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Identifying Dark Money in St. Tammany

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For nearly two years, Covington Weekly chronicled the hydraulic fracturing saga in St. Tammany Parish, focusing on the economic development aspect of the issue.  What was most puzzling was how projects that are public (receiving a portion of public funding) are not accountable to the public, nor is public input evaluated.  Even more confusing was the fact that The Tammany West Chamber of Commerce responded to our first article on behalf of Larry Rase (Director of the Northshore Business Council at the time) and DonahueFavret Contractors, followed by a crafted response from Don Shea, the St. Tammany Parish Director of Economic Development at the time.
In effect, our first article on how economic development occurs in St. Tammany Parish drew the ire of the private business community, who tasked the Chamber with confronting this writer.  The Parish then stepped in to issue an official response that was printed the following week.  Ironically, the overall response to the CW article perfectly underscored and reinforced the concept of a hierarchy of organizations, all concerned that this writer was suggesting the very behaviors they were exhibiting.
The concept of Dark Money has always been around, but the term was coined specifically to describe a transition of campaign funding methods from traditional Political Action Committees to 501c4 and 501c6 private, non-profit organizations that are not required to disclose financial activity.

The book “Dark Money:  The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right” by Jane Mayer details this concept, and the issue is also addressed on the website citizenvox.org in a recent article, “Exposing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:  GOP Dark Money Machine”.  The following paragraph is excerpted from  their website:
“The Chamber, like other groups organized under section 501(c) of the tax code, is not legally required to disclose the sources of the money it independently spends on elections.  It and other dark money groups can serve as conduits for anonymous donations from corporations and other wealthy special interests to flood elections, making it particularly dangerous to democracy.”

The basic threat to the democratic process is the main issue that Covington Weekly has addressed with regard to economic development in St. Tammany Parish, and the groups that took issue with the CW Economic Development Series are the same groups described as Dark Money groups for the purposes of this article.

From the Center for Responsive Politics, “spending by organizations that do not disclose their donors has increased from less than $5.2 million in 2006 to well over $300 million in the 2012 presidential cycle and more than $174 million in the 2014 midterms.” This could easily explain how an incumbent parish president had a quarter of a million dollars in campaign funds while the closest challenger had a mere $5 thousand.

The identification of methods used to subvert democratic principles with money is necessary in order to effectively change such practices. In the political world, money does not represent people nor does it equal free speech; it represents the oligarchy that this Country was escaping from to begin with.

Timothy Achan Gates       985-288-9609   covweekly@gmail.com

 

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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Local News Opinion

5 Reasons Karen Champagne Might Be A Good St. Tammany Parish President

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By Timothy Achan Gates, Correspondent

Karen Treadway Champagne is challenging Pat Brister for Parish President in this coming October election. Karen is active in lobbying efforts at the state level with a focus on individual liberties and constitutional action/remedy. Recognizing the need for oversight of corporate influence on legislative activity, Karen co-founded The People, LLC in order to address issues of civil and personal liberty.  The following are five reasons why Karen Champagne might make a good parish president of St. Tammany.
1. Champagne understands what is happening.
In June of 2014, Covington Weekly published How The EDF Can Operate Outside Of State Ethics Laws, detailing legislative maneuvering inconsistent with constitutional law. As the legislative session was happening, Champagne was in Baton Rouge, actively working to convince LA Rep. Tim Burns to pull the bill. Angela Alef recounts: ‘Burns laughed and responded, I’m not pulling that bill.’
2. Champagne would like to do better things with your money. After taking some heat for her stance on fracking, Champagne claims misquotation in a local paper with regard to this issue, in which she was quoted that she would not fight to keep it out. She has released a video clarifying that the issue resides at the state level, and she would not use tax dollars to fight fracking at the parish level. Conversely, her stance on representational and limited government would indicate that Champagne is not in agreement with business dealings pursued by St. Tammany Parish that occur outside of public knowledge.
3. Champagne is already working for the people.
Champagne formed The People, LLC along with Angela Alef in 2010 as a lobbying force in Baton Rouge. Their blog contains a list of legislative action influenced by The People, LLC (thepeoplellc.weebly.com).

