Interspersed in all the venomous political rhetoric in the gubernatorial campaign that is now moving toward its merciful final week are some real issues that affect our lives and which should warrant closer inspection by the voting public.
Unfortunately, given the public’s taste for voyeurism and salacious gossip, that probably won’t happen. Besides, time is short and the sordid half-truths, distortions and details of political black ops are just heating up. There just isn’t time for the things that matter.
But at least one group is taking U.S. Sen. David Vitter to task for a letter he wrote last April to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Commander Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy.
In that otherwise routine five-page letter, dated April 16, 2015, Vitter addressed a number of issues concerning levees, flood control, storm surge protection, past due payments from the Corps to the State of Louisiana for freshwater diversion projects, a request to complete the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project (SELA) in Orleans, Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes, deauthorization of the West Pearl River Navigation Project, a request for increased negotiation efforts to approve the Lower Mississippi River Management proposal, and bank stabilization along the Ouachita River in north Louisiana.
Buried at the bottom of page three of the letter was item number 7: Helis Oil and Gas Permit MVN (Mississippi Valley New Orleans)-2013-02952-ETT.
Issue: “The aforementioned permit application is currently awaiting approval within MVN, but has stalled due to several pending lawsuits,” Vitter’s letter said. “The State of Louisiana, Department of Environmental Quality issued the water quality certification (WQC 140328-02) on March 19, 2015. Issuance of the 404 permit is the last remaining action needed to begin construction of the test well.”
Request: “Immediately approve and issue the 404 permit.”
In his April 16 letter, Vitter did what he does best: intimidate with not-so-subtle threats.
“As the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers moves forward with leadership transitions and promotions in the coming months, I’d like to take this opportunity to ensure that you—as the two primary Corps leaders—continue strengthening your commitment to improve communication and issue resolution with non-Federal stakeholders who depend on the Corps to provide necessary flood protection, reliable navigation, and restored ecosystems,” he wrote.
“…However, it’s critical that Corps leadership understand there remain several significant Louisiana issues that need to be addressed and resolved in an expeditious manner. In light of those issues, I can’t support the transition or promotion of new leadership until I know that a constructive approach will be taken to address and resolve these serious problems.”
As if on cue, the Corps on June 8 approved the permit application by Helis Oil & Gas Co. http://www.nola.com/environment/index.ssf/2015/06/wetlands_permit_approved_by_fr.html
Vanishing Earth, a new political blog that concentrates on environmental issues, obtained the Vitter letter to the Corps that contained Vitter’s heavy-handed approach to resolving issues, particularly the approval of the Helis permit.
That permit, since approved, will allow Helis to drill an exploratory well for the purpose of oil drilling and controversial hydraulic fracking in St. Tammany Parish. Parish residents have resisted fracking in St. Tammany and have even filed a lawsuit in district court to stop the practice there because of legitimate concerns about air and water pollution, damage to the aquifer that supplies drinking water, and the industrialization of the parish.
The irony is that St. Tammany is considered a strongly Republican parish and represents one of Vitters’ strongest areas of support.
But, as is always the case in politics, money speaks much louder than loyalty to constituents and Helis has seen to it that Vitter’s campaigns, both federal and more recently, state, are remembered fondly.
On May 8, less than a month after Vitter wrote his letter to the Corps, Helis made a $5,000 contribution to Vitter’s gubernatorial campaign. Additionally, on that same date, Helis CEO David Kerstein made an identical maximum allowable contribution of $5,000. Then, on Nov. 6 of this year, less than two weeks after the first primary, Helis chipped in an additional $5,000. The company also contributed $15,000 in three separate contributions to lieutenant governor candidate Billy Nungesser.
Moreover, Kerstein contributed an additional $7,500 to Vitter’s U.S. House and Senate campaigns from 2000 to 2008, according to Federal Election Commission records. Corporations are prohibited from contributing to federal campaign. http://docquery.fec.gov/cgi-bin/qind/
|KERSTEIN, DAVID||New Orleans||ATTORNEY||VITTER FOR CONGRESS||05/01/00||1000.00|
|KERSTEIN, DAVID||New Orleans||SELF||VITTER FOR CONGRESS||09/22/03||1000.00|
|KERSTEIN, DAVID||New Orleans||SELF||DAVID VITTER FOR US SENATE||07/07/05||2000.00|
|KERSTEIN, DAVID||New Orleans||SELF||VITTER FOR US SENATE||02/21/08||300.00|
|KERSTEIN, DAVID||New Orleans||SELF||DAVID VITTER FOR US SENATE||02/21/08||2200.00|
|KERSTEIN, DAVID||New Orleans||SELF/ATTORNEY||VITTER FOR CONGRESS||04/18/01||1000.00|
Helis apparently is not an equal opportunity donor; no contributions could be found by the company or its CEO to Democrats John Bel Edwards or Nungesser’s opponent Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden.
What David Vitter is essentially saying in his letter to Secretary Darcy and Lieutenant General Bostick is that if they do not perform certain acts, issue the permit, then he will punish them by taking away something of personal value to them which, in this case, are the “transitions and promotions,” wrote Vanishing Earth publisher Jonathan Henderson. “In other words, he blackmailed them.” http://vanishingearth.org/2015/11/05/senator-vitter-corruption-reaches-st-tammany-parish-fracking-fight/
Henderson is encouraging his readers to call on the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics “to immediately investigate Senator David Bruce Vitter.”
Additionally, one source said some residents of St. Tammany were considering filing a complaint with the State Board of Ethics. LouisianaVoice inquired of the state board whether or not such a complaint had been filed. This was the response we received:
In response to your public records request of Nov. 12th, please be advised that all complaints and documents prepared or obtained in connection with an investigation are deemed confidential and privileged pursuant to R.S. 42:1141.4 K&L which also provides that it is a misdemeanor for any person, including the Board’s staff, to make any public statement or give out any information concerning any confidential matter.
LouisianaVoice has begun an investigation into fracking operations in Lincoln Parish as well. Residents there are concerned about the drain on the Sparta Aquifer which supplies drinking water to several north Louisiana parishes. We will bring you more details on those operations as we receive them.