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Opinion

Greater Degree Of Transparency Needed In St. Tammany Economic Development

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Helis Oil & Gas Company announced last week that they would not pursue the anticipated project near Lakeshore High School, President David Kerstein reiterating that Helis consistently operated above board and within the parameters allocated in keeping with the public trust.     A day after the announcement, a Lee Zurik investigation revealed that a judge ruling on the case regarding Helis Oil & Gas Company vs. St. Tammany Parish and CCST received campaign contributions in the amount of $3,000 from Helis.  While politicians receive money from any number of industries all the time, a judge receiving money from someone with a case before them more closely resembles graft or bribery than an innocent contribution, which is not consistent with keeping the public trust.

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In March of 2014, St. Tammany Economic Development Director Don Shea declared that the district had no knowledge of upcoming projects when pitching the new Development Districts to the Parish Council.   Shea stated, there’s “Nothing In The Pipeline.” Unbeknownst to the council (or not), there was “Something In The Pipeline”.  A Freedom Of Information Act Request was obtained by the local group Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany, and parish government e-mails made public revealed that, not only did the parish have prior knowledge of the Helis project, there was a concerted effort to marginalize public dissent.  The publicized e-mails also revealed disparaging remarks directed at the citizenry, possibly a contributing factor to Shea’s departure from Parish Administration.

Considering that the STEDF (St. Tammany Economic Development Foundation, the “management arm” of the Economic Development District) receives millions of tax dollar derived Go Zone Funds from the Louisiana State Bond Commission for economic development related projects, and the STEDF is listed as a 501C6 Non Profit Organization, it is very confusing how the STEDF performs the following duties without being classified as a public agency, or a “quasi-public agency”:
1) be the “managing arm” of a public body (EDD)
2) raise funds for a public body (EDD)
3) appoint three board members of a public body (EDD)
4) provide one board member of a public body (EDD)
It makes very little sense how this organization claims no accountability to the public, when it is a major component driving St. Tammany Parish economic development.

laws-are-magic
Laws Are Magic  Legislation previously discussed in CW relates to the powers held by the Economic Development District, written by Sen. Donahue (SB617) and the former Rep. Burns (HB252).  The Ethics Law Exemption written for the Economic Development District world is relative to the tax exemptions, governmental authorities and other corporate incentives granted to development districts and bond-holders.  Conflicts of interest do not exist in that world, or at least, they are identified as “exemptions”.
Parish President Pat Brister lamented on the money spent in the fracking lawsuit, stating that changing oil and gas extraction laws requires going to the State Legislature. This sentiment is appreciated, and it is one that CW echoed many times, first stated by Patrick Courreges of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources.

The St. Tammany Parish Government laid a foundation of Transparency and Accountability, but stories of bribery, conflicts of interest and public deception, all within one failed project that was presumed to happen, indicate that greater Transparency and Accountability can be achieved. Citizens should be able to understand how government works without a law degree or a Freedom of Information Act request, and the public has a right to know how its money is spent.   The reality is that all of the heartache, frustration and money wasted could have been avoided had there been a public referendum in the first place.  Considering the rich history of this parish, as well as its namesake, preservation of the beauty and mystique of this area should be paramount to corporate interest.

 

 

Opinion

Fracking No Longer A Plan For Helis

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Helis Oil and Gas Company announced earlier this week that they would not pursue their proposed project near Lakeshore High School.  The stated reason is that analysis of the sample did not indicate a profitable return.  A recent Lee Zurik investigation indicates other possible factors for their withdrawal:  discovery that one of the Justices hearing the case received campaign cash from Helis, amid rumors that other conflicts of interest were present.

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At the very least, the Helis saga indicates a need for greater transparency  with regard to the process of economic development in St. Tammany Parish.  Incidentally, Parish President Pat Brister expressed the sentiment that in order to address issues of oil and gas extraction in the parish, it must be taken to the state legislature, a concept that CW has expressed numerous times since the beginning of the fracking controversy.

