Friday, May 13, 2016

DOTD's Failure to Follow Louisiana Open Meeting Laws

Incoming Louisiana Transportation Secretary Dr. Shawn Wilson assured
us that openness and inclusiveness will be important goals of DOTD
under his leadership (fast forward to time 6 minutes 12 seconds).

Since relaunching the I-49 Lafayette Connector project in October, open public comment has not been permitted at DOTD sponsored meetings. This action is in clear defiance of the spirit of open government. In the case of committee meetings which are convened to make recommendations or decisions, it is clearly illegal. In his defense, State Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson has noted that the public is allowed one-on-one access to DOTD employees and contractors, and further, can provide written comments in a process similar to a collective project suggestion box. While both of these actions by the DOTD may be considered laudable, the fact remains that the public is not allowed public communication with committees which are assigned advisory and decision-making roles.

What will it take to get our State Transportation Secretary to follow the law? If this behavior is allowed to set a precedent, all future public participation in Louisiana state and local government decision-making is in jeopardy.

Why is the public's criticism so frightening to Dr. Wilson? Perhaps it is because
  • of the overwhelming public support for a bypass rather than an urban interstate
  • of the DOTD's embarrassment at their failure to consider in all current and future planning any actual sampling or measurement of the toxics present in their proposed right-of-way
  • of lack of any assement of the impact of driving pilings into our sole-source water supply through toxic wastes potentially destroying our water supply with toxic contamination 
  • public health impacts from exposure to toxic construction-related dust containing asbestos, lead, and arsenic from decades of rail yard activities
  • of noise impacts on home values and use of outdoor spaces downtown, 
  • of noise and air pollutant impacts on downtown festivals
  • of air pollution from interstate traffic falling over our downtown and surrounding neighborhoods
  • of causing our city to fall into ozone non-compliance which could trigger annual auto tailpipe inspections and limits on future industrial expansion in the city 
  • of adding risks to air travelers as their airplanes must liftoff and land over the elevated interstate proposed to be constructed at the end of the Lafayette Airport runway, 
  • of flooding resulting from huge new paved impervious surfaces that are intended to drain to Bayou Vermilion with no attenuation,
  • of flooding and wetland loss caused by filling acres of wetland in order to extend the airport runway 
  • of what else
The EIS  performed by DOTD for this project was woefully inadequate and inaccurate when it was created. Further, it piecemealed impacts by breaking off the airport reconstruction into a separate study. And, still worse, over the past 15 years that EIS has not aged gracefully. New scientific finding and changes in regulations make this document virtually irrelevant today.

Could these observations be the reason Shawn Wilson wants to stifle public input and awareness? Are there other reasons that Dr. Wilson no longer supports public openness and inclusiveness at DOTD?

Relevant Articles and Editorials

The Advertiser, April 29, 2016, Some not happy I-49 meetings don't allow public discussion

The Advertiser, May 5, 2016, Editorial: Let us reason together

The Advertiser, May 10, 2016, Voices: I-49 'public comment' requires large open forums

The Advertiser, May11, 2016, Schoeffler: I-49 connector meetings have violated Louisiana law

The Advertiser, May12, 2016, Voices: Consider all options when building I-49 connector

Published resources regarding Louisiana's Open Meeting Laws

The Louisiana Attorney General provides an overview and opinion on the application of Louisiana's Open Meeting Laws

Other sources of publicly available information include -

The Louisiana Open Meeting Law is available from LSU

and at this Louisiana Legislative Auditor site$FILE/Open%20Meetings%20Law%20FAQ.pdf

ThePublic Affairs Research Council of Louisiana publishes a guide to Louisiana Open Meeting Laws

A document from 2009 on the Louisiana Culture Recreation and Tourism site describes 5 things you should know about Louisiana Open Meeting Laws

The Public Affairs Research Council in 2010 published this information on Louisiana's sunshine laws