The People, LLC

The People, LLC

At karenchampagneforparishpres.blogspot.com:
“I co-founded The People, LLC. This way, I could answer the question that most lawmakers wanted to know before they would speak to me. They would ask, Who are you with? I could then answer, The People.”
4. Champagne is responsive to the increasingly difficult situation of small business. From her campaign website: “I have first-hand knowledge of the endless regulations and the taxes and fees that go along with them; as well as, how they negatively affect a businesss ability to stay afloat, expand, or even get off the ground. The cycle of investing our tax dollars into businesses from outside of St. Tammany must stop and returning tax dollars to the homegrown business owners in the form of decreased regulation, reduced taxes and fees must start.” Karen Champagne
5. Champagne’s disillusionment with the action of the local Republican leadership is refreshing. While the concept of partisanship does an excellent job of maintaining a polarized voting base, it is increasingly clear that corruption is found rampant in both parties. In order to address the problems successfully, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Libertarians, Socialists, Greens and everything in between will need to work together in order to restore local and regional government to something more in line with what was originally intended, with Liberty and Justice For All People, regardless of familial relationship, socio-economic or corporate status.
Contact Timothy Gates: covweekly@gmail.com

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

Opinion

Continuing Adventures of Tammany J. Frog by Timothy Achan Gates, Correspondent

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Mark Twain“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”  This saying is attributed to the infamous lower mid-western writer, Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens).  While there is no direct evidence that Twain spoke or wrote this phrase, there was a direct experience that illustrated the concept with regard to Twain’s short story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”.

Upon learning of an ancient Greek story that mirrored his own, Twain wrote,  “no occurrence is sole and solitary, but is merely a repetition of a thing which has happened before, and perhaps often…”  The alleged “Greek” version, presented by a Professor Sidgwick of England, actually was Twain’s jumping frog story, included in a textbook for students learning to translate English texts into Greek.

English papers reproved Sidgwick for his omission, but he maintained his innocence, believing that the story was so well known that formal mention of it was unnecessary.  Sidgwick personally related this to Twain in England around the turn of the century (1900), but still failed to acknowledge Twain in later editions of his textbook.

Illustration “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” by Mark Twain  -- thepinetree.net

Illustration for “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” by Mark Twain — thepinetree.net

Twain is marked for his humorous and satirical work, the jumping frog swindle in particular.  Lesser known is that he was highly critical of imperialistic political motivation, as well as a supporter of abolitionism.  The following passage shares insight into Twain’s political philosophy:

“Why is it right that there is not a fairer division of the spoil all around? Because laws and constitutions have ordered otherwise. Then it follows that laws and constitutions should change around and say there shall be a more nearly equal division.”

This quote is reminiscent of ideology within national scale social movements like “Occupy Wall Street” and the efforts to bring accountability to the “too big to fail” banks.  If one considers that the etymology of {the word} government is to control the mind, and that the economic system of capitalism was developed specifically with the interest of members of society already owning capital, there is no need to search for obscure and problematic conspiracy theories, because the facts are there for all to see.  The constructs are tactics of division that are used to the advantage of the control structure.  If there ever was a truly “free” market, this Great Experiment would likely look much different than it does currently, filled with problematic conflicts of interest, favored contracts, cronyism, and the use of public monies for anything besides what is in the public’s interest.  When used in the context of the proletariat, the term socialism receives venomous criticism; when it relates to aristocracy, it is understood to be a privileged given.

Tammany J Frog

Tammany J Frog

Unfettered by a belly full of buckshot, Tammany J. Frog continues to hop around the parish.  Tammany J. Frog was introduced by Covington Weekly in December of last year as a light-hearted symbol representing the operation of economic development in St. Tammany Parish, and because those who question Hydraulic Fracturing were referred to as loonies. Now, it’s Christmas in July as Helis Oil & Gas Company begins to prepare their exploratory well near Lakeshore High School.   The Parish administration plays at listening to the public while reviewing grant money, writing private bonds (the details are not disclosed to the public) and declaring exemptions and incentives to friendly neighborhood corporations and developers, while small business owners struggle to pay their bills and taxes with little relief.