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Opinion

On the Status of the American Dream

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Opinion by Timothy A. Gates, CW Correspondent

The flurry of activity from the national level to the local level in the days following the Fourth of July Holiday has produced a week of stark realities. Not to belittle lives lost or acts of treason committed by high-ranking officials, two items of note include a Federal Ruling suggesting that the Dusky Gopher Frog has more rights than citizens, and the Tammany West issued the strongest statement against Helis Oil and Gas Co. to date from a local media outlet:

“If ever there was a set of executives who cared less for a local community it will be hard to find them.  If Helis Oil officials truly cared at all for operating as a ‘good neighbor’ wherever they look for oil, they would pull up stakes today and call this endeavor quits.” – Kevin Chiri, Editor, Tammany West

the-american-dream

Lawrence Britt wrote about 14 Characteristics of Fascism in the Spring 2003 edition of “Free Inquiry” magazine*, compiled from research of past fascist regimes.  At a quick glance, this Country is running fairly strong on all 14 Characteristics. While the political theory tends to be overgeneralized and applied liberally to incite emotional response, fascist tendencies are as seemingly innocuous as the consolidation of power between Government and Corporations. The result of that consolidation is evident by economic development initiated without the consent of the governed, but funded by them; appearing subtle, with something more beneath the surface, including long-term consequences not acknowledged or even known until well after the fact.  So much for the American Dream.

Hunter_S_Thompson_caricaturaHunter S. Thompson penned a poignant sentiment about the American Dream in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” when he wrote that his search led him to the inevitable conclusion that he was actually chasing the Death of the American Dream. Thinking about it literally, maybe the American Dream never actually existed, considering that a dream is an idea or vision created in the imagination, as per Merriam Webster’s second definition of the word.

Some would even call it “programming.”

The concept that heavy industry is equivalent to a violent action against an existing environment, which in this case includes frogs, people and all other manner of life, is not so far-fetched when closely observing the results, and ultimately, someone, somewhere, is responsible.  A mere century and a half prior, things might have been settled by a duel at the Helis well-pad at high noon.  This is, admittedly, a grim prospect, but certainly a more decisive and efficient one, in a fascist kind of way.

Gopher frog (Lithobates (Rana) capito) at the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, FL. (Image ID: ANI071-00308)

Gopher frog (Lithobates (Rana) capito) at the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, FL. (Image ID: ANI071-00308)

* not to be construed as an endorsement of secular humanism

“By the sword you did your work, and by the sword you die.”

            – Aeschylus’s Agamemnon, circa 458 BCE

Opinion

Tammany West Needs To Re Evaluate Tactics

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Editorial by Timothy Achan Gates, CW Correspondent

Kevin Chiri wrote in a recent editorial that the perceived battle between St. Tammany Parish Government and CCST needed a “time out.”  First, there are no “time-outs” in debates that concern the health and safety of an entire community.  Whether one is opposed to or in favor of fracking, industrialization is an issue that is a community decision.  A democratically cherished ideal is crushed when the Parish reports to us that St. Tammany has no right to Self Determination with regard to the oil industry.
This sentiment was presented by Covington Weekly in Patrick Courrege’s (LA DNR) suggestion of Changing the Law at the State Level.  While the Parish Government feigned surprise when Helis’ public announcement was made, they sat on e-mails indicating knowledge of a plan years in advance, which were eventually made public.  The business lobbying groups just laughed, continuing to place people in office who will “do what they want.”

Chiri’s editorial goes on to moralize the situation, undoubtedly emboldened by his self-appointed position as referee between the Parish Government and a community advocacy group, relegating the whole thing to a lack of respect for authority.

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Disrespect for the Public and Democratic Principles in General is Exemplified by Public Officials and Industry Colluding to Industrialize A Community Behind the Backs of Their Constituencies. 
There is ample evidence to back the assertion that Parish Administration was aware of the Helis project well before it became public knowledge.  To pretend ignorance, then pursue a lawsuit against a sanctioned project while shaming the public about the amount of money spent on said lawsuit, is absurd.  There are several instances across the parish involving drainage litigation resulting from infringing development where the parish spends a significant amount more fighting its own constituency, as opposed to what it has spent “fighting” fracking.
Disrespect Is NBC Director Larry Rase Berating the Public Due to Their Lack of Appreciation For All  the Oil and Gas Industry Does For the Parish. 
Ironically, the Advocate recently ran a series detailing the amount of tax incentives given away, roughly 1.4 – 1.6 billion dollars, a number that basically equals Louisiana’s deficit.  Oil and Gas is a large recipient of these incentives, so the question becomes, if the Oil and Gas Industry is so beneficial to the state, why is there a budget deficit equal to tax incentives given strictly to big business, while small businesses are consistently asked to pay more and more?      Where Is The Disrespect, Again?

