Ponds not pits, no backfill requiredMar 1st, 2011 | By Michelle Provencher | Category: top story
Persistence proved to pay off for the Perez family, who after long debate had a promise made to them by the Plaquemines Parish Council to grant the permit needed to build fishing ponds on their land.
The council’s decision came after a suspension of the rules by Councilman PV Griffin, District 1, to reconsider the Perez’s denied permit for fishing ponds, which was not on the agenda at the most recent council meeting, held Feb. 24.
Prior to the meeting, the parish and the Perez family have been sparring in a lawsuit, filed as result of Plaquemines’ policy that borrow pits must be backfilled. The council considered the commercial and recreational fishing ponds — one of which could be as much as 26-feet-deep — that the Perez’s plan to dig on the Eastbank to be borrow pits due to the excess of dirt to be removed, and then likely sold for levee construction elsewhere.
The 22-26-foot-deep pond would be for bass, and additional ponds would be leveed above ground for crawfish, said Chalyn Perez. They would be recreational fishing ponds, but open to the public for a fee.
Councilman Burghart Turner, Dist. 6, countered Perez at length.
“The issue isn’t even what they want to use it for,” said Turner. “That’s not the point. [The point is] you have a court case that you’re asking us to dismiss that will affect all pits, whether you call it a swimming pool.”
Turner said the matter at hand is whether or not the ordinance is legal.
“Our law is what’s being challenged,” Turner continued. “By dropping this, we’re saying that the law is unconstitutional.”
In a frustrated tone, Perez responded to the council’s qualms.
Robert Barnett, PPC legal consultant, was called upon to illuminate the repercussions of dismissing the court case and granting the permit.
“If this is dismissed, your ordinance as of 1995 is unconstitutional,” said Barnett.
The parish could then be sued for damages, or forced to pay legal fees incurred by the Perez family from the suit, said Barnett.
“Right now you’re giving up everything without protection,” said Barnett.
Perez quickly conceded, and agreed not to pursue further legal action against Plaquemines Parish if the permit were granted. He highlighted the reforestation plans and piers to be built.
However, it quickly turned to a war of words with council member Marla Cooper, District 9, who said Perez was misleading.
“You really are making me lose my cool,” said Cooper. “You came to my office and presented a pond, a commercial pond you were going to stock with fish.” Perez interjected, but Cooper continued. “Excuse me. I have the floor right now. You came before this council with your family and said it wasn’t going to be commercial for you and your family. Every time you come here, it’s a different story. You’re coming to us with a borrow pit and [calling it] fishing ponds to get around backfill. Your mom said you wouldn’t make Stella into commercial property.”
Reverend Tyrone Edwards, an Eastbank resident and frequent participator in council meetings, said he was worried how the council’s exception for the Perez family would affect people in the parish waiting for borrow pits in their backyards to be filled.
“I haven’t heard anybody give me and my family any assurance that would guarantee us that hole would be filled,” said Edwards of the pit next to his family’s house. “The person who put the hole next to my house [could] ride this out and see the outcome of this case. I’m wondering what’s going to happen to our family. Can anyone assure me and my family that the outcome of a decision today would make holes still be filled? Nasty holes close to peoples houses, any time it rains it’s horrible, [there are] mosquitos. You need to consider that fact. Is it worth you doing it [which puts] people like myself at risk?”
Perez said the precedence set in Louisiana is that if someone has already contractually agreed to terms, such as backfill requirements, then they are bound to those terms and cannot renege on them, or refuse to backfill a pit that they have already dug. Perez contended making an exception in the case of their ponds would not affect pits already in the parish.
Griffin offered to defer the matter, however, the nature of a reconsideration prevents the ability to defer it.
The council momentarily passed over it, whilst Barnett and Perez considered the details of a settlement privately.
Before the end of the meeting, the topic was resumed and a resolution was unanimously passed that would dismiss all claims, require each party to pay their own court costs and grant the Perez’s a permit on the day the Supreme Court signs the dismissal. According to the resolution, there would be no requirements for the Perez’s to backfill what is dug, so long as all water features are maintained.
Despite talks earlier this year of making changes with the conduct of the Plaquemines Parish Council meetings, etiquette – specifically time limits to hold the floor – was disregarded. Few citizens stayed through the duration of the meeting as it lasted nearly seven hours.
Some of the other items taken up included:
Another suspension of the rules was requested, this time by Councilman Keith Hinkley, District 2.
This was to approve a firm to represent the parish in the lawsuit brought forward by Moretco, Inc. as result of the moratorium on commercial building permits in Belle Chasse.
The resolution authorizing Carver, Darden, Koretzky, Tessier, Finn, Blossman and Areaux, LLC, of New Orleans, as legal representation was passed 8-0, Cooper was not present.
There is a hearing set for March 4, according to Hinkley.
Hinkley also had two other ordinances approved.
The first, to hire consultants to provide guidance in zoning and commercial development of Districts 2, 3 and 4. Then the second, to compensate the consultants $20,000.
Both passed unanimously and with little discussion.
State of Emergency
An attempt was made by Turner to end the State of Emergency that the parish is currently under as result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The State of Emergency gives Parish President Billy Nungesser, the ability to bypass the council in decision-making relative to the disaster.
Turner said ending the State of Emergency would allow recovery to continue, but also include other representatives in the process.
“Under the State of Emergency, a lot can go on without the council being in the loop,” said Turner.
Council Chairman Dr. Stuart Guey, District 4, disagreed with ending the emergency.
“As it stands right now, Jefferson, Lafourche and St. Bernard [parishes] are under State of Emergency,” said Guey. “On April 29, the government issued a State of Emergency, then extended the State of Emergency to January 11, 2011. If we do this, we send the message that Plaquemines Parish is okay… I don’t know what the future holds. We should hold our position that Plaquemines Parish is in trouble. We should hold our position that we’re not giving in.”
Councilman Anthony Buras, District 5, said he had received a message from state department staff indicating it would be in the parish’s best interest to remain in a State of Emergency, but he said he did not have the specifics of why or for how long.
When it came down to a vote, the legislation failed, 6-2-1. Only Turner and council member Kirk Lepine, District 3, voted in favor of ending the State of Emergency, and Griffin abstained from voting.
The next regularly scheduled council meeting is March 10, 1 p.m. at the temporary courthouse on F. Edward Hebert Blvd. in Belle Chasse.