The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Department will move forward with consolidating its southwest offices in Lafayette.
In a letter to Iberia Parish President Larry Richard, Secretary Jack Montoucet writes that his staff carefully considered the proposals made by Iberia Parish officials in an attempt to keep an office there. If you’d like to read the letter for yourself, scroll down. KATC TV3 obtained the letter via a public records request to the state.
"I take the discharge of my duties in this position very seriously and do not make this decision lightly," Montoucet writes. "Upon review of all the material presented in the New Iberia office proposal, I believe that this department and state are best served to move forward with the purchase of the Lafayette facility and consolidate the operations of New Iberia, Lafayette and Opelousas to that location."
The plan is to bring the New Iberia office and the Opelousas office into a centrally located building in Lafayette. The New Iberia office serves Assumption, Iberia, St. Martin, St. Mary and Terrebonne parishes. The Opelousas office serves Avoyelles, Iberville, Lafayette, Pointe Coupee, St. Landry and West Baton Rouge parishes.
The move to consolidation came after the department looked at all its field offices around the state and identified more than $50 million in repair, expansion or replacement costs for those offices. The Opelousas and New Iberia offices needed to be replaced completely, Montoucet wrote, at an estimated cost of $3.8 million and $7 million respectively.
On the other hand, consolidating the Lafayette, Opelousas and New Iberia offices into a Lafayette building would allow the department to sell the old offices in Opelousas and New Iberia, he writes. The building he’s looking at would also allow the department to rent space, bringing in income to pay for the building’s operations and maintenance, he wrote.
Montoucet writes that he’s looking at a building near I-10 and I-49, which would allow the department to base its Enforcement Strike Force there, and offer a central location to stage search and rescue operations. The building has more than five acres of fenced property that the department can use to storage boats, vehicles and equipment.
The New Iberia proposal would not address the issues with the Opelousas office, and the facility offered by Iberia Parish would require some construction and security that’s already available at the Lafayette site, he writes. Also, the Enforcement Division could not have its hurricane staging area in Iberia Parish because it is too close to the coast, he wrote.
"In conclusion, while consolidation of offices may not be popular on a local level, I believe this approach can help this agency continue to provide excellent service to all of the citizens of this state without incurring state debt and without termination of employees in those areas," Montoucet writes. "Fundamentally, there is the potentially substantial legal exposure that comes from breaching the Purchase Agreement that is in place."
To read our earlier story on this situation, click here.
Here’s the letter: