BATON ROUGE — The whistleblower in a lawsuit against the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is disappointed that the state has opted to appeal the verdict that awarded him $750,000.
After the jury’s decision in December, a DNR spokesman reportedly said the jury could have been confused by the long, complex lawsuit. At issue was whether the agency retaliated against Dan Collins, a Baton Rouge landman, who reported environmental concerns about a project he was involved in.
“The jury wasn’t confused at all,” Collins told the Louisiana Record. “In my opinion, the jury did not believe the parade of witnesses that the state brought.”
Collins, who has been in the business for more than 35 years, was contracted by the agency to provide land, title and environmental research on land-related projects starting in 1998. In 2005, he was contracted for a Bayou Postillion dredging project in Iberia Parish, which was billed as an endeavor to improve water quality.
Two years later, he came across advertisements at a trade show for oil and gas prospects in the same area as the project. He said he started asking questions and a lack of answers sent up red flags in his mind. So he started digging into public records. He said he believed the water quality project was actually about oil and gas exploration for the benefit of private landowners and companies.
Collins said the alleged subterfuge allowed the state to get around permitting requirements.
“Some of this stuff is so outlandish, what they did and how they did it, you couldn’t make it up,” Collins said of the claims. “They tried to spin it, and say it was for the fisherman and crawfisherman.’
He reported his concerns to his superiors at the DNR. As a result, Collins claims the DNR stopped awarding him contracts.
“The backbone of the state is oil and gas," he said. "To get away with something like this is kind of incredible, to tell you the truth. That they could actually think that they could do this and get away with it — I’m sure they thought they had. It just so happened I was walking down the aisle of a trade show two years after it was dredged.”
The state has denied all the allegations.
In December, a jury awarded Collins $250,000 after finding that the state denied contracts to Collins in retaliation for blowing the whistle. Louisiana’s environmental whistleblower law states that he is entitled to triple the award, plus attorney’s fees and costs.
The verdict was appealed to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals. Collins said he’s confident the appellate court will side with him because when the case made a trip to the same court ahead of the jury trial, the result was in his favor. The court previously ruled that Collins should be considered a public employee under the environmental whistleblower statute.