May 9, 2012 7:11 PM by Maddie Garrett
A St. Martin Parish School Board contract to harvest cypress trees in the Atchafalaya Basin is under fire. The board agreed to sell its timber rights for $98,500 to Good Hope Inc. earlier this year. The school board owns 640 acres in the basin and it plans to allow timber harvesting on 450 of those acres. About half of the cypress trees are set for harvest, as well as other trees in the area.
Henderson Mayor Sherbin Collette opposes the contract and said he wants to preserve the Atchafalaya Basin any way he can.
"If we continue at the rate we're cutting cypress trees, it's going to be a very short time we won't have anymore," said Collette.
While other properties in the basin are harvesting cypress trees, Collette is asking the school board not to do the same.
"It's unreal how many cypress trees have been cut in the basin already. Now this is state property, this is school board property, it's the only place we can say enough's enough," he said.
Collette said he and the basin keepers believe harvesting the trees would be illegal because they're on a state-owned water bottom. But the school board said that area, by legal definition, is not a water bottom.
"Our attorney has clearly stated in the brief, and it's five pages long, he says he doesn't think we're in trouble," said Superintendent Richard Lavergne.
Lavergne pointed out that only medium sized cypress trees can be cut, so it won't be a clear-cutting operation. He also said that the section 16 property they own was given to the school board as a way to generate revenue.
"The economy is not as strong as it once was and the state has not given us increases for four consecutive years," he explained of the financial strains.
Lavergne said as of now, the contract is a done deal.
Company leaders at Good Hope Inc. said it is wary of getting into any legal battles, but that the contract is not on hold. Good Hope is now waiting on permits from the state and Army Corps of Engineers.