BREAKING: Lafayette quietly removes spoil levee from St Martin Parish

   
Cypress Island Swamp Area

Cypress Island Swamp Area, from St. Martin Parish Property Tax Assessor’s website.

A tip came in late yesterday from St. Martin Parish officials that a contractor for Lafayette Consolidated Government has removed “about 1,500 yards of dirt” from the St. Martin Parish side of the Vermilion River, and relocated it to the Lafayette side. That dirt was left over from a dredging operation in the Vermilion river that occurred sometime in the 1950s. As the river was being cleaned out, the dirt was left on the bank on the St. Martin Parish side.

The 2016 flood event in the area brought new attention to the spoil bank. Some who pay close attention to water flow and flooding believed that the spoils created something of a levee, that reduced the size of a natural floodwater retention area in Cypress Island Swamp. Negotiations had been ongoing between St. Martin and Lafayette parishes for some months. However, St. Martin officials tell us a meeting that was supposed to occur in December never took place.

The disagreement stemmed from officials in St. Martin Parish believing that the spoil bank levee protected the parish from Vermilion River flooding. Several studies were completed. One of those studies reportedly supported St. Martin’s position, and another study supported Lafayette’s.

Lafayette bought the land in St. Martin Parish

We confirmed with the St. Martin Parish Clerk of Court that a transaction (numbered 553491) between Lafayette Consolidated Government and Blanchet Land Company, LLC, was recorded just this morning. The document shows that on February 21, LCG purchased a one-third (1/3) undivided interest of the land from Blanchet for about $42,000. The remaining two-thirds (2/3) reportedly belongs to another party who was unaware of the transaction.

The work appears to be already complete even though this is all just now coming to light. That may be because property transaction records are not required to be filed immediately. Sources tell us that the dirt moving operation commenced “within the hour” of the signed agreement. The sale agreement is dated February 21, 2022. So, Lafayette Consolidated Government does own a share of the land from which the spoil bank levee was removed. However, St. Martin Parish government officials tell us that no permit was filed to modify the spoil bank levee, as is required by ordinance 21-07-1327 (passed at the St. Martin Parish Council meeting of July 6th, 2021).

But Lafayette was “no longer pursuing” the project?

According to St. Martin Parish President Chester Cedars October 19, 2021, President’s report, Josh Guillory was no longer pursuing the spoil bank removal project.

On October 14, 2021, I met with Mayor-President Guillory and several members of his staff. At that time, he confirmed that LCG is no longer pursuing the spoil bank removal project in St. Martin Parish AT THIS TIME. LCG’s permit application was withdrawn. However, Guillory was adamant that the project would be of great benefit both St. Martin and Lafayette Parishes.

The report also includes several references to Alex Guillory of Bluewing Civil Consultants. His study suggested “the removal of the spoil banks presents no threats or negative effects to Lafayette Parish; however, the same cannot be said relative to St. Martin Parish residents.”

Who did the work?

We’ve been unable to locate any bids for the work. However, Lafayette OpenBook reflects that on February 11th, an expenditure of $4 MILLION was made in the Public Works budget (from Fund 127 – Grants – State) to RIGID CONSTRUCTORS, LLC. Another $459,861 was issued to them in the same way on Feb 28th. The only other Fund 127 items of prominence in the same period was for unrelated roadwork expenses to McBade Engineers, a civil engineering firm from Youngsville.

It was on February 1, 2022, that the City of Lafayette passed City Ordinance CO-008-2022. It makes for some very interesting reading. It includes some budgetary re-arranging to allocate $2 million be spent on the “cypress island swamp spoil bank project.” It also includes signed disbursement request forms with blanks where the vendor name should be. There’s also a blank vendor on an equipment purchase form, a construction contract award form, and a real estate closing form, all signed by Josh Guillory on February 4th.

As of this writing, messages for Parish Presidents Josh Guillory (Lafayette) and Chester Cedars (St. Martin) have not been returned.

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