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Opinion

Air Monitoring System Grossly Insufficient by Timothy Achan Gates, CW Correspondent

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Representatives of the Parish inspected the Helis Oil & Gas well site recently, finding that only permitted work was being done as air monitoring equipment on Lakeshore High School property was finalized. The concept of a monitoring station at the school is intended to serve as a reminder that the company is actively providing protections as the project moves forward. A single air monitoring station at the school is grossly insufficient; the obvious solution is individual, hand held air monitoring devices for the kids.

GasAlert available at PKSafety.com

GasAlert available at PKSafety.com

The BW Honeywell GasAlert Quattro 4-Gas Monitor has four full-sized sensors to detect oxygen and any serious atmospheric changes therein. The unit detects hydrogen sulfide (H2S), carbon monoxide (CO) and a variety of dangerous flammable and or combustible gases. If anything were to happen at the well site, the children carrying this device will be some of the first to know with a 95dB alarm, vibration alert and an array of warning lights. The Quattro’s simple interface allows ease of use and ensures confidence in safety.

The Quattro comes individually packaged in a cardboard box including a 120v AC battery charger, an operator’s manual, a cd-rom owner’s manual, calibration/bump test adapter w/18 inches of clear pvc tubing, a double ended screwdriver (No. 1 Phillips – 5/64 Hex Allen) and a factory calibration certificate. Calibration gas may be ordered separately, and ships separately.

Lakeshore High has a student population near 1,000. The units run about $650 apiece, so Helis would be able to provide every student with their own unit for somewhere in the neighborhood of $700,000. This is a small price to pay considering that the children are the future. Plumes are subject to weather conditions and other variables, and one part of the campus may be a hazard while another part of the campus may be perfectly safe. For this reason, a handheld, individual air monitor for every student is absolutely imperative.

Do we want to leave the health and safety of the children to the responsibility of a remotely monitored station, or give them the power to monitor the air they breathe in their own hands? The answer is obvious, as individual air monitors would reduce liability and ensure safety.

Timothy Gates may be reached at: covweekly@gmail.com

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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.

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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

General Local News Opinion

Hydraulic Fracturing in St. Tammany by Timothy Achan Gates, Correspondent

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At the beginning of 2015, LOGA (Louisiana Oil and Gas Association) made some strong statements with regard to the industry in Louisiana. Backing those statements, Larry Rase of the Northshore Business Council contributed to an article detailing the enormous contribution oil and gas makes to the local and state economy. What is perplexing about these declarations is that Louisiana, historically considered an “oil and gas state”, is now facing a $1.4 billion+ budget deficit.

A January 2015 Wall Street Journal article (“Deep Debt Keeps Oil Firms Pumping“) clarifies the situation by pointing out that the industry itself runs at a huge deficit. According to the WSJ piece, the Oil and Gas Industry has increased its borrowings by 55% since 2010, bringing their current debt to nearly $200 billion on a national scale. This illustrates that the “boom” is actually a “bubble”, because the average family household knows that growth is not achieved by running huge deficits.

Example of a Hydraulic Fracturing operation in the Marcellus Shale. This type of operation was planned for the area near Lakeshore High School in Mandeville for the last 3-4 years. Photo USGS Public Domain.

Example of a Hydraulic Fracturing operation in the Marcellus Shale. This type of operation was planned for the area near Lakeshore High School in Mandeville for the last 3-4 years. Photo USGS Public Domain.

It is the opinion of this writer that hydraulic fracturing operations were termed specifically as “unconventional” for the purpose of exempting said industry from the current regulations on “conventional” operations. Four State Representatives (Matt Cartwright, PA, Diana DeGette, CO, Jared Polis, CO and Jan Schakowsky, IL) are currently working to close loopholes left open to hydraulic fracturing with a new group of bills called the “Frack Pack”. This legislation is overdue, and it is interesting to note that the four Representatives hail from states that are beginning to recognize negative effects associated with hydraulic fracturing technology. While these bills concern federal regulation, it remains a state issue.