Email:  covweekl@gmail.com

Opinion

Hydraulic Fracturing Project Shifts Gear Into Drive

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corporations_are_not_people_protest_tshirt_mug-re602e74d12b94c60bc133bf7449275f0_x7jgp_8byvr_324Despite the fact that the property in question is not zoned appropriately for such operations, and the fact that the current ruling is under appeal, Helis Oil & Gas Company has announced that it will move a rig into place and begin drilling by the end of the month at their pad location near Lakeshore High School.  All this comes after announcing that they are scrapping some of the testing measures to which they agreed to comply with.  This suggests that Helis has no regard for the laws that are in place, no respect for the judicial process, and no concern for the safety and health of the population they wish to operate amongst.  By extension, neither does the Parish Government, despite their involvement in the lawsuit.  Below is a letter to Parish President Pat Brister from CCST’s Rick Franzo, for your consideration. –  Timothy Gates

 Attention:  Letter to Patricia Brister From Rick Franzo Regarding Helis Oil

Even while expending considerable taxpayer dollars in a legal action against the Helis Oil & Gas Company to enforce the parish’s state constitutional right to control its land use and prevent Helis from drilling in an area of land the parish has zoned residential, your administration undermines its legal action against Helis by actively allowing Helis to violate land use requirements through the company’s performance at the drill site of all manner of work activities related to its proposed hydraulic shale fracturing operation.  As a matter of public policy, your actions are financially and legally imprudent, seemingly unethical, and intellectually dishonest.
Parish residents expect you to honor the high degree of trust they have placed in you as the parish’s highest elected official.  It is imperative that you understand the specific powers and checks on the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of government.  In simplest terms, as leader of the parish’s executive branch of government, you are not authorized to make or create a land zoning ordinance, which is a responsibility reserved to the parish council, nor are you empowered to interpret the law, which is a power granted to the judiciary;  your sole responsibility is to enforce parish land zoning requirements.  If the separation of powers inherent in our system of government is still unclear to you, I suggest you read The Federalist, Essays No. 52-83, which explain the concept in precise detail.  The Federalist is a series of 85 essays by three authors –  Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay.  It is widely considered the third most important political document in American history, just behind the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution itself.  It should be required reading for you and every other St. Tammany Parish elected official.
Clearly, you cannot faithfully honor your publicly sworn fiduciary duty to protect the legal rights of parish residents while you insist on serving Helis’ rapacious financial interests.  You cannot willfully and recklessly continue to support a public policy which undermines the parish’s and CCST’s legal action against Helis, wastes taxpayer dollars and places your own political interests before the fundamental legal rights of parish residents.
In light of the foregoing, until the parish and CCST receive a definitive ruling from the Louisiana Supreme Court in the Helis matter, I call upon your office to take prompt administrative and legal action to ensure Helis ceases and desists from any work activities at its proposed hydraulic shale fracturing site.  –  Rick Franzo, President, CCST
Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany       ccstp.org

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Opinion

“Totally Awesome” Consumer Advisory by Timothy Gates, CW Correspondent

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“Most of the chemicals, if not all, have common household uses.” Charlotte Batson of Batson and Company made this statement in an interview with Don Dubuc on WWL AM 870 that took place on June 12, 2015, with regard to the Helis Oil and Gas Company’s hydraulic fracturing endeavor in Mandeville.  As ridiculous as the statement sounds, Batson is absolutely correct on this point.

totallyawesome - CopyOne such product is LA’s Totally Awesome, “as seen on TV” and making its rounds locally and cheaply.  The active ingredient of this particular “non-toxic and biodegradable” cleaner is 2-butoxyethanol.  Also the main component of Corexit (the dispersant sprayed in the Gulf after the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster), the substance is an endocrine disruptor that allows the passage of other chemicals and toxins through cell membranes.  The website claims the product is “non-toxic,” and the bottle is printed with the advice “Keep Out Of Reach Of Children” and “Warning:  Eye Irritant” with further precautions.

This may not be the most toxic fracking fluid component, as per the brief list of substances, many carcinogenic, compiled and published in a letter by local Oncologist Dr. Jay Saux, but its use as an everyday household cleaner seems excessive.  This writer has no background in endocrinology, but a basic understanding of the action of this substance should lead one to the conclusion that it can have very negative effects on biological systems.

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (1998):  “This Public Health Statement is the summary chapter from the Toxicological Profile for 2-butoxyethanol. This information is important because this substance may harm you.  The effects of exposure depend on the dose, the duration, how you are exposed, personal traits and habits, and whether other chemicals are present.”

Considering that at least one individual known to this writer has endured 8 months of detoxification and rehabilitation from exposure to Corexit after diving in the post-disaster Gulf of Mexico during clean-up and recovery, consumers may want to think twice about this super-cheap cleaner.

Contact Timothy at covweekly@gmail.com

Local News Opinion

Citizen’s Group Calls For Baseline Water Test by Timothy Gates, Correspondent

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Voices of St. Tammany, a local citizen’s advocacy group, sent out a press release last week calling for baseline water testing across St. Tammany Parish before any industrial operations begin.  The focus of the request is directed at the St. Tammany Parish Government and Helis Oil and Gas Company, the company currently preparing the well site near Hwy. 1088 in Mandeville. The statement calls for independent testing of municipal wells across the parish that reflect a variation of well depth.

Most recently, St. Tammany Parish Government posted a “Cease and Desist” notice at the well site, pending an appeal process with regard to Judge Morvant’s (Baton Rouge) April decision.  Earlier this week, Morvant ruled that an appeal of this decision could continue.  Response from Helis representatives referred to the action as “illegal” and in violation of applicable state law, stating that the project is moving forward as permitted.

Many local citizens groups with a focus on the issue of hydraulic fracturing saw the action as a victory, however small.  The decision that there is no local control over development, coupled with years of state legislation that is beneficial to select corporate interests, is a situation that needs attention from representatives and senators on a realistic level, not a rhetorical one.  Increasingly obvious is the fact that changes need to take place on the state level, a sentiment echoed to this writer over a year ago, at the very beginning of the fracking debate, by an employee of the Department of Natural Resources.

“If you can change the law at the state level, we’ll be happy to uphold it.” – Patrick Courreges, DNR

swamp-bayou-louisiana-moss-cypress-natureMayor Greg Lemons of Abita Springs, a fairly well-known name among the hydraulic fracturing opposition, is a proponent of baseline water testing across the parish, before any operations begin.  He stressed the importance of establishing what is and what is not currently in the water supply to have an accurate assessment of the effects of possible future industrial operations.  Mayor Lemons suggested that the Parish take the lead on this issue with the support of locally formed citizen’s advocacy groups, of which there are several.

Describing himself as both a buinessman and a realist, Lemons offered some personal insight into his objections to hydraulic fracturing operations.  Natural gas is burned off rather than processed at many producing sites.  It is a costlier process, both production and tax- wise, so it is often wasted instead.  Watching what is produced shipped to overseas markets, while also watching the price of the natural gas provided to the citizens of Abita rise in price, Lemons commented that from a business perspective, the results of operations do not support the rhetoric of “energy independence”, and in fact, can show the opposite effect.

Mayor Lemons says that he’s “elected to serve the people of Abita Springs, no one else.”  He also realizes this is bigger than him.  “What legacy do we want to leave our children? Pollution? Radiation? Louisiana’s delicate ecosystem is being destroyed.  That’s not an environmentalist {talking}, that’s a realist.”   Thank you, Mayor Lemons.

Note:  There was no response from Helis representatives regarding baseline testing as of this writing. Timothy Gates may be reached: 985-288-9609  or  covweekly@gmail.com

Local News Opinion

Court Decisions Reject Local Authority In Fracking Lawsuits

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I Support A Frack Free St Tammany ScreenprintDecisions from the 22nd and 19th Judicial Districts dismissed separate lawsuits from The Town of Abita Springs and St. Tammany Parish related to Hydraulic Fracturing permitting and zoning ordinances in St. Tammany Parish. According to Parish President Pat Brister, “Local decisions are always the most efficient and effective way to govern. However, the Court has ruled that State permitting laws have precedence over our local comprehensive zoning ordinances. The court has given us an answer about where State’s authority ends and where St. Tammany’s began.” – www.stpgov.org

More accurately, the ruling gives the answer that the State’s authority is inarguable, and that St. Tammany has no authority in the matter. There is no point in having a Home Rule Charter if it cannot protect the community from oppressive State laws. Months ago, a representative of the Department of Natural Resources related to this writer that they understood the concerns over hydraulic fracturing, and that if the law was changed at the state level, they would be happy to enforce it.

