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Parish will take Lake Martin case to Supreme Court

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Posted at 4:43 PM, Sep 02, 2020

St. Martin Parish Government will ask the state Supreme Court to hear the Lake Martin case.

Parish President Chester Cedards says he thinks there's a good case. He said the parish has been working with the family that owns most of the land around the lake, as well as with the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, to create a plan that opens Lake Martin to the public.

"The management of that lake, legislatively, is vested with the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Having said that, the parish has a vested interest in protecting what we believe to be a natural habitat," Cedars said. "We want to keep it open. We'll do whatever we can do to work with those parties to make it happen."

A couple of weeks ago, the Third Circuit Court of Appeal ruled 3-2 in favor of a Lake Martin swamp tour and shop owner upholding a decision from a lower court allowing him to stay in business over the objections of the St. Martin Parish Government.

Last year, 16th Judicial District Judge Keith Comeaux denied a petition for injunctive relief filed against Bryan Champagne and his two businesses – Champagne’s Cajun Swamp Tours and the Wharf on Lake Martin – both of which are located in Breaux Bridge along the shores of Lake Martin.

You can read more on that here.

The motion was filed by SMPG in April 2016, alleging that Champagne was operating his business in violation of certain zoning regulations.

Comeaux ruled that Champagne had done what the parish had required of him and that his rights would be violated if the injunction were to be enforced.

SMPG then appealed the decision to the Third Circuit Court of Appeal who issued an opinion on Wednesday where a panel of judges ruled to uphold the lower court’s ruling that Champagne could continue operating his business.

"It was a long battle, but we felt we did everything right from the beginning,” Champagne told KATC at the time. “We did everything the legal way that is why we fought it. My attorney called me Wednesday and said we won. That felt good because we did everything by the book."

In writing for the majority, Judge Candyce Perret wrote that Champagne relied in good faith, to his detriment, on the permits issued by the parish and incurred expense as a result. Perret wrote that this gave Champagne a "vested right."

In a dissenting opinion, Judge John Conery wrote that while the parish incorrectly issued the building permits, Champagne had no legal authority to construct commercial buildings on Lake Martin.

Conery also disagreed with Champagne’s “vested right” to operate a commercial business from structures he built on Lake Martin, which is state-controlled nature preserve.

The dissenting opinion also referred to testimony in the trial from St. Martin Parish President Chester Cedars, which could set the stage if the decision is taken up to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

“We believe the dissent set forth the appropriate issues with a great deal of clarity and we think the result suggested by the dissent is the appropriate decision,” Cedars said at the time.

Cedars told KATC at that time that he would submit his formal recommendations to the parish council on how to proceed in seeking relief from the supreme court at the next meeting on Sept. 1; that's the meeting that happened yesterday, during which the council voted to take the case to the Supreme Court.

“We want to get this matter resolved within bounds of law as quickly as possible,” Cedars said at the time. “The parish will continue to enforce its zoning regulations as it relates to protection of nature of Lake Martin.”

You can read the full Third Circuit decision here.