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occuprint.org

No real operational difference exists between social welfare and corporate welfare; they both fall within the definition of socialism, and they are both forced sharing.  Time will tell what St. Tammany Parish’s historic rhyme sounds like.

Timothy Achan Gates is a local writer and musician. Contact: codexproventus@gmail.com.

Opinion

The Obfuscation Of Economic Development by Timothy Achan Gates, Correspondent

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The process of economic development in St. Tammany Parish is an intricate web consisting of subdivisions of the state upon subdivisions of the state stretched delicately above a swamp of similar personages, all occupying key positions in multiple inter-governmental organizations with legislative influence. Covington Weekly has explored the legitimacy of such a structure previously with some public support, but ultimately without redress.

The reason for confusing the process to such a mind-boggling degree is simple: none of it matters to the real issue. It is legal maneuvering to disguise unlawful actions performed legally through ordinance and act after ordinance and act. The real issue is that no one is paying enough attention to history.

Statue of Tamanend

Chief Tamanend, St. Tammany Parish’s namesake.
Statue of Tamanend in Philadelphia

St. Tammany Parish is named after Chief Tamanend, who was neither a Saint or a Native of this area. Tamanend achieved his “affable” status for his role as a diplomat, establishing peace between natives and settlers of the earliest colonies in our Great Country. The influence of his legacy was such that Tammany Day replaced May Day (May 1st) and Tammany Societies formed throughout the colonies. One particular group, the “Sons of Tammany”, is thought to be a predecessor to the “Sons of Liberty”, who were influential in the groundswell leading up the American Revolution. From this historical perspective, the name St. Tammany connotes to this writer the ideas of peaceful relations and liberty (but not without fatigue).

NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION

This phrase became the rallying call of the American Revolution, as the colonists refused to pay taxes without representation in Parliament. The irony of the current situation is that nearly three hundred years later, things have come full circle as history continues to repeat itself. With regard to fracking, the public is paying for unwanted development, and they will pay even more after the fact. There is very little representation on the Parish level, save Councilman Jacob Groby, who publicly exhibits critical thinking skills. There is obviously no representation on the State level, as we are told by the Parish that we don’t have a right to self determination. Because public funds are used in the structuring of bonds related to the operations and land associated with usage, combined with the generous incentives and credits afforded to the industry, the current situation does constitute an authentic example of Taxation Without Representation, at least from a layman’s perspective. Although recent court rulings indicated that St. Tammany does not have a right to self determination through the Home Rule Charter, those decisions do not mean that an Inherent Right to Self Determination does not exist, because it does, and the discussion will continue until it is recognized by the Courts.

This writer was provided the opportunity to speak with Charlotte Batson by phone, Helis’ newest Public Relations professional, with regard to the radio interview hosted by Don Dubuc on WWL AM 870 last week. Curiosity stemmed from the comment regarding armed security at the work site, and Batson made assurances that there were no incidents or threats, and the guards are off-duty Sheriff’s Deputies paid by Helis, strictly for safety purposes (safety of site workers and the public).

Image of the on-going sinkhole in Bayou Corne, Louisiana

Image of the on-going sinkhole in Bayou Corne, Louisiana

Two erroneous statements (propaganda) made in the radio program not discussed during the phone call, are “there are strict regulations” (mentioned several times) and “industry operations have been going on for many years in Louisiana with no negative effects” (paraphrase). Unfortunately for the second comment, BP’s Deepwater Horizon Disaster had a decidedly negative impact on this state, and the Bayou Corne sinkhole continues to grow. To the former statement, fracking is specifically exempted from many federal regulations thanks to the infamous “Halliburton Loophole”.

The conclusion presented implies that the situation is not as cut and dry as a simple issue of economic development. The public is being forced to accept an operation of secret and highly questionable technology whose negative social and environmental impacts, by the industry’s estimation, are far outweighed by the long term benefits. (Whose?) As for the long term detriments? Just ask Pennsylvania, home to Tamanend, as Thomas Paine rolls in his grave.

Timothy Gates may be reached at 985-288-9609 or by emailing codexproventus@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

General Local News Opinion

Local Volunteers Host Fracking 101 – Educating the Public on Hydraulic Fracturing

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Large turnout for informational meeting held at Castine Center in Mandeville

Large turnout for informational meeting held at Castine Center in Mandeville – photo by Chelsea Cochrane

Since late April or early May, one could say that “frack” has become a four-letter word in St. Tammany. Of course, it actually has five letters and the word is the crass short name for the process of hydraulic fracturing, which we are told has been practiced safely for over 60 years. In fact, it was invented by Halliburton, the company responsible for the concrete sleeve that failed at the BP offshore platform, Deepwater Horizon. With litigation ongoing from that incident, it is not difficult to imagine a skeptical public, dismissive of reassurances from the Parish and the operators (in this case, Helis Oil and Gas Co.) that safety is of utmost importance with regard to onshore operations. The citizens of St. Tammany have consistently attended public discussions of the proposed operations for the last several months, resulting in standing room crowds at various forums and council meetings. In response to a genuine need for substantive information, a small group of dedicated volunteers have secured a location in downtown Covington to help educate the public on issues raised by hydraulic fracturing.

Emma Cuppay, 90 years old, at information meeting with sign

Emma Cuppay, 90 years old, at information meeting with sign – photo by Chelsea Cochrane

Fracking 101 is located in the Frederick Building right next to Shop Soul Boutique on Boston Street. You will find current documentation regarding social, environmental and health impacts of hydraulic fracturing from current and past operations across the nation. There was no scientific basis for objection for many years, mainly because no studies existed, and the industry was exempt from regulatory agencies thanks to the “Halliburton Loophole.” The amount of information available today is both staggering and conclusive, and the kind folks at Fracking 101 have put it all together for you to view. Contrary to media coverage that has a tendency to marginalize those opposed to fracking, the opposition consists of caring and dedicated citizens of various professional backgrounds who are weary of being mislead by their local governments and lobbying groups.

Young girl with sign at press conference in Abita Springs

Young girl with sign at press conference in Abita Springs – photo by Chelsea Cochrane

Private groups like the Northshore Business Council regurgitate numbers with regard to the Oil and Gas Industry’s contribution to the region, while neglecting the growing disillusionment of corporate welfare. Also ignored are the problems that arise from food and medicine that is intertwined with the petrochemical industry, with the taxpayer ultimately paying the price. In fact, the Louisiana State Legislative Auditor’s Office recently issued a report highlighting the inadequacy of the very agency that supposedly regulates the industry (and just so happens to issue the permits for operators), the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources and Office of Conservation, offering no less than 20 separate recommendations for improvement. That is just one of the many documents available at Fracking 101. Learn more at fracking-101.webs.com. Timothy Gates is a musican and correspondant for Covington Weekly. Photos by Chelsea Cochrane. covweekly@media9productions.com

Woman holds up sign at parish council meeting

Woman holds up sign at parish council meeting – photo by Chelsea Cochrane

 

 

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

Local News

Permits Pending to Withdraw Water from Scenic Rivers for Use in Fracking

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Sierra Club Foundation logoThe Sierra Club Louisiana Delta Chapter has generated a letter to be used as a model letter in addressing concerns to Louisiana Wildlife & Fisheries, who have received various permit applications for withdrawal of water from our local rivers for use in hydraulic fracturing. Two of these permits, numbers 902 and 903 submitted by Comstock Resorces Inc., have a comment period deadline of this weekend, July 18th & 20th. The letter, which specifies these two permits, addresses concerns with water withdrawal and with possible contamination of waterways caused by hydraulic fracturing operation within the watershed of the river. Each permit is applying to withdraw 12,600,000 gallons of what is referred to as Outstanding National Resource Waters from the Tickfaw River (in Tangipahoa), a designated scenic river. Read more at: lasierraclub.org/node/180

 

General Local News

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund – CCST Engages CELDF, Parish

