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In defeat for Jindal, panel backs supporter of oil lawsuit for seat on flood control authority

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HARAHAN, Louisiana — A supporter of a lawsuit against the oil industry was re-nominated Thursday to a seat on a south Louisiana flood control board, despite Gov. Bobby Jindal's vehement opposition to the lawsuit.

The nominating committee for the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East on Thursday nominated coastal expert Paul Kemp to another term on the authority. The vote was 5-4.

The vote means that, at least for now, Kemp will remain on the board. Kemp, an expert in marine studies and geology, is one of two members whose terms have expired but they continue to serve until replacements are named or they are re-appointed.

The nomination goes next to Jindal. The governor's spokeswoman, Shannon Bates, said he will review the nominees sent to him by the committee. She also reiterated his opposition to the lawsuit, filed in 2013.

"We are opposed to the lawsuit because it's a waste of taxpayer dollars and exceeds the authority of SLPFA. And we will continue to use the full authority of the Governor's office to stop it," Bates said in an email.

State law says the governor "shall" appoint from among nominees made by the committee. At some point, the appointee would need confirmation from the state Senate, where opposition to the lawsuit is strong. But the Senate isn't set to meet until spring.

The protection authority's lawsuit says the oil, gas and pipeline companies' dredging of canals and drilling activities contributed to the degradation of coastal wetlands that form a natural hurricane buffer for New Orleans. Backers of the litigation say the industry has had decades to remedy the situation and that the lawsuit is needed to fund coastal restoration.

Jindal and oil industry supporters call the lawsuit a needless attack on a vital industry. The Legislature has voted to retroactively kill it — legislation that is being challenged in court.

Until Thursday's vote, which took place after some emotional debate, Jindal had succeeded in replacing members of the nine-member SLFPA-E board as their terms expired. As long as Kemp continues to serve, the board maintains a 5-4 majority in favor of maintaining the lawsuit.

Kemp's term expired in July. The nominating panel, made up of representatives from universities, engineering societies, government watchdog groups and others with flood expertise, had a choice of nominating him for a technical post — for which only one nomination was to be made — or for an at-large post requiring two nominations for one slot.

In nominating Kemp for the technical slot, the board gave Jindal no option. Nominating Kemp for the at-large post would have meant his almost certain departure, given Jindal's opposition to the lawsuit.

Kemp supporters said his coastal expertise makes him vital to the flood authority and that the panel should re-nominate him for the technical post.

"At this point in our history we need more than ever someone of his expertise," said New Orleans resident Elizabeth Robeson.

Nobody challenged Kemp's qualifications. He holds a doctorate in marine studies and his work on the authority has been universally praised. But Jerry Klier, a representative of the American Society of Civil Engineers, held out for engineer Mark Morgan. He said Morgan has vowed to listen to both sides regarding the lawsuit, and his engineering expertise is needed to deal with the operations of the flood authority, which oversees New Orleans-area levee boards.

Morgan and current board member Jeff Angers, a lawsuit opponent, were later nominated for the at-large post.

Other nominating committee members made clear that they thought the oil industry lawsuit was a bad idea. That led to sometimes emotional exchanges between committee member Windell Curole, a lawsuit critic, and Walter Williams, a New Orleans film maker active on coastal issues.

Curole called the complex lawsuit a bad business decision by the flood authority.

Williams noted major losses of coastal wetlands in Lafourche Parish and the area of Golden Meadow, and noted reports saying oil and gas activity is part of the problem. "Your whole town is gone," Williams told Curole. "That's not good business."

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