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Coastal News Roundup: So Many Lawsuits

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Jonathan Henderson
/
VanishingEarth.org/SouthWings.org
An oily sheen as seen from a plane in March 2019. An oil well owned by Taylor was damaged in 2004 and has been leaking ever since. Taylor disagrees with the Coast Guard about how much oil has leaked since 2004.

This week on the Coastal News Roundup: the hotly contested Bayou Bridge Pipeline is finally complete. Plus, an update on two environmental lawsuits.

WWNO’s Travis Lux got all the details from Sara Sneath, environment reporter for NOLA.com | The Times Picayune.

Q: The companies behind the controversial Bayou Bridge Pipeline announced this week that the pipeline is finished, and will start moving crude oil from Lake Charles to St. James on Monday, April 1st. The project has faced years of pushback -- from protests in the swamp, to felony arrests and several lawsuits. Is this the end of the Bayou Bridge story?

Well, a couple of those lawsuits are still active. For example, one has to do with landowners who didn’t want the pipeline on their land. Another that has to do with how construction permits were approved. It’s hard to predict what might come from those. It could be nothing, it could be money for damages -- but it probably won’t mean putting any stops to the pipeline at this point.

Q: A damaged oil platform has been leaking oil in the Gulf of Mexico for about 15 years. There’s been debate about how much has leaked and where it’s coming from. There are different theories about what’s going on, and different estimates about how much has leaked from the Coast Guard, researchers, and the oil company -- Taylor Energy. Taylor filed a lawsuit against the Coast Guard, but now a local environmental group has filed an intervention in that suit -- what does that do?

Right, Taylor Energy sued the Coast Guard for taking over part of the containment effort. Now, Gulf Restoration Network, which just changed its name to Healthy Gulf, has filed to intervene in the lawsuit. They say that their goal is to support the Coast Guard in getting this leak plugged once and for all.

Q: What does it mean to be an “intervenor”?

It’s a way within the legal system for a third party to get involved with a case that they have a vested interest in. So, Healthy Gulf says that it’s within their mission statement to protect the Gulf of Mexico and by intervening in the case they would be able to file briefs asking the judge to pay attention to the environmental issues they’re concerned about.

Q: The coast guard has hired a contractor to try to plug the well. There are boats out there and people working to plug it. Any idea what kind of progress they’re making?

Yes, the company that’s doing the work -- the Couvillion Group -- says it’s getting closer. It’s installing something that is supposed to trap the leaking oil, and says that should be done within the next couple weeks.

In the meantime, Taylor has sued the Couvillion Group, too. Taylor says the oil has gotten worse since the company started to fix the leak.

Q: We’ve got one more lawsuit to cover. Last year, residents in the Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans filed a lawsuit against the city over the fact that their homes were built on top of an old landfill. Remind us what the lawsuit is about.

Residents of Gordon Plaza, which was built on top of an old landfill, sued the city and Mitch Landrieu last year when Landrieu was still the mayor. The residents claim that they were not told that the housing development was built on top of a landfill and that by living there their health is at risk. Their goal of the lawsuit is to be relocated.

Q: And so what’s the latest with the lawsuit? Any big developments?

There have not been any big decisions yet, just some minor movements. The lawsuit has been transferred to the Cantrell administration.

Q: They’re arguing over legalistic definitions and that kind of thing right now.

Right. The judge is still reviewing the information that both sides have presented, but the residents are telling me they’re going to stick with it. They’re not sure about the timeline, but they’re in it for the long haul.

Support for the Coastal Desk comes from the Walton Family Foundation, the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Foundation for Louisiana, and local listeners.

As Coastal Reporter, Travis Lux covers flood protection, coastal restoration, infrastructure, the energy and seafood industries, and the environment. In this role he's reported on everything from pipeline protests in the Atchafalaya swamp, to how shrimpers cope with low prices. He had a big hand in producing the series, New Orleans: Ready Or Not?, which examined how prepared New Orleans is for a future with more extreme weather. In 2017, Travis co-produced two episodes of TriPod: New Orleans at 300 examining New Orleans' historic efforts at flood protection. One episode, NOLA vs Nature: The Other Biggest Flood in New Orleans History, was recognized with awards from the Public Radio News Directors and the New Orleans Press Club. His stories often find a wider audience on national programs, too, like NPR's Morning Edition, WBUR's Here and Now, and WHYY's The Pulse.

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