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In the last two weeks, Covington Weekly has outlined the process of economic development in St. Tammany Parish, indicating an undemocratic and self-serving system established by bad legislation. Covington Weekly is thrilled to introduce an organization that may help with a solution to our problem. The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund operates on the principle that as a society, we are in the midst of an escalating ecological crisis as the result of decisions made by a relatively few people who run corporations and government. Sustainability will never be achieved by leaving those decisions in the hands of a few, both because of their belief in limitless economic production and because their decisions are made at a distance from the communities experiencing the impact of those decisions. Therefore, a right to local self-government must be asserted that places decisions affecting communities in the hands of those closest to the impacts. That right to local self-government must enable communities to reject unsustainable economic and environmental policies set by state and federal governments, and must enable communities to construct legal frameworks for charting a future towards sustainable energy production, sustainable land development, and sustainable water use, among others.

In doing so, communities must challenge and overturn legal doctrines that have been concocted to eliminate their right to self-government, including the doctrines of corporate constitutional rights, preemption, and limitations on local legislative authority. Inseparable from the right to local self government – and its sole limitation – are the rights of human and natural communities; they are the implicit and enumerated premises on which local self government must be built.

CELDF was formed in 1995 in Pennsylvania by Thomas Linzey, Executive Director, and Stacey Schmader, Administrative Director, to provide free and affordable legal services to community groups. Over the first few years, CELDF assisted hundreds of communities in Pennsylvania facing unwanted corporate development projects such as incinerators and quarries. CELDF assisted these communities to try to stop the projects by appealing corporate permit applications through the state’s environmental regulatory system. CELDF was very successful at appealing permits, finding the holes and omissions that would render them incomplete. As such, the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Environmental Hearing Board would toss out the permits, and the communities would celebrate their “victory,” believing the system of law had worked.

However, the corporation could and would simply file another permit, this time filling in the holes and omissions cited. Once the corporation filed an administratively complete permit application, the state was automatically required to approve it. The communities asked CELDF to appeal the permit again, but there was nothing left to do. The law in Pennsylvania, as in every other state, works the same way. The state legalizes an activity, such as mining, or commercial water withdrawals, or factory farming, and communities are legally prohibited from saying “no” to it.

After experiencing how the regulatory system operated over several years and watching communities lose time and time again, CELDF determined that they would need to take a different approach.

Beginning in 1998, they began to assist communities to draft legally binding laws in which they asserted their right to self-govern. Initially, the work focused on communities facing corporate factory farms and later the application of sewage sludge to farmland. Communities across Pennsylvania adopted their anti-corporate farming and anti-corporate sludging laws.

To accommodate the growing interest, with calls coming in from across the country, CELDF launched the Daniel Pennock Democracy Schools in 2003, which have become a critical tool in grassroots organizing. Communities facing other corporate threats, such as uranium mining in Virginia and commercial water withdrawals in New England, began to take on this work.

The Legal Defense Fund has now become the principal advisor to activists, community groups, and municipal governments struggling to transition from merely regulating corporate harms to stopping those harms by asserting local, democratic control directly over corporations. CELDF has taught nearly 200 Democracy Schools across the country and over 100 communities have adopted Legal Defense Fund-drafted ordinances.

The Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany Legal Team and CCST President Rick Franzo recently met with representatives of the Parish, including St. Tammany Parish attorneys, to discuss cooperating on legal efforts going forward. As of Monday, the Parish has filed a “Petition for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief,” demonstrating a positive direction by the newly hired attorneys. Another meeting is scheduled for Thursday, June 19. CCST is also proud to announce a partnership with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, considered to be a tremendous asset.

CELDF - Community Environment Legal Defense Fund

“Building sustainable communities by assisting people to assert their right to local self-government and the rights of nature.”

www.celdf.org

General Local News

Comment Period For Fracking Permit Open Until June 16th

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The US Army Corps of Engineers and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality have reopened their public comment period on the permit application by Helis Oil & Gas for hydraulic fracturing near Mandeville. Both agencies are taking comments until mid-night June 16th, 2014.

Contact person for US Army Corps of Engineers is Robert Tewis
phone: (504) 862-2041
email: robert.m.tewis2@usace.army.mil
Reference permit # MVN-2013-02952-ETT

Contact person for LDEQ is Elizabeth Johnson
phone: (225) 219-3225
email: elizabeth.johnson@la.gov
Reference permit # WQC-140328-02

For a full list of contacts for state representatives, check  house.louisiana.gov

Local Events

Meeting For Fracking Awareness Before Block Party

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Covington Massage & Wellness CenterJoin Covington Massage & Wellness Centre on Friday before the block party to learn more about hydraulic fracturing and what it could mean for our community. A representative of the Ian Somerhalder Foundation will share how fracking has affected her, and a short documentary will be shown. Starting at 5:30 pm.

503 N. Columbia Street, Historic Downtown Covington, Louisiana

 

Local News

Comment Period Reopened For LDEQ & USACE

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Louisiana state sealThe US Army Corps of Engineers and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality have reopened their public comment period on the permit application by Helis Oil & Gas for hydraulic fracturing near Mandeville. Both agencies are now taking comments until mid-night June 16th, 2014, under pressure of the Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany’s legal team.

Contact person for US Army Corps of Engineers: Robert Tewis phone: (504) 862-2041 email: robert.m.tewis2@usace.army.mil

Contact person for LDEQ: Elizabeth Johnson phone: (225) 219-3225 email: elizabeth.johnson@la.gov

For a full list of contacts for state representatives, check  house.louisiana.gov

 

Local Events Local News

Educational Meeting At St. John’s Regarding Fracking: Music, Information and Fellowship

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FrackFreeInfoMeetingSt.JohnsUnsure about fracking, or feel that you do not know enough to make an informed decision? A group of Covington citizens have organized this informative meeting to be a relaxed and peaceful opportunity for residents to learn more about hydrofracturing. Microbiologist and chemist Wilma Subra will be the keynote speaker. The night will be filled with music, coffee, food, drinks and productive discussion. Come by and bring a friend!

Local News

Covington Mayor Mike Cooper Says St. Tammany Not A Community For Fracking

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Covington Mayor Mike Cooper

Covington Mayor Mike Cooper

“Please know that I have been actively seeking input and feedback regarding the fracking proposal by Helis Oil & Gas since it was first announced. I have attended formal meetings and informal briefings to gain a better understanding of what effect drilling and/or fracking will have on our community and St Tammany Parish. It is clear to me that St Tammany Parish is NOT a community that should welcome exploratory drilling or fracking operations.

Over and above environmental concerns, my biggest fear is the possible proliferation of oil drilling operations in St Tammany should the first one be permitted. In addition, I’m not sure the suggested economic benefit outweighs the possible detriment to the quality of life we enjoy here in Covington and on the Northshore. I stand with other St Tammany leaders who have expressed opposition to this proposal.” – Mayor Mike Cooper

Covington Weekly would like to express our sincere thanks to Mayor Cooper for taking the stance to preserve our community in regard to the controversial issue of hydraulic fracturing. We would also like to thank all of the very active citizens that have attended Parish Council meetings, informational meetings and other gatherings to voice their opinion and give their support. It is encouraging to see a local effort to preserve the scenic beauty of our Northshore area.

Nature river

 

Local News

“Fracking” In St. Tammany Parish – Town Hall Meeting With Congressman Scalise

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Parish Councilman Jacob Groby organized an informal meeting to gather information about hydraulic fracturing (also coined “fracking”) on Monday May 12th at the Castine Center. The meeting was arranged due to concerns from citizens about the proposed drill on HWY 1088 in Mandeville by Helis Oil & Gas Co. While Helis declined the invitation to speak, Ms. Wilma Subra of the Subra Foundation gave an excellent presentation on the concerns of fracking. Hydraulic fracturing is a method of extracting natural gas from beneath the aquifer using water, sand and chemicals pumped at high pressure to ‘fracture’ the shale that encases these gases.

Congressman Steve Scalise will host a Town Hall Meeting at the Covington Trailhead at 419 N. New Hampshire Street on Thursday, May 15th from 5 p.m. – 8 p.m. to be broadcast live on 99.5 WRNO. This is a very important meeting for our community, and the public is encouraged to attend. There is no compromise with regard to the health and safety of our citizens, or the preservation of our city and surrounding natural areas.