NewsLocal NewsIn Your ParishLafayette Parish


Judge dismisses LCG's expropriation attempt, says it was done improperly

Posted at 6:46 PM, May 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-04 19:46:10-04

A Lafayette judge handed a big loss to the Guillory administration on Wednesday when she ruled that LCG's taking of some of the highest land along the river was done "arbitrarily, capriciously or in bad faith."

Judge Valerie Gotch-Garrett issued the ruling on Wednesday in a case that Lafayette Consolidated Government filed against the Bendel family. The drainage project, known as the Homewood detention project, was already underway when the suit was filed, but the judge halted work following a hearing in March.

The judge dismissed the suit by LCG, which sought to finalize its seizure of the property.

In her reasons, which you can read below, Gotch-Garrett explains that the facts and evidence showed LCG did almost nothing properly in selecting the property in question for the drainage project. There's no question that Lafayette Parish needs drainage work to prevent flooding, and LCG did prove that detention ponds work to do that, the judge wrote.

The problem arose when the court looked at how LCG selected the Bendel property and designed and implemented their project, she wrote.

"While LCG undoubtedly conducted some analyses, data collection and modeling regarding the Homewood Detention Project, this Court finds that LCG fell short of an adequate determining principal and/or that the decision to expropriate this particular site was arbitrarily determined," the judge wrote.

The reasons also state that the report considered by the Court only looked at the Bendel property, and suggested that LCG first selected the property it wanted to use and then went about trying to justify taking it. Indeed, she wrote, LCG appears to have ignored findings in its own expert's report that indicate other projects would have had a significantly larger impact on flooding than this project.

She mentions Mayor-President Josh Guillory specifically, stating that the failure to produce an engineering report for the project was "inexcusable," given that Guillory had promised one would be produced. She also notes that LCG didn't do the most preliminary of tests - a soil analysis - until after it seized the property. That soil test indicated the dirt there was porous and thus not suitable for a detention pond, the judge wrote.

LCG's own witness testified that, for effective detention ponds, LCG needed property located where there was too much water for the land to handle - but the Bendel property is one of the few properties that didn't flood during the August 2016 flood, which was the benchmark used for much of LCG's analyses, she wrote. She added that, had LCG bothered to consider any property in the area besides the Bendel property, they would have found property much better suited for detention projects.

The judge also noted that, although only 90 acres were needed for ponds, LCG seized an additional 200-plus acres with no explanation other than to say a 'staging area' was needed for the construction process.

Gotch-Garrett wrote that "of particular concern" to the court was the lack of any engineering report and the reliance of LCG upon LIDAR data that's almost 20 years old. LIDAR is a remote sensing method that can map topography from the air by using lasers. By using that old data, LCG did not account for changes in topography since that time, the judge noted. She also expressed concern about the LCG engineer's ability to be impartial - since she's paid a percentage of the final cost of the project.

Here's the full judgment and written reasons for it: