OK TO OPERATE — Bryan Champagne’s Cajun Swamp Tours on Lake Martin can continue to operate, at least for the time being, following a ruling by the state’s Third Circuit Court of Appeal that denied an injunction petition by St. Martin Parish Goverment to force closure of the operation.(Sally Angelle)
3rd Circuit Court rules on Lake Martin zoning
In a ruling by the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal issued last week justices rejected arguments by St. Martin Parish Government that a business operated on the shores of Lake Martin should be shut down.
The 3-2 vote of the Court’s five justices affirmed a decision by 16th Judicial District Judge Keith Comeaux issued in April 2019 that ruled in favor of Bryan Champagne’s businesses – Cajun Swamp Tours and The Wharf – on Rookery Road which have been in operation since 2011.
Parish Government had attempted to revoke a permit issued to Champagne, claiming its permit department had erred in granting the permit.
Champagne conducts boat tours of the popular lake from the site and has constructed a building, deck and a wharf on the site.
Judges Candyce