Feb. 19, 2016 10:33 AM
Wikimedia

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A south Louisiana flood board has won a legal round in its fight against oil and gas companies over coastal wetland damage.

A state appeal court ruled Thursday that the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East legally hired a team of lawyers in 2013 to pursue the case.

The Louisiana Oil and Gas Association challenged the flood board's right to hire private lawyers. But the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal said the board was within its rights and that former Attorney General Buddy Caldwell's office was correct to say the hiring complied with state law.

While it was a victory for the flood board, a major test lies ahead at a federal appeals court, where the board hopes to overturn a U.S. District judge's 2015 dismissal of the lawsuit.

SLFPA-E launched the suit against nearly 100 oil and gas companies in 2013, saying drilling activities and dredging of canals cause erosion of wetlands that provide a natural hurricane buffer for New Orleans.

U.S. District Judge Nanette Jolivette Brown ruled last year that federal and state laws did not provide any avenue by which the levee authority could successfully bring suit.

The board later voted to pursue an appeal at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where arguments are set for Feb. 29.

Industry supporters characterize the suit as a potential windfall for lawyers and an unwarranted attack on a vital Louisiana industry.

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