The Vermilion River spoil bank controversy is headed to court.

Lafayette Consolidated Government fired the first legal salvo in the case, seeking a declaratory judgment against the St. Martin Parish Government and the United States Army Corps of Engineers. This lawsuit, filed in the 15th Judicial District Court, asks a judge to rule that LCG "complied with all lawful regulations, ordinances, rules, procedures and laws with the spoil bank project, and specifically, requests a judgment that no permit was required by the Corps for the project as the revised proposal that was implemented did not fall within Corps jurisdiction."

The case has been assigned to Division B Judge Valerie Gotch Garrett.

The suit was filed on Tuesday, seven days after the St. Martin Parish Council voted to give their parish president, Chester Cedars, the authority to sue Lafayette Parish over the removal of the spoil banks on property across the Vermilion River from the Oakbourne Subdivision and Lafayette Regional Airport. LCG purchased a share of that property, located in St. Martin Parish, from two local families. Cedars, members of the parish council, and residents of the Cypress Island community are concerned that the removal of the spoil banks will cause more flooding issues near Cypress Island during a major rain event.

St. Martin Parish Assessor's Office
St. Martin Parish Assessor's Office

LCG officials contend that the spoil banks, placed about 100 feet away from the river's bank after dredging work in the 1950s, prevent the natural flow of rainwater into the Cypress Island Swamp, creating flooding issues for residents in the city of Lafayette and Lafayette Parish.

"The unintentional formation of this spoil bank impeded the flow of the Vermilion Bayou into the Cypress Island Swamp," the lawsuit states. "Previously, flood water could easily flow from the Vermilion Bayou into 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."

LCG also argues in the filing that the spoil bank removal project did require a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. The suit claims that LCG "conducted further analysis and revised the project so that it would achieve similar benefits but would not longer fall within the jurisdiction of the Corps." LCG also says in the petition that the project "did not disturb any nearby wetlands" before reiterating that it "did not fall within the jurisdiction of the Corps."

LCG also argues that the St. Martin Parish ordinance requiring landowners to receive the parish council's approval to remove spoil banks from their properties is "clearly unconstitutional and unenforceable."

LCG's attorney close the lawsuit by accusing St. Martin Parish of moving too slowly to relieve flooding in the region. The suit says governments officials ignored a Flood Control Reconnaissance Study issued by the Corps in 1995, a study that, according to LCG officials, called for the "reduction of the height of limited sections of the spoil bank would assist significantly with flood prevention efforts and provide relief to thousands of vulnerable residents during heavy rain and flood events."

"Lafayette Parish has seen the pace at which St. Martin Parish and the St. Martin Parish President operate," the suit reads. "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."

Cedars deferred comments about the lawsuit itself to the attorney representing the parish in this matter, Steven Oxenhandler. Oxenhandler says Guillory emailed Cedars, saying he was going to file a lawsuit in federal court.

"We find it very strange that Mr. Guillory would call and give Mr. Cedars a heads-up about a lawsuit when he secretively removed the spoil banks without telling Mr. Cedars anything when he knew Mr. Cedars opposed it and when the Army Corps of Engineers hadn't completed their review," Oxenhandler said. "We also find it strange that Mr. Guillory gave an interview where he said he did not like bureaucracy and would not tolerate bureaucracy. What Mr. Guillory terms as bureaucracy are steps that need to be taken--the rule of law--before any such action that impacts a population, like removing a spoil bank, occurs.

"Mr. Cedars and the people of St. Martin Parish look forward to defending this lawsuit and having our day in court," Oxenhandler added.

Meanwhile, Cedars refused to take back any comments he made previously.

"St. Martin Parish has always and will continue to take every step possible to protect the interests of St. Martin Parish residents," Cedars said on Thursday. "I stand by every single solitary comment I made on Tuesday, March 15, 2022, at the parish council meeting."

Ricky Boyett, the chief of public affairs for the United States Army Corps of Engineers in New Orleans says the Corps is investigating whether a permit was needed for LCG's work and, if one was, what regulations may have been violated. Boyett said he could not provide a timetable for when that investigation would be complete.

Boyett also says the Army Corps of Engineers has not seen the lawsuit. He said even if the Corps had seen the suit, he would not be able to comment on pending litigation.

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