Ousted Flood Authority Member Launches Nonprofit to Support Lawsuit

“Keep your word, obey the law and take responsibility for your actions.” John barry, president of Restore Louisiana Now

November 23, 2013

Advocates for the East Bank levee authority’s suit against oil and gas companies on Tuesday officially launched a nonprofit group aimed at blocking possible legislative interference with the suit and shoring up support for other similar efforts.

The new group, Restore Louisiana Now, primarily will focus on holding energy companies accountable for widespread damage to coastal wetlands caused by oil and gas exploration, said former Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority — East Commissioner John Barry, the group’s president.

The message to those companies is, “Keep your word, obey the law and take responsibility for your actions,” Barry said at a news conference announcing the group’s launch.

The nonprofit’s first goal will be defending the flood protection authority’s lawsuit — which seeks billions of dollars from energy companies for activities that allegedly destroyed coastal wetlands in the New Orleans area — from any attempt by lawmakers to kill it.

The group will use both direct conversations with legislators and more general efforts through social media and other forms of advertising intended to raise awareness and create grass-roots support for the cause, Barry said.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration and some state lawmakers have blasted the lawsuit since it was filed in July. The administration recently replaced Barry and two other commissioners who supported the suit with new members who oppose it, though there still appears to be majority support for the suit on the board.

Administration and industry officials also have suggested the Legislature will try to stop the suit when it convenes next year.

Barry said it should be up to the courts to decide the fate of the suit and that an attempt to block it is “not how government is supposed to work.”

The first funds received by the group, including a donation from Barry himself, went toward a poll by Silas Lee and Associates that surveyed residents of south Louisiana parishes about the suit and the oil and gas industry.

The group did not release detailed information about the poll Tuesday, but it provided selected results indicating that wide majorities of residents are concerned about coastal land loss and support efforts to make oil and gas companies pay for any damage they caused.

Walter Williams, a board member of Restore Louisiana Now who has made films about coastal land loss, said the concept behind the levee authority’s suit is one that wide swaths of people should be able to agree with: “If my neighbor breaks my fence, he should have to pay to fix it,” Williams said.

The nonprofit group’s founding board also includes retired New Orleans Criminal District Judge Calvin Johnson and P&J Oyster Co. President Al Sunseri, who also has served as head of the Louisiana Oyster Dealers and Growers Association and is on the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Coastal Protection, Restoration and Conservation.

The new group also will back other legal efforts aimed at making the energy industry pay for coastal damage, including a set of more than two dozen lawsuits filed last week by Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes. “We support any suit designed to hold the companies accountable,” Barry said.

Barry has remained an active supporter of the lawsuit since he was ousted from the levee authority, remaining in contact with the lawyers working on the case. He also is scheduled to give a presentation on the case to the authority on Thursday.

Restore Louisiana Now is not directly tied to the attorneys handling the case, though Barry said he expects the group will support their efforts financially.

He said he is not being paid by either Restore Louisiana Now or the lawyers representing the flood protection authority.

Though prohibited from political activities when he was a member of the levee authority, Barry said he is now free to campaign for the suit.

He also held out hope the pending cases against oil and gas companies could spur the industry to agree to a global settlement encompassing the whole state before any of the suits go to trial.