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LCG sues St. Martin and the US Army Corps over spoil levee issue

Posted at 10:50 AM, Mar 24, 2022

The Lafayette City-Parish Government has sued St. Martin Parish and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over the ongoing spoil levee issue.

The Petition for Declaratory Judgment filed in Lafayette court today asks a judge to rule that the project in question was done properly and that a Corps permit was not required. The suit does not request the court to rule about a St. Martin Parish permit, but does allege an ordinance that requires the permit is unconstitutional.

At issue is the LCG's removal of some levees created by spoil back when the Vermilion River was dredged in the 1950s. LCG wanted to remove them to allow water from the Vermilion River to flow into an area in St. Martin Parish. LCG says the action was necessary to help with flooding.

But the spoil banks were located in St. Martin Parish, and St. Martin Parish officials maintain that there is no evidence that removal of the banks will help Lafayette Parish flooding - and worry that it will cause or worsen flooding in that parish.

Additionally, St. Martin Parish officials allege that a St. Martin Parish permit was required before the work was done. Also in question is whether or not a Corps permit was required; LCG did apply for a Corps permit for an earlier and similar version of the project. That permit was withdrawn after St. Martin refused to issue its permit. Corps officials told KATC that they are investigating the work that was done to determine if any Corps permit was required.

Also, the St. Martin Parish Council decided to take LCG to court over the work.

When we reached out to St. Martin Parish Chester Cedars and he referred questions to the parish's attorneys. The only thing he would say is "We're going to protect our parish."

The parish's attorney, Steve Oxenhandler of the Gold Weems firm in Alexandria, said his clients are eager to respond to this lawsuit.

"The people of St. Martin Parish and Chester Cedars forward to defending this lawsuit and having all the truth come out about what really happened come out," Oxenhandler said. "We will be defending this suit aggressively."

Oxenhandler said he heard a radio interview with Mayor-President Josh Guillory that happened yesterday, during which Guillory said he let Cedars know the suit was being filed, as a "heads-up."

"But he did not give him a head's up when he authorized contractors for LCG during the day and through the night to remove the spoil banks. That was done surreptitiously," he said.

Oxenhandler said he heard another interview with Guillory a few weeks ago when the Mayor-President refused to say whether he advised St. Martin Parish about the work in advance.

"When pressed by the commentators, Mr. Guillory would not answer and stated brazenly that he was tired of bureaucracy, he just executes," Oxenhandler said.

Rules and permits and processes are "there for a reason. They are there to protect everyone," Oxenhandler said.

The suit filed today accuses St. Martin Parish of moving too slowly.

"Lafayette Parish has seen the pace at which St. Martin Parish and the St. Martin Parish President operate," the suit states. "It does not want to wait a quarter of a century for it to be made clear that Lafayette Parish has no liability as it complied with all lawful regulations, ordinances, rules, procedures and laws with the spoil bank project."

The suit also alleges that St. Martin Parish objected to the work without ever seeing models. Earlier this month, St. Martin Parish President Chester Cedars told KATC that part of his objection to the work having been done was that LCG had never sent him the models. He said the only models LCG had sent to his people were the models for the earlier project - the one for which LCG had withdrawn its application to the Corps for a permit.

LCG also says a St. Martin Parish ordinance was passed to attempt to stop the project. LCG had purchased a part-ownership in the property where the spoil banks are located, and says it is unconstitutional for St. Martin to require a permit.

We've reached out to the Corps for a response. We'll update this story as we receive more information.

If you'd like to read the petition for yourself, here it is: