Kyle Barnett Jul. 24, 2013, 4:43pm

NEW ORLEANS – In what is being called a landmark lawsuit, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority–East filed suit today against more than 100 oil and gas companies claiming they have put the New Orleans area at risk through contributing to coastal erosion.

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East (SLFPA-E) that governs levee districts in Orleans Parish, East Jefferson Parish and the Lake Borgne Basin filed the suit in the Orleans Parish Central District Court.

Land loss has been noted by scientists, environmentalists and conservationists as an ever present problem on Louisiana’s coast for numerous years, according to the suit.  It also says that a study released by the U.S. Geological Survey in 2011 reveled that the state is losing nearly 17 miles of coastal marshland per year, which has more than tripled during the last decade.

The plaintiff points to that same survey when listing dredging and the construction of canals and other activities of the offshore oil industry as a culprit behind the land loss.

John M. Barry, vice president of the SLFPA-E, said his organization filed the suit to further carry out its responsibility to defend the area against catastrophic flooding.

“That first defensive perimeter is of course the buffer of land and marsh that cuts down hurricane storm surge before it reaches the levees,” Barry said. “The industry has taken about $470 billion of the state’s natural resources during the past 20 years, and we ask that it pick up its share of the increased costs of flood protections required to offset the loss of protective coastal wetlands.”

SLFPA-E is being represented by Gladstone Jones of New Orleans-based Jones, Swanson, Huddell & Garrison, who specialize in suing oil exploration and production companies. The firm's website reads that it has “also actively been involved in many of the largest environmental cases in the United States.”

Don Briggs of the Louisiana Oil and Gass Association said that the suit is potential money grab for plaintiffs’ attorneys.

“Whether it is 'legacy lawsuits,' the BP claims or now this ridiculous claim by the Flood Authority, the idea remains the same: drain as much money from the oil and gas industry as possible,” Briggs said, “Mr. Gladstone Jones, the lawyer representing the Flood Authority, said with his own mouth in the New York Times that the plaintiffs would be seeking damages equal to ‘many billions of dollars. Many, many billions of dollars.’”

Other firms representing the SLFPA-E in the suit include New Orleans-based Fishman Haygood Phelps Walmsley Willis & Swanson, LLP and Lake Charles-based Veron, Bice, Palermo & Wilson LLC.

The Gambit reported that Attorney General Buddy Caldwell has signed off on the lawsuit’s ability to move forward.

Case no. 2013-06911.

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