Lafeyette Consolidated Government beats St. Martin Parish to courthouse; sues Army Corps & St. Martin Parish over spoil bank removals on Vermillion River.

Chester Cedars, Parish President of St. Martin Parish, who got approval from the St. Martin Parish Council on Tuesday, March 15, 2022 to sue Lafayette Consolidated Government over its act of spoil bank removals along the Vermillion River, instead finds himself on the receiving end of a lawsuit from Lafayette Consolidated Government.

After St. Martin Parish President Chester Cedars gave his fire-and-brimstone sermon lambasting the Lafayette Consolidated Government (LCG) and its President, Josh Guillory, entailing LCG’s removal of spoil banks along the Vermillion River, we knew it would not be long before the ongoing battle heated up!

Yesterday (Wednesday, March 23, 2022) LCG filed this petition in 15th JDC in Lafayette.  Let’s take a look at a few highlights, shall we?:

Some of the disregarded sediment/dredging material or “spoils” was left on the St. Martin Parish side of the Vermilion Bayou over 100 feet from the bank. The spoil was incorrectly, and unintentionally, left in that location. Over the ensuing years, this caused the formation of a spoil bank that partially impeded the natural flow of water from the Vermilion Bayou into and out of the Cypress Island Swamp.

The unintentional formation of this spoil bank impeded the flow of the Vermilion Bayou into the Cypress Island Swamp. Previously, flood water could easily flow from the Vermilion Bayou into the Cypress Island Swamp, and from the Cypress Island Swamp into the Vermilion Bayou, thereby assisting with flood prevention in both Lafayette and St. Martin Parish.

After the historic 2016 flood, the Corps and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (ULL) conducted a study on effective flood prevention measures. The study concluded the most important measure to reduce flooding in this region was to increase floodwater storage and watershed retention capacity.

In order to protect its residents, and assist flooding prevention efforts in the entire region, Lafayette Parish set out to implement projects consistent with the findings of the study, including the construction of numerous detention ponds.

Lafayette Parish also turned its attention back to the recommendation from the “Flood Control Reconnaissance Study” conducted by the Corps in 1995, which fell perfectly in line with the more recent conclusions of the Corps/ULL study. If the height of a portion of the unintentionally created spoil bank in St. Martin Parish was reduced, free exchange of the stormwater into and out of the Cypress Island Swamp could be restored and the Cypress Island Swamp could be returned to a natural retention area for floodwaters. This would significantly reduce flooding in Lafayette with no harm to St. Martin Parish. In fact, there would be a direct benefit to St. Martin Parish with a reduction of stormwater volume and with the timing of stormwater recession.

St. Martin Parish was not satisfied. The St. Martin Parish President demanded to see “much more data.”

Although the project had been proposed in 1995 by the Corps and its value was subsequently confirmed by ULL, the St. Martin Parish President believed more time and studies were needed to determine whether it should be implemented. Apparently, a quarter of a century was not enough time.

Residents of Lafayette Parish, however, could not afford to wait another quarter of a century hoping that the St. Martin Parish President would one day be satisfied.

Lafayette Parish complied with all requirements and obtained all the information needed to apply to the Corps for a permit for the spoil bank project. Accordingly, Lafayette Parish applied for a permit.

St. Martin Parish then filed an objection to the permit, apparently, without ever seeing the models upon which the permit application was based and without providing a copy of its objection or even notifying Lafayette Parish. The St. Martin Parish President proudly shared that he actually vetted the objection himself, despite having no formal background in the area.

Lafayette Parish tried to work with the St. Martin Parish President to appease his concerns. The Parishes had multiple meetings, and Lafayette Parish shared its data. The data showed no harm to St. Martin Parish and benefits to the entire region. But the St. Martin Parish President could not be appeased. He demanded more time and more studies.

Lafayette Parish, however, was not obligated to wait for the St. Martin Parish President’s approval. Accordingly, it pressed forward with the spoil bank project. It conducted further analysis and revised the project so that it would achieve similar benefits but would no longer fall within the jurisdiction of the Corps.

The revised proposal did not require a permit from the Corps. It did not disturb any nearby wetlands and did not fall within the jurisdiction of the Corps.

Approximately a year ago, without any warning or notice to Lafayette Parish, and apparently desperate to find a way to prevent this beneficial flood prevention project from proceeding, St. Martin Parish enacted Ordinance Sec.14-71 (No. 21-07-1327-OR). The Ordinance specifically targeted Lafayette Parish. It attempted to prevent Lafayette Parish from removing dirt from its own property without first obtaining the approval of St. Martin Parish. This ordinance was clearly unconstitutional and not enforceable.

In February of 2022, Lafayette Parish finally executed on this spoil bank project, which had been in the works for over twenty-five years, and completed it in less than twenty-four hours.

While this should have been a moment of celebration, as Lafayette Parish had finally completed a project that could provide flood relief to thousands of vulnerable residents and benefit the entire region, it was instead sullied with a roughly thirty-minute screed from the St. Martin Parish President.

The St. Martin Parish President threatened to sue every person, firm, or entity involved in the spoil bank project, including but not limited to LCG officials. The St. Martin President also demanded investigations from Congress and every agency he could think to name.

Lastly, the St. Martin Parish President insisted that Lafayette Parish violated the Corps regulations by not obtaining a permit, ignoring that a permit was not necessary for the revised proposal that was implemented.

Lafayette Parish has seen the pace at which St. Martin Parish and the St. Martin Parish President operate. 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.

Lafayette Parish firmly contends this spoil bank project did not fall within the jurisdiction of the Corps and thus Lafayette Parish was not required to obtain a permit. St. Martin Parish, however, is threatening liability claiming such a permit was necessary. Accordingly, Lafayette Parish also seeks a declaration that its spoil bank project did not fall within the jurisdiction of the Corps and did not require a permit, and as such is required to name the Corps as a party to this action.

All we can reiterate is that, as we stated in the feature linked above, a courtroom won’t be like a sermon (or to quote Adley “screed”) being delivered by Cedars.

We’ll also note some of the striking similarities of the above excerpts from the lawsuit filed late yesterday with the matter entailing Billy Broussard, to wit:

  1.  “Crusade to harass Broussard” (direct quote by Adley in Broussard Pre-Trial Memorandum).
  2. Ordinance passed by SMPG Council “unconstitutional and unenforceable.”  Also, “targeted” at LCG. (EXACTLY as asserted in the Broussard litigation and, in fact, both ordinances were passed within mere days of one another).
  3. Cedars not negotiating in good faith (which we’ve observed to be a HUGE understatement in the matter entailing Broussard).

We will certainly mark our calendars for any court hearing for this litigation (though we know other media outlets will as  well) the same way we’ve marked our calendar for May 3, 2022 for the Broussard litigation.

Love him or hate him, St. Martin Parish President Chester Cedars sure does seem to enjoy making some lawyers quite wealthy with all of the litigation that he either initiates (Broussard) or directly causes to be initiated (LCG).

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