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Wednesday, April 24, 2019



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Officials clash over pump station work

Officials clash over pump station work


A series of testy emails were exchanged between the Lafourche Parish president and district attorney last week over the ongoing Cyprien Pump Station project.

In a letter to District Attorney Kristine Russell and the Parish Council, Parish President Jimmy Cantrelle said contractors attempted to cut an old pipeline on the property last Monday when alarms for explosive chemicals went off and workers “scrambled out of the pit to safety.”

The pipeline is the last remaining obstacle for contractors to tackle in building the new pump station.

There have been various disputes, letters, emails, public comments and proposals between the administration, council and DA over finishing this five-year project in recent weeks.

“I think that this whole situation was manipulated and exploited for political use against me and my team,” Cantrelle said. “However, I am committed to doing what is best for the people of Lafourche Parish and I am not interested in exploiting this failure.”

He is seeking re-election this fall.

Russell was quick to respond.

“While I appreciate your flair for the dramatic, I take issue with your assertion that this ‘whole situation’ was manipulated and exploited for political use against ‘you and your team,’” she said.

Russell, as the parish’s legal advisor, was called in by the council to advise on the project when negotiations with the pipeline’s owner, Billy Clay, stalled.

The penalty line

The pipeline has been the latest hiccup in finishing the multi-million dollar pump station in Raceland. According to the administration, the pipe sits on a parish right-of-way, and needs to be removed before the new pump station can be installed.

The administration has said delays in the project could cost the parish up to $8,000 per day in penalties from the contractor, SeaLevel Construction.

According to Public Works Director James Barnes, the penalty is “calculated for delays that are the responsibility of the LPG (OWNER) and are determined by the amount of the contract price divided by the number of days, i.e. $2,296,574.00/365,” parish Risk Manager Brent Abadie said in an email.

The Public Works Department, as the manager over the project, has estimated that penalty to be roughly $8,000 per day, he said.

The Courier and Daily Comet calculations estimate the penalty would be closer to $6,292 per day.

Abadie said he could not speculate if the described “penalty” was a true penalty assessed to the parish on top of the contract price without viewing the full contract.

A full copy of the parish’s contract with SeaLevel was not available, and only an abbreviated version of the contract was presented to The Courier and Daily Comet after a previous request.

The last obstacle

Previous negotiations to have Clay remove the line on his own were unsuccessful until last month when the administration presented an agreement.

The council approved the agreement with Clay, stating the two parties would split the costs of pigging and flushing the pipeline, about $10,000 each, before the contractor would remove it.

The council rejected an earlier bid for a private company, Blue Fin, to pig and flush the line, due to legal concerns.

In Cantrelle’s email, he asked the council and district attorney to “immediately transmit to Billy Clay a Notice of Default. He and Stranco/Ramco refused to provide proper documentation of the pigging and safe abandonment of the pipeline, and now I suspect that he did not even perform that work at all.”

Shut down

Cantrelle said construction was shut down last Monday and the parish is incurring penalties.

Russell claimed otherwise.

“It is my understanding that this project HAS NOT been halted and we ARE NOT incurring penalties,” she said.

Crews with ES&H, an environmental emergency response company, returned to the site last Tuesday morning and deemed the project safe to continue, Russell said.

At Tuesday’s (Mar. 12) Parish Council meeting, James Barnes said parish workers were planning to revisit the site and evaluate the situation. Cantrelle did not attend the meeting.

Cantrelle also claimed that the council’s rejection of the private bid led to these issues. At the same meeting the council approved the agreement with Clay, a second bid from Blue Fin was pulled from the agenda.

“Mr. Abadie had requested that the council approve the Blue Fin contract as a back-up in the event of a problem,” Cantrelle said.

That request wasn’t made publicly during the council meeting.

Who has the gavel

Last Tuesday, Cantrelle said he would now refrain “from interfering with the DA and the Council in your attempts to deal with this situation.”

He went on to offer his help and the help of Abadie, who is another source of contention between the three groups.

In the initial email, Cantrelle said Abadie reviewed the work order for removing the pipeline ahead of construction and was “very concerned that the work was not done correctly or according to proper industry and safety standards.”

Yet, the project continued with apparent warnings from Abadie to “exercise certain safety precautions” and with the parish Hazardous Materials staff on site.

“It is my hope that for the remainder of your current term of office, you will refrain from acting on legal advice from someone who has neither the authority nor the expertise to provide legal services on behalf of the Parish,” Russell said, referring to the role Abadie has continued to play in the administration.

Abadie is a practicing attorney, but he has not been hired in any official legal role for the parish.

The District Attorney’s Office, under Russell and predecessor Cam Morvant, has expressed concerns over Cantrelle relying on or using the legal advice of Abadie in making parish decisions.

“I want to be clear: I have neither the duty nor the desire to micromanage the Parish President. I cannot prevent you from consulting with whomever you wish on Parish matters. I cannot prevent you from acting on any advice you receive. However, you should be cognizant of the fact that if you choose to consult with and accept advice of a legal nature from anyone other than the Parish’s statutory legal advisor, you do so at your own peril,” Russell said.

Russell is the parish’s sole legal adviser.

-- Daily Comet Staff Writer Julia Arenstam can be reached at 448-7636 or julia.arenstam@houmatoday.com. Follow her on Twitter at @JuliaArenstam.