Plaquemines Parish government raises conflict of interest concerns over state coastal director’s new job

Plaquemines Parish government raises conflict of interest concerns over state coastal director’s new job
(Source: | The Times-Picayune)

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Plaquemines Parish government leaders questioned Tuesday (Dec. 11) whether the outgoing state coastal director’s new job with a state contractor creates a conflict of interest.

Johnny Bradberry, the Chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, will become president of the Baton Rouge-based engineering firm GEC, Inc. after the new year. GEC is under contract to oversee the environmental impact statement for the CPRA’s Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion Project, a critical part of determining whether federal permits are granted.

As part of a Freedom of Information request, Plaquemines Parish coastal director Vincent Frelich said news of Bradberry’s departure. “aligns with the many irregularities PPG has pointed out in the NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] of this EIS.”

The administration of outgoing Plaquemines Parish President Amos Cormier III has tangled frequently with state officials over the diversion project.

“The appearance of any conflict or impartial decision-making, impropriety or undue influence is strictly prohibited,” Frelich wrote.

The proposed Mid-Barataria Diversion -on the west bank of Plaquemines about 20 miles south of Belle Chasse - would channel river water into the marsh with the aim of building new land or sustaining existing wetlands.

The $1.3 billion project would move as much as 75,000 cubic feet per second of river water into the bay.

While supporters argue the project would mimic the Mississippi River’s land-building powers, many commercial fishermen fear a flood of fresh, nutrient-rich river water would devastate fisheries.

In a statement, Anne Hawes, the CPRA Outreach and Engagement Director, insisted the agency remains committed to a comprehensive and unbiased evaluation of the diversion.

“CPRA immediately contacted the United States Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies to ensure that the Environmental Impact Statement will remain completely independent,” Hawes said.

Corps officials offered similar assurances, noting the EIS contractor works at the direction of the Corps.

“Even though GEC is contracted, they work solely at our discretion,” said Ricky Boyett, Chief of Public Affairs for the Corps’ New Orleans District.

“Our commitment is that it is based on science,” Boyett said.

“We’ll be careful we make sure everything is in full compliance.”

Last week, Bradberry told | The Times-Picayune he would abide by Louisiana conflict of interest provisions that prohibit him from being directly involved for at least two years in any contract in which he may have had a supervisory role.

Bradberry said GEC attorneys would review any potential conflict of interest issues.

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