- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 4, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Gov. Bobby Jindal’s coastal chief, Garret Graves, is leaving state government this month after six years as chairman of the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

The governor’s office announced Tuesday that Graves‘ last day will be Feb. 17. Jindal appointed Graves‘ chief deputy, Jerome Zeringue, to fill the CPRA chairmanship.

Graves‘ last months on the job were marked by controversy. He was Jindal’s point man in opposition to a New Orleans area flood control board’s lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies over the industry’s role in coastal erosion. Backers of the suit, including historian John Barry, said it’s a necessary step to hold the industry accountable.

Graves said the board overstepped its authority and that the lawsuit was counterproductive to the state’s efforts to restore the coast. Jindal ultimately refused to re-appoint Barry to the board when his term expired and is expected to seek legislative action this year to blunt the lawsuit.

“If you step back and look at where we were when Garret started, and where we are now, he accomplished an enormous amount,” Barry said in an emailed statement Tuesday. “On most issues Garret and I made an excellent team, complementing each other especially when we went to DC together. Obviously he and I disagreed on the need for the oil industry to honor its contracts and obey the law.”

Neither Jindal nor Graves gave a reason for the resignation. Jindal praised Graves‘ time leading the state’s coastal restoration efforts and credited him with streamlining work.

“After years of repetitive studies from the federal government, wasteful spending, bureaucracy and red tape, Garret helped transform the state’s coastal restoration and hurricane protection program into national models,” Jindal said in a statement.

Graves was in office during the state’s response to hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008 and Hurricane Isaac in 2012, and he was critically involved in the Jindal administration’s reaction to the massive Gulf Coast oil spill in 2010.

He didn’t explain his decision to leave in the resignation letter released by the governor’s office.

“More Louisianans are living behind higher, stronger levees than ever before. More acres of coastal Louisiana have been restored than in any other period in Louisiana’s history. … There is much more work to be done, but I’d put the CPRA organizational structure and team in place today up against any other,” Graves wrote.

In an email, Graves said he’s not sure of his next job plans yet. He said he’d be taking “some down time with family” before choosing another position.

Zeringue has been deputy executive director of the CPRA and coastal activities adviser in the governor’s office. Before that, he was director of the Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District.

He’ll stay at his current salary of $160,000, according to Jindal spokesman Kyle Plotkin.

“As a resident of Houma, I have watched our coast disappear and our communities become more vulnerable every year. I have also witnessed how the right investments in hurricane protection and coastal restoration can pay dividends,” Zeringue said in a statement.