Helis Oil and Gas Company is from Texas and is one of the companies named in a lawsuit that Governor Jindal killed last year, against the recommendation of State Attorney General Buddy Caldwell. If this company was irresponsible enough to garner a lawsuit over coastal operations that the industry lobbied to eliminate, that casts a shadow on their credibility and reliability for future projects. The volunteers at Fracking 101 have comprehensive, substantiated information, including the 2014 report from the LA State Legislative Auditor’s Office naming all orphaned and abandoned sites in the state.

While the Parish Government accepts that they have no right to self-determination, Mandeville Mayor Villere calls a dog poop law a “Gestapo” law. People should be responsible for their own animals without more laws, and a community has a right to object to and/or bar an entity from entering said community.

The St. Tammany Libertarian PEC advocates for bills that are liberty related. How about a bill to get rid of this poor legislation that allows regulation-ignoring industries to trump the rights of tax-paying citizens that are ultimately shouldering a portion of the cost of the operations and mitigation? Even Governor Jindal has adopted the term “corporate welfare”. The Libertarians also support the Industrial Hemp Industry as a viable economic solution, just like the great state of Kentucky, home to the whiskey of which early Covington officials were so fond.

by Timothy Gates, Covington Weekly Correspondent – 985.288.9609

Local News Opinion

Identifying Misinformation & Disinformation: Using Discernment In Determining Accuracy of Information

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by Timothy Achan Gates, Covington Weekly Correspondent

Recently, the controversial issue of hydraulic fracturing has spawned a public relations campaign to soften the issue. The initial response has been analyzed, and the current effort is to marginalize the opposition and present distorted information that minimalizes or eliminates the concerns addressed. Here are some examples of PR techniques applied.

An Example Of Misinformation In A Public Relations Campaign

The Helis Oil and Gas Company’s Facebook page, St. Tammany Energy Project, contains a post of an article from NPR titled “Rediscovering Natural Gas By Hitting Rock Bottom“. The article describes the process of hydraulic fracturing as a promising method of extracting gas from shale. Unfortunately for St. Tammany Energy Project, the article is dated from September 22, 2009. Examining what NPR is currently reporting on, as in the current year of 2014, will show that the pro-oil town Denton, Texas is considering a complete moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. This illustrates the use of misinformation simply by using older, outdated information from a reputable source, refuted by its own reporting years later.

An Example Of Disinformation In A Public Relations Campaign

“One hundred percent, fracking is safe,” declared Chris Faulkner, oil industry expert and CEO of Breitling Energy, on WWL TV. There is very little industry, much less fracking operations, that can truthfully be called 100% safe. Covington’s own Dr. Jay Saux, an oncologist based in St. Tammany Parish, issued a list of the 25 most toxic of more than 750 chemicals used in fracking fluid. A secondary list contains 34 toxic substances detected in water where fracking and shale development has occurred. Current reports indicate that oilfield deaths have risen with the proliferation of fracking, and well worker deaths have occurred simply from exposure to fracking fluids. This blatant example of disinformation is irresponsible to those concerned for their safety and the safety of their families. It is disrespectful to those who have been injured, lost lives or otherwise negatively effected by these operations, which are clearly not 100% safe.

Timothy Achan Gates is a local musician and writer. Contact by phone is 985-288-9609 or e-mail at codexproventus@gmail.com

Sources:

NPR.org – Why a Texas City May Ban Fracking

St. Tammany Dr. Jay Saux Commentary on Fracking

NPR.org – On-The-Job Deaths Spiking As Oil Drilling Quickly Expands 

Bloomberg.com – Oilfield Deaths Spur Safety Agency to Study Fracking

Cornell study – Hydrofracking Killing Farm Animals