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Thursday, July 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Louisiana Says BP Hurt Coastal Schools

BELLE CHASSE, La. (CN) - Plaquemines Parish School Board and Louisiana sued BP and others involved in the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe for contaminating the state's fragile wetlands. The Plaquemines Parish School Board holds certain wetlands in trust for the use of schools, and says that "oil and dispersants released into the Gulf of Mexico by defendants have contaminated and continue to contaminate PPSB's real property."

The "sixteenth section" lands involved "are all predominantly marshlands, and all are adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico," according to the federal complaint. Parishes are Louisiana's equivalent of other states' counties.

The state and the school board say "the marshes provide a first line of defense to all of PPSB's property against tides, storm winds, and storm surges. The imminent loss of coastal property to contamination has diminished the value of all of PPSB's real property," and damage to the real property means damage to the schools.

Even now, 9 months after the massive oil spill that began 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana, the coastline around Plaquemines and surrounding parishes is still covered with thick layers of oil.

"On information and belief, contaminated marsh grasses will probably die, resulting in the inland encroachment of the Gulf of Mexico and the loss of wetlands," the complaint states.

Since the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that killed 11 and unleashed the worst oil spill in U.S. history, experts have worried about the destruction of Louisiana's wetlands from oil saturation.

Not even counting the massive reserves of oil believed to lie beneath them, Louisiana's delicate wetlands are considered the state's most valuable resource, for their abundant wildlife and fertile fishing grounds, and because they act as a barrier against incoming storms.

After the Deepwater Horizon explosion, "millions of gallons of oil spread across thousands of square miles of the Gulf of Mexico, resulting in the contamination of hundreds of miles of shoreline, the temporary closure of one-third of the Gulf to commercial and recreational fishing, and the immeasurable destruction of wildlife and damage to the environment," the lawsuit states.

"Defendants, with knowledge of the inherent dangers of deepwater drilling, skimped on safety measures at the Macondo site, and operated under haste in order to reduce costs."

The school board says the BP defendants were negligent in the "delay and obstruction of the recovery effort by withholding information about the spill, and by publishing inaccurate and misleading information about the spill."

As a result, "the value of PPSB's sixteenth section lands has been diminished by the contamination. ... Additionally, the value of all of PPSB's property has been diminished by the increased risk of flooding that results from any damage or threat of damage to the marshes."

In addition to its properties in trust, the school board "receives a portion of sales tax revenues and property tax revenues generated by the Parish of Plaquemines, and it relies on these revenues to support its many programs and activities. The oil spill reduced the income and spending of local residents and is expected to continue to have a devastating impact on tourism. ... These impacts had a predictable negative impact on the collection of sales taxes in the parish, causing significant harm to PPSB's revenue stream."

Named as defendants are BP plc, BP Corporation North America Inc., BP Exploration and Production Inc., Transocean Offshore Deepwater Drilling Inc., Anadarko Petroleum Corp., Anadarko E&P Company, Moex Offshore 2007 LLC, Brian Morel, Ronald Sepulvado, Don Vidrine, Robert Kaluza, Lee Lambert, John Guide, Mark Hafle, James Harrell, Curt Kutcha and Jesse Gagliano.

The complaint was filed in Plaquemines Parish Court by Robert Arceneaux of Metairie.

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