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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

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Lafourche to hire special counsel to investigate coastal use permits

Lafourche to hire special counsel to investigate coastal use permits

Parish President says Lafourche has no intention of filing suit against oil companies


The Lafourche Parish Council met Tuesday and unanimously passed a resolution to hire the Block Law Firm “for legal services concerning Coastal Use Permits.”

Parish President Jimmy Cantrelle said he has been advised by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry to take this step in order to gain a “seat at the table” if any settlement is made with the oil and gas industry over damage done to Lafourche and other coastal parishes by misuse of these permits.

The Coastal Use Permit process protects the state’s valuable coastal resources by making certain that any digging or dredging is done in accordance with strict environmental guidelines established by the state.

While Cantrelle and Jerald Block of the Block Law Firm made it clear that Lafourche is not filing suit against oil and gas companies, they said the parish needs to join into the process with the state, or forfeit potential monetary awards.

“What the attorney general asked is to have somebody be at the table and monitor the damages in Lafourche Parish,” Cantrelle said. “We probably have 60 percent of all the coastal permits, more than all the other parishes. So we’re going to monitor them and we’re going to give them a figure.”

“We will be looking into it so that if there is some sort of settlement, we will get our share. We can’t sacrifice the millions we might get,” said Jerald Block, representing the Block Firm and speaking on behalf of the parish.

In March, The Advocate reported that Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry is “seeking to assume control of nearly 40 lawsuits filed by three parishes (Jefferson, Plaquemine, Cameron) that allege oil and gas companies violated their permits and caused significant damage to coastal properties.”

Block said the litigation could result in a large monetary outcome, between one million and ten million dollars.

He said other parishes -- Terrebonne, St. Mary, St. Bernard and St. Martin parishes -- have hired their own lawyers as well.

Councilman Jerry Lafont was wary that participating in a lawsuit would be costly to Lafourche as oil companies would move out of the parish and the state.

“Lafourche Parish depends on the oilfield,” Lafont said. “What’s going to be the ramification if we file suit against the oil companies? If they are going to pull out of Lafourche Parish, we’re going to lose millions. Is it worth suing versus losing our economic engine in Port Fourchon?”

In a press release following the council meeting, Cantrelle reiterated his promise that Lafourche will not file any suit with the oil and gas industry.

Said Cantrelle: “I would like to make it clear that Lafourche Parish has no intention of filing suit against any oil company. We have never considered joining or filing a lawsuit. The council was simply asked to retain legal representation to assist in quantifying potential damages the parish may have incurred through coastal use permits and activities associated with them. The parish needs to preserve its rights should the State of Louisiana bring forward some sort of settlement with the energy industry and retaining counsel allows us to preserve those rights.”

Note: The Louisiana coast has been reshaped over the last several decades by the loss of its wetlands. Since the 1930’s the state has lost nearly 2,000 square miles of land and it is estimated that $50 billion would be needed to repair it.