Covington Weekly » Blog Archives

Tag Archives: Louisiana Department of Natural Resources

Opinion

Greater Degree Of Transparency Needed In St. Tammany Economic Development

Published by:

It’s There, You Just Have To Really Look For It… And Sometimes Rely On An FOIA Request

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.

corpor1

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

Tammany West Needs To Re Evaluate Tactics

Published by:

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.

41_Pied_Piper
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

General Local News Opinion

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

Published by:

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.

corpor1

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

General Local News Opinion

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

Published by:

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

 

 

Healthy Living Local Events Local News

DNR Public Hearing November 12th at Lakeshore High to Discuss Fracking Permit

Published by:

Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany Parish CCSTPConcerned Citizens of St. Tammany (CCST) and the Town of Abita Springs announce that the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (LDNR) will be holding a public hearing for the citizens of St. Tammany this November 12th, 5:00pm at Lakeshore High School off of HWY 1088 in Mandeville. The hearing will be regarding the Helis Oil & Gas application for a drilling permit 1 1/2 miles from Lakeshore High School involving the controversial hydro-fracturing or “fracking” method.

The request for a public hearing was made by attorneys representing CCST and the Town of Abita Springs. The meeting will be an opportunity for citizens to address their comments or concerns, and to hear comments from the community. A written public comment period through the LDNR will commence after the hearing. For more information, visit www.ccstp.org or www.fracking-101.webs.com.

Local Events Local News

CCST Announces LDNR Public Hearing on Fracking Permits Nov. 12th

Published by:

DNR Public Hearing On Fracking PermitsConcerned Citizens of St. Tammany (CCST) and the Town of Abita Springs announce that the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (LDNR) will be holding a public hearing for the citizens of St. Tammany this November 12th, 5:00pm at Lakeshore High School off of HWY 1088 in Mandeville. The hearing will be  regarding the Helis Oil & Gas application for a drilling permit 1 1/2 miles from Lakeshore High School involving the controversial hydro-fracturing or “fracking” method.
The request for a public hearing was made by attorneys representing CCST and the Town of Abita Springs.  The meeting will be an opportunity for citizens to address their comments or concerns, and to hear comments from the community. A written public comment period through the LDNR will commence after the hearing.
Some points from CCST and the Town of Abita: (1) Property for initial well is zoned residential and is designated wetlands, (2) violation of the St. Tammany Parish Code of Ordinances, and the STP Unified Code of Development (UDC) (3) a direct attack on the Federal, State, HRC Constitutions, whereby required to protect the Health, Safety, and Welfare of the citizens, (4) State Legislative Auditors send a scalding report regarding lack of oversight on wells operating and shut down in Louisiana, (5) 2.5+ million gallons of water required for each well, (6) toxic chemicals used in the process, which the drilling companies do not have to disclose.
For more information visit www.CCSTP.org.