A citizens group named Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany has filed applications for temporary restraining orders in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District Court of Louisiana in New Orleans and the Louisiana 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge seeking to halt the Army Corps of Engineers’ and Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality’s review of permit applications for a proposed well near Mandeville, north of New Orleans. The twin filings were made on May 15th and allege that Helis Oil & Gas Co.’s applications to the Corps and Louisiana DEQ do not meet established standards related to public comment. Concerned Citizens’ applications also address concerns related to contamination of the aquifer that provides drinking water for St. Tammany Parish residents.
Helis’ application to the Corps seeks a wetlands permit and its application to the Louisiana DEQ seeks a water quality certification. The proposed well-site is located on undeveloped land northeast of Mandeville, which sits on the north shore of Lake Ponchatrain. Helis’ plan is to drill down 13,400 feet, study the geological data, and if the well appears commercially viable, engage in horizontal drilling for an unspecified distance.
Marianne Cufone, counsel for Concerned Citizens, claims that the Corps’ decision to only allow members of the public to view Helis’ application after filing a Freedom of Information Act request has denied members of the public the meaningful opportunity to comment on Helis’ proposed activities. Ricky Boyett, spokesman for the Corps, stated that Helis’ entire application would be available on the Corps’ website by the afternoon of May 15th, but asserted that he was satisfied that the application was sufficient and did not anticipate that the Corps would delay in acting on the permit.