Representative Tim Burns (Mandeville, LA–89) stated to this writer that St. Tammany does not want industrial operations.  We are home to several corporate offices, and wish to maintain those lucrative relationships, but this Parish is not suited for heavy industry.  If this is a view still espoused by Representative Tim Burns, then this writer suggests that legislation be proposed to remove permitting control from the Department of Natural Resources, and return that control to the local communities that have a right to self-determination.  The fact that the DNR cannot deny a permit without being sued by the industry indicates industry influence that reeks of corporatocracy, which is a thinly veiled version of fascism.

It is unfortunate that telling the truth about communities that have experienced sustained hydraulic fracturing operations is considered a “scare tactic”;  that alone should tell the objective reader all they need to know.  The fact that the industry runs at such a huge deficit while sucking up tax dollar-derived exemptions and credits (don’t call them subsidies!) is a blatant example of financial abuse and manipulation displayed openly before the public.

Although transparency has arrived, there will be no Rule of Law until all entities, public and private, and the State itself, are held to the same standards of accountability.

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

Local Events Local News

There’s Nothing Like a Home for the Holidays – Pet Adoption Event

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Pet Adoptions for the HolidaysThe St. Tammany Parish Animal Services (STPAS) is hosting an adoption special thru December 23rd of $10 pet adoption with a four week training program. STPAS is open Monday thru Saturday from 8 am – 4 pm at 31078 Hwy 36 in Lacombe. For more information call 985-809-0183.

www.stpgov.org/departments/animals

Healthy Living Local Events Local History Local News

Parishwide Trace 20th Anniversary Celebration Kicks Off at the Covington Trailhead Saturday

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St. Tammany Trace 20th Aniversary Celebration

Come Celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Tammany Trace. Whatever your style, the Trace Anniversary Celebration has it, with fun for the whole family. This moving celebration kicks-off in the morning on Saturday, November 1st and will travel through each of the Trailheads. Along the way, you will experience music, art, food, dancing and more fun for the whole family. Don’t forget to grab your passport, visitors who make it to each Trailhead will be entered into a special drawing! To find out more about the event, call 985-898-3011.

We3 will be playing at the Covington Trailhead for the STAA's Art Market

We3 will be playing at the Covington Trailhead for the STAA’s Art Market

Covington events begin at 8 am with the Covington Farmer’s Market at the 600 block of Columbia Street. The Covington Trailhead presents a musical performance by We 3 to accompany the St. Tammany Art Association’s Art Market, and the Mayor’s Council on Healthy Lifestyles hosts a resource fair with participating businesses. Tours of the Covington Brewhouse will be available, along with a chance to register for a Grand Prize! Don’t miss the Kick Off Ceremonies with Parish President Pat Brister and Covington Mayor Mike Cooper at 10 am (at the trailhead.)

More information at www.tammanytrace.org

Read more here: Mayor’s Council On Healthy Lifestyles To Host Community Resource Fair Celebrating The 20th Anniversary Of The Trace

Local Events Local News

CCST Hosts District Attorney Debate Forum For Running Candidates

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Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany Parish CCSTPConcerned Citizens of St. Tammany will hold a special debate forum next Tuesday for the candidates running for St. Tammany District Attorney. Radio personality Mr. Don Dubuc from WWL 97 FM / 105.3 AM will host the forum.  The debate will be held August 26th, 6 pm at the John Davis Community Center, 61100 North 12th Street in Lacombe.

Tentative Candidates include Mr. Roy Burns, Mr. Alan Black, Mr. Brian Trainor and Mr. Warren Montgomery.

Learn more at www.CCSTP.org

 

Local Events Local News

Public Input Invited For Planning Study: Culture, Recreation & Tourism In St. Tammany

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nature centerA round of Community Meetings to gain public insights and opinions regarding culture, recreation and tourism planning in southern St. Tammany Parish will begin the evening of Wednesday, August 20th in Slidell. Two additional meetings will be held the following day in Madisonville and Lacombe. The Parish’s Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism initiated this Strategic Plan in May of 2014 to identify best uses for mitigated, flood-prone properties and how they may best accentuate existing outdoor recreational and habitat preservation amenities in the parish. A team of design consultants led by Austin, Texas-based Design Workshop, LLC is under contract to the Parish to craft this Strategic Plan, based on public input and studies already completed by the Parish or municipalities.

The theme for this planning process is “Explore. Enhance. Enrich.” and by it the team intends to explore the parish, identifying currently underutilized properties; develop conceptual plans to enhance those properties – improving their suitability for outdoor recreation, cultural heritage and wildlife habitat – and; to enrich the quality of life for residents and visitors to St. Tammany Parish.

An online engagement platform has been established at this address: http://explore-st-tammany.mindmixer.com/

Residents are invited to visit the above website and to attend one of three upcoming Community Meetings to provide input.

Wednesday, August 20, 6:00 pm at Mayfield Elementary School Cafeteria, 31820 Hwy. 190 W., Slidell

Thursday, August 21, 11:00 am at Madisonville Public Library, 1123 Main Street, Madisonville

Thursday, August 21, 6:00pm at John Davis Recreation Center, 61100 North 12th St., Lacombe

All Community Input Meetings are free and open to the public. Residents need attend only one meeting to receive information and give their input.

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Local News Opinion

Letter In Response To Tammany West Article On Folgers & St. Tammany EDF

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by Timothy Achan Gates, Covington Weekly Correspondent

This letter is a response to the article “Bertus: Folgers In Compliance” from Tammany West, July 10, 2014, written by David Folse II. The intention of the Tammany West article is to refute Parish Councilman Jacob Groby’s assertion that Folgers is not in compliance with regard to their job threshold, as per the contract (bond) for the facility in Lacombe. In the article, Mrs. Brenda Bertus, Chief Executive Director of the St. Tammany Economic Development Foundation (EDF), states that the 82-job figure was associated with the state, not parish, portion of the contract, which had a duration of two years (in a twenty year bond.) The contract in Councilman Groby’s possession which this writer viewed showed that the state deal was actually four years, with supporting documentation and correspondence. When this discrepancy was mentioned to Mr. Folse during a phone conversation about the article, he responded that he would not engage in a “teenage he-said, she-said argument.”

Reassurances were made that there was no intention to degrade the conversation or to point fingers. The issue is not whether Folgers is in compliance, but why none of this information is public record, considering that the EDF and the St. Tammany Parish Economic Development District (EDD) perform governmental roles in the Parish (as a non-profit corporation and a political subdivision of the state, respectively) while managing public money. The article lists several facts and figures, but the lack of documentation supporting the information merely raises more questions, including the following:

1. The article lists several estimates and projections based on a study issued by an outside firm; who was the outside firm that conducted the study, and what documentation was provided with regard to the study?

2. The Folger’s contract is in the eleventh year of a twenty year bond. Where is the hard data generated at this point, rather than the reiteration of estimates and projections from eleven years ago?

3. Why are there confidentiality agreements when these organizations are operating with public funds?

4. In the article, Bruce Clement states, “the idea we are giving something away by giving tax incentives is incorrect,” directly following the statistic, “for every dollar invested in economic development in the parish, $159 is created in impact.” What document supports this statistic, used to reinforce the preceding statement?

5. How does exempting the highest grossing companies in the parish benefit “mom and pop” business owners and middle class homeowners, both of whom are watching their taxes rise on a yearly basis? (note: The current listing of Sheriff’s Sale foreclosures is 7 pages long.)

Mr. Folse confirmed that documentation was presented to him, but he was reluctant to share information or divulge the name of the firm associated with the bond. Why the secrecy, vague replies and misdirection? The entities discussed have governmental authority and manage public money, which demands public oversight. A link to the State Legislative Auditor’s website was sent to Mr. Folse, showing the passage of Representative Burns’ Bill concerning an ethics exemption, along with a link to the State Legislative Auditor’s file of the 2013 Financial Statement for the St. Tammany Development District, of which the Economic Development Foundation is the “managing arm.” There was no reply with regard to the information sent.

Calculating the information provided in the article, the amount paid to Fire District #3 and Recreation District #4 over the last 11 years amounts to $825,000, representing approximately 3% of the $25 million bond. By contrast, the estimated one-time impact of $18.7 million for the warehouse construction represents 74% of the entire bond amount. Who received that contract? Why, after 11 years, is there no data to show actual impact, as opposed to old projections and estimates?

Politics exist in a realm where truths become inaccuracies and inaccuracies become doctrine. In this realm, Folgers is in compliance simply because there are no verification procedures present to ensure their compliance. In the article, Bertus states that they (Folgers) will have to pay back “every penny of the bond;” the taxpayers would never know, because there is no requirement to disclose this information, which should be public.

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

Local News Opinion

Parish Councilman Jacob Groby Seeks Answers From EDF Concerning Folger’s Facility In Lacombe

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Parish Councilman Jacob Groby III

Parish Councilman Jacob Groby III

Parish Councilman Jacob Groby has made public a letter he mailed to Mrs. Brenda Bertus, Chief Executive Director of the St. Tammany Economic Development Foundation (a non-profit corporation and management arm of the District) and Officer of the Development District (a political subdivision of the State, comprising the confines of the Parish of St. Tammany) regarding the Folger’s/J.M. Smucker’s Distribution Warehouse in Lacombe. By Mr. Groby’s account, he has received no less than 30 inquiries from his constituents resulting in five separate requests for information. The requests are for information relating to concerns about the method in which the PILOT agreement was structured in the Folger’s/ J.M. Smucker’s Distribution Warehouse located on Hwy. 434 in Lacombe.

Councilman Groby received a previous response from Mrs. Bertus stating, “As you know, we are under no legal obligation to answer questions from the public or explain the contents of public records. Rather, we are only required to provide requested public records,” along with a heavily redacted document, which still showed a major discrepancy in the number of jobs that were originally stipulated in the agreement. One possible reason for such a cavalier response could be that the St. Tammany Economic Development Foundation receives specific exemption from State Ethics Laws. While the St. Tammany Economic Development Foundation is considered a ‘private’ non-profit organization, it performs a governmental function as the (financial) management arm of the Development District (political subdivision of the state, comprising St. Tammany Parish).

As such, it should be subject to public scrutiny, no less scrutiny by a member of the Parish Council. The fact that the organization controls public money is cause for public oversight in itself, as well as requiring an adherence to ethics laws that are already in place to regulate such practices. The theme that is beginning to emerge in the exploration of economic development is “corporate welfare,” a term used to describe a government’s bestowal of money grants, tax breaks, or other special favorable treatment on corporations or selected corporations. It is clear that these incentives will only be available to the favored industries of “international trade, defense manufacturing and energy” as described on the website of the Northshore Business Council, an “unrelated” organization.

Brenda Bertus, Chief Executive Director of the St. Tammany Economic Development Foundation

Brenda Bertus, Chief Executive Director of the St. Tammany Economic Development Foundation

The Parish claims industries that would operate on the northshore, such as hydraulic fracturing operations, will be held to the highest possible regulatory standards, but it is difficult to believe this when their own governing and management bodies are not held accountable to the public. The St. Tammany West recently reported that the EDF was “crafting a response” to Jacob Groby’s letter.

craft – 1. skill in doing or making something. 2. skill in evasion or deception. – American Heritage Dictionary 3rd ed. copyright 1994

Letter from Parish Councilman Jacob Groby to Brenda Bertus, EDF

 

Timothy Gates, Correspondent, Covington Weekly
covweekly@media9productions.com

Local News

St. Tammany Parish Council Meeting To Discuss Fracking May 1st

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St. Tammany Parish Council Meeting Fracking“Fracking”, the topic that has been buzzing around St. Tammany Parish, will be on the agenda for the Parish Council Meeting this Thursday May 1, at 6 pm. Parish Councilman Jacob Groby of District 7 will be proposing some possible resolutions for both Parish and Citizens. Abita Springs Mayor Greg Lemons will also be holding a town meeting on the subject Thursday at 6 pm.  A Department of Natural Resources Meeting will be held May 13th, and the Department of Environmental Quality and Army Corps of Engineers are fielding comments from the public until May 4th. Contact information is listed below. If you have any opinion on this development it is strongly encouraged you contact your local Representatives and Parish Council members. Find your District and contact information on the Parish website, www.stpgov.org.

Contact the Army Corps of Engineers via Robert Tewis, Project Manager.
Please reference Permit Application Number: MVN-2013-02952-ETT
Robert.m.tewis2@usace.army.mil or (504) 862-2041

For the Department of Environmental Quality:
ATTN: Water Quality Division. Project Manager: Elizabeth Johnson
Phone: (225)219-3225  Reference WQC Application Number: WQC-140328-02