The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a cease-and-desist letter to Lafayette Consolidated Government in April regarding a spoil bank project in St. Martin Parish.
More than a month later, LCG has responded to say that officials do not believe they violated any rules in the project - which is the subject of a lawsuit in federal court.
At issue is a project that LCG already has completed in St. Martin Parish, which removed decades-old levees on property partially owned by LCG. St. Martin Parish officials said that LCG did the project in the dark of night, and without permits from either the parish or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. LCG already had filed for a permit at a different location with the Corps; that permit application was withdrawn after St. Martin told the Corps that no parish permits for it would be granted.
The cease-and-desist letter was sent regarding an "apparent violation" of the federal Rivers and Harbors Act and the Clean Water Act by the project. It requested that LCG "address why you failed to obtain a DA permit prior to conducting this unauthorized work in light of the fact that you had a permit application for this work and withdrew it, had a wetland delineation showing where wetlands and non-wetland waters, occurred on the properties, understand that permits are required in waters of the U.S. and have extensive permitting history with the Corps," the letter states.
Last week, James Gibson, an attorney representing LCG, responded to the cease-and-desist letter, and claims that Corps investigators "indicated that there were no issues with LCG's reduction of the height of the spoil bank," and asks for more details on the alleged violations.
Also in his response, Gibson states that LCG conducted the work because of a flood control study done by the Corps in 1995. That report stated that the height of the spoil bank in the area in question impeded the natural flow of water from the Vermilion Bayou in and out of the Cypress Island Swamp.
It says that in 2022, LCG executed the project, and then on April 4 it received the cease and desist letter. The letter states LCG has 20 days to respond.
Gibson's May 13 letter acknowledges that, originally, LCG had planned a larger project in different areas - areas that included wetlands. LCG's original permit application was for that larger project, he wrote. But St. Martin Parish opposed the permit, he wrote, and so LCG withdrew the permit.
It's the position of St. Martin Parish officials that LCG told them they withdrew the permit and planned to redesign the project and come back with another plan. Instead, St. Martin Parish folks say, LCG's contractor went forward with a revised plan without submitting any information or notice to St. Martin Parish - or the Corps. To read our story about that, click here.
The St. Martin Parish Council decided to sue LCG over this issue, but before they could file suit LCG filed suit against St. Martin Parish and the Corps, asking the court to rule that the project was done legally and properly. To read about that, click here. Earlier this month, the Corps had the suit removed to federal court. To read about that, click here.
When we spoke to the corps back in March, they told us that they were launching an investigation into the project because no permit or plans for the completed project had been submitted. To read that story, click here. That, apparently, resulted in the cease-and-desist letter that LCG received on April 4.
In his response letter, Gibson writes that LCG designed the second project to avoid wetlands and "navigable waters." But it admits that the project was based on the 1995 report that found the spoil bank - which LCG lowered - had changed the flow of the Bayou Vermilion.
"LCG retained contractors to complete the work. It advised the contractors that all work on the St. Martin Parish side was to be done in limited upland areas so that this project did not affect any wetlands or navigable waters and thus would not fall within the jurisdiction of the USACE," Gibson wrote.
When Corps investigators met with LCG officials on May 6, they determined that some of the spoil bank that LCG's contractors had removed had been dumped on wetlands, and told LCG that the dirt had to be removed. LCG asked if a permit would be required to restore the wetlands, and the Corps said no, so LCG will be proceeding to restore that area of the wetlands, the letter states.
Part of the project is on the Lafayette Parish side of the river, and a permit application for that part of the job was submitted, Gibson said, and he pledged that LCG will not start on that project until a permit is issued.
Gibson said the Corps investigators "indicated that there were no issues with LCG's reduction of the height of the spoil bank" but the notes of the cease-and-desist letter reference violations of federal law.
"To LCG's knowledge, no such violations occurred," Gibson wrote, and he asks for a detailed explanation so LCG can respond.
We reached out to the Corps today for clarification but were told that they can't talk to us due to the pending litigation.
We also reached out to St. Martin Parish's counsel.
Here are the letters: