Does Lafayette need drainage plan to take private property? Court to rule in land grab suit
Lafayette Consolidated Government’s lack of a formal parish-wide drainage plan was again key to the lawsuit over its 2020 quick-take land grab for a detention pond as a panel of judges heard arguments in the case Tuesday.
Third Circuit Court of Appeal Judges Elizabeth Pickett, Kent Savoie and Van Kyzar convened via Zoom Tuesday for a hearing on LCG’s quick-take expropriation of a 16.5-acre lot on Lake Farm Road from the estate of Lucille B. Randol in May 2020.
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Whereas typical land grabs can take months in court, LCG clear-cut the Randol property and started digging a pair of detention ponds in a matter of days last May. Work on the ponds was all but complete as of this spring.
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The case saw 15th Judicial District Court Judge Michelle Breaux rule against LCG after Randol family attorney Gary McGoffin argued LCG did not meet the legal requirements for seizing the land because it had not followed “best modern practices” in selecting the land since such practices were not codified by LCG.
Long-time LCG engineer Fred Trahan testified then that even though he signed a certificate confirming that the detention pond met “best modern practice” standards, the phrase is not specifically defined in LCG codes or guidance.
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“Despite the fact that the certification was signed indicating that the project was in accordance with best modern practice, Mr. Trahan also testified that his department has no ‘best modern practices’ within which to guide his certification,” Breaux wrote in her ruling.
“This court is of the opinion that Mr. Trahan signed the Certificate of Engineer without complying to the statutory mandate,” she added. “Considering the evidence presented, the court finds the procedural aspect of the taking by (LCG) was not in accordance with (state law).”
But arguments Tuesday centered on LCG’s lack of a formal parish-wide drainage plan, which McGoffin pointed to as a clear sign that LCG could not have done its due diligence when it singled out the Randol property for its quick-take land grab.
“LCG has the obligation to make sure that this is going to work, if they’re going to take our property. That was the safeguard that they placed in the statute which they enacted with regard to best practices,” McGoffin said.
“If they’re going to be able to take your property, quickly, without completing the traditional expropriation process, then we, the citizens, have to be protected to make sure that this is going to work for the public purpose that was intended.”
In a subsequent quick-take lawsuit over LCG’s Homewood Detention Pond, Assistant City-Parish Attorney Mike Hebert argued that a parish-wide drainage plan was in existence in some form as early as 2017.
Last year, LCG contracted a Baton Rouge firm to develop a comprehensive parish-wide drainage plan. Work on that plan is not complete.
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But Hebert was hamstrung Tuesday by appellate court rules that generally prevent the introduction of new evidence that wasn’t presented at trial, leaving him unable to make that case since he did not present that argument during the hearing in Lafayette before Breaux in August.
Still, he insisted LCG’s lack of a formal drainage plan document did not make its seizure of the Randol property “arbitrary, capricious or in bad faith.”
“Mr. Trahan repeatedly, in his testimony, called it a program. And several times, someone said, ‘Is this a plan?’ and he said ‘No, It’s not a plan. It’s a program,’” Hebert argued.
“Frankly, who cares what we call it? It’s a defined set of determining principles that the undisputed testimony established are the guides to LCG’s drainage policy.”
The three-judge panel was limited in its questions during Tuesday’s hour-long hearing, offering little insight into how the panel might rule.
Pickett, who took the lead on Tuesday’s hearing, said she expects the panel to have a ruling within a month. That ruling will likely be appealed to the Louisiana Supreme Court regardless of the panel’s decision.
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This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: Lafayette’s lack of formal drainage plan key to land grab lawsuit