La. flood control authority membership debated

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Gov. Bobby Jindal will likely have another chance soon to chip away at the membership of a flood control board that sued more than 90 oil and gas companies whose decades of work in delicate coastal areas is being blamed for erosion of wetlands that form a natural hurricane buffer for New Orleans.

The panel that selects nominees for the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East agreed to meet in early April to select a replacement for member Tim Doody, whose term has expired.

Fulfilling its duty to nominate two people for the post, the panel chose Doody, and a retired judge, David Gorbaty, as an alternative. Gorbaty, however, was found to be ineligible because he has taken another public job in St. Bernard Parish. His withdrawal was announced at Thursday’s nominating meeting.

Despite Jindal’s refusal to appoint Doody, board members declined to rescind his nomination and he will continue to serve until someone is appointed.

The flood authority oversees three consolidated levee districts in the New Orleans area. It was created as part of reforms that followed the failure of levees and catastrophic flooding during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Aside from laying out professional qualifications for membership on levee boards and the regional authority, the legislation set up the nominating process using a panel of engineers, academics and representatives of government policy and watchdog groups.

Jindal has called the authority’s lawsuit against the oil and gas industry a windfall for trial lawyers. The administration also says allowing the suit to continue undermines the state’s comprehensive effort to address coastal wetlands loss, jeopardizing joint projects with the companies being sued.

The nominating panel voted 5-1 for a motion making clear that they did not believe they were bound to offer new nominees solely because the governor rejects qualified candidates. Whether the governor even has the right to reject their qualified nominees is a legal question noted by panel chairman Jay Lapeyre.

However, members said they felt they should offer a second nominee given Gorbaty’s situation.

“We have an open spot to fill. We have a candidate sent up who was declared ineligible,” board member Robert Travis Scott said during the meeting in a New Orleans suburb.

Thursday’s action comes at a time when the nominating process could be greatly altered during the upcoming legislative session that begins next week. Jindal and others who have joined the oil industry in opposing the lawsuit seek to alter the composition of the flood protection authority.

One bill would specifically give the governor the right to reject the panel’s nominees and it would require the panel to submit three suggestions for each post. Current law requires one or two nominees, depending on which seat is open. Critics of the three-nominee requirement say it would only complicate a nominating process made difficult by the fact that there are stringent qualifications and requirements for membership on the board.

Other debates are expected during the session on legislation affecting the nomination process, the makeup of the board and its ability to file lawsuits.

As things stand now, since the lawsuit was filed last summer, Jindal has managed to replace three members of the nine-member board with lawsuit opponents. Doody would be the fourth supporter to go.

The nominating panel did not take a position on the pending legislation but said they will monitor it, while expressing concern that it could affect their role in what is supposed to be a nominating process insulated from political influences.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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