Basinkeeper Dean Wilson and Henderson Mayor Sherbin Collette made the request during the board’s monthly meeting last week. They were supported by a number of members of the audience.
At its Dec. 7 meeting the board awarded a contract to Good Home Timber to harvest trees from the property, located southeast of the Butte La Rose landing. The company will pay the school system $98,500 for the timber rights.
The motion to accept the Good Home bid was made by Richard Potier and Steve Fuselier. In the 6-3 vote to approve the contract, board members Floyd Knott, Mark Hebert and Aaron Flegeance opposed the action.
But Wilson reminded board members last week that the Atchafalaya Basin is one of the largest remaining cypress swamps in the nation. “It is home to a huge population of birds and a most diverse ecosystem,” he said.
Wilson also suggested that the Basin, including the area owned by the board, could become a “gold mine” for bird watchers, but pointed out that trees are vital in supporting the diverse wildlife.
Wilson said that when cypress and tupelo trees are harvested from land in the Basin, the area is taken over by tallow trees that choke out any chance for the cypress trees to regenerate.
The section includes a lake that covers about 240 acres and Wilson showed scenes of verdant swampland with numerous birds flitting about.
Mayor Collette argued that state law prohibits the harvest of cypress trees on state-owned water bottoms.
But board attorney Mark Boyer said the 16th section land was given to school systems many years ago by federal law and he’d have to research the issue of state-owned water bottoms.
Wilson requested specifically that the board reconsider its contract with Good Home, hinting that his group would pursue legal action if the contract is not rescinded.
“It’s not just the school board selling timber,” Potier said. “Neighboring landowners, including St. Martin Land Co., have sold theirs.”
Although Boyer will look into the legalities of the issue, board president Jimmy Blanchard closed the discussion by saying that “As of now, it’s a done deal.”