UPDATE: St. Martin Parish’s Lawyers Respond to LCG Spoil Bank Complaint
Less than 48 hours after Lafayette Consolidated Government filed an amended complaint in its federal lawsuit against the St. Martin Parish Government and the United States Army Corps of Engineers, attorneys from St. Martin Parish are offering their rebuttal to the new court filing.
On Friday, Steven Oxenhandler responded to our request for comment about LCG's revised complaint. Mr. Oxenhandler, via email, said this:
LCG originally demanded a Declaratory Judgment stating it “complied with all lawful regulations, ordinances, rules, procedures and laws with the spoil bank project” – LCG has now dropped that demand, and wants a Declaratory Judgment that it has “no liability” to St. Martin Parish.
We believe the Amended Complaint is a CLEAR ADMISSION by LCG that it DID NOT comply with all “lawful regulations, ordinances, rules, procedures and laws” relating to the spoil bank.
Also, despite LCG’s FALSE claim to the contrary, as recently as MAY 17, 2022, the Corps of Engineers has confirmed “violations of Sec. 404 of the Clean Water Act and Sec. 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act" – this confirmation was AFTER a site visit, and the Cease and Desist Order remains in effect for Lafayette.
We will further address the specifics of LCG’s Amended Complaint in our formal response to be filed in Federal Court, but we believe the lawsuit has no merit and should be dismissed.
Oxenhandler did not give any indication as to when the St. Martin Parish Government will submit its formal reply to the federal court.
ORIGINAL STORY: May 19, 2022
Three weeks after its lawsuit against the St. Martin Parish Government and the United States Army Corps of Engineers was removed from district court to federal court, Lafayette Consolidated Government has filed the latest salvo in the case.
On Thursday, LCG's attorneys filed an amended complaint against the St. Martin Parish Government and the USACE. In that amended complaint, LCG accuses the St. Martin Parish Government of passing and trying to enforce an unconstitutional law preventing LCG from removing spoil banks on property in St. Martin Parish owned by LCG.
Those spoil banks were created nearly 70 years ago. The Army Corps of Engineers dredged the Vermilion River in the 1950s and placed the sediment removed from the river along its banks, forming the raised structures.
According to the complaint, St. Martin Parish officials opposed the permit without ever looking at any of LCG's applications.
"While this project was based on a long-standing recommendation of the Corps, St. Martin Parish opposed the permit," the amended complaint states. "St. Martin Parish's opposition appeared to be largely due to misinformed public opinion rather than the merits of the project."
LCG further accuses St. Martin Parish officials of holding multiple meetings with Lafayette Parish officials to stall LCG's efforts to remove the spoil banks.
"It appears now that these meeting (sic) and demands for more time were likely just delay tactics," the filing states. "St. Martin Parish had already retained legal counsel to prepare an injunction or formulate some other legal theory to prevent Lafayette Parish from completing the spoil bank process."
Near the end of the amended complaint, LCG accused the St. Martin Parish Council of implementing its spoil bank removal Ordinance specifically to stop LCG's work. The complaint quotes an interview St. Martin Parish Councilman Chris Tauzin gave to KPEL, in which, according to the filing, Tauzin claimed the council approved the Ordinance "specifically for this situation."
"Billing records from St. Martin Parish's counsel also shows (sic) the Ordinance was enacted as part of St. Martin Parish's scheme to stop Lafayette Parish from completing the spoil bank project.
"This Ordinance is clearly unconstitutional and not enforceable. In fact, the billing records from St. Martin Parish's counsel even appear to reflect their concern that the Ordinance could be subject to a constitutional challenge for being 'overbroad' or 'vague.'"
The amended complaint, however, does not contain a paragraph included in LCG's original complaint filed in district court in March. In that omitted paragraph, LCG said "the revised proposal did not require a permit from the Corps. It did not disturb any wetlands and did not fall within the jurisdiction of the Corps."
The amended complaint still mentions the permitting process.
"When LCG initially conceived of the project, it was broader in scope and included work within wetlands," the complaint states. "It included work on both the Lafayette Parish and St. Martin Parish sides of the bayou, and the work on each side was intended to be accomplished simultaneously. The initial Corps permit application was for this broader project."
Later in the filing, LCG's attorneys explain that the city-parish government narrowed the project in hopes that they could complete their work in St. Martin Parish without the need of a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.
"Based on its understanding from its extensive permitting history, Lafayette Parish concluded the narrowed project did not require a permit from the Corps," the complaint states. "Accordingly, it proceeded with the first phase of the revised project."
In April, the Army Corps of Engineers sent a cease-and-desist order to LCG. That order accused LCG of "apparent violations" of the Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Harbors Act while performing the spoil bank work.
St. Martin Parish previously filed a motion to dismiss the case. We have reached out to Steven Oxenhandler, the attorney representing the St. Martin Parish Government, for comment.
The full amended complaint is included below.