award-winning book, “Rising Tide,” on the great Mississippi River flood of 1927. “I think this board has really made an effort to make history — and I’m not just talking about the lawsuit.”

The board was created amid numerous other government overhauls after the levee failures of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and was designed to isolate members with knowledge and expertise in flood-related matters from political pressures.

But it has been thoroughly enmeshed in politics since July, when it filed the lawsuit.

The suit alleges that the oil and gas industry has cost Louisiana hundreds of thousands of acres of coastal land that serve as a natural buffer against flooding from hurricanes. Corrosive saltwater from a network of oil and gas access and pipeline canals has killed vegetation and swept away vast amounts of soil, the suit claims.

Jindal’s coastal protection chief, Garret Graves, said last week that the governor will not re-appoint Barry or board president Tim Doody, an attorney, because of the lawsuit. The terms of both have expired, along with a third member, meteorologist Dave Barnes.

Barnes isn’t seeking to return. Doody and Barry have applied to return but the Jindal administration has made it clear that it will not re-appoint them, even if they are among nominees put forward by a committee of representatives from good government groups, science and engineering societies and academia. The panel’s list is expected in early October.

The lawsuit was filed in state court in New Orleans in July and has since been moved to federal court. Jindal has repeatedly called it a windfall for trial lawyers. And Graves has said the SLFPAE exceeded its authority by filing the lawsuit. He also said the suit endangers cooperative ventures the state has undertaken with oil companies to save the coast.

The nine-member board approved the lawsuit without objection, although Doody has not voted on it, saying there is a potential conflict of interest because lawyers from the firm he works for could become involved in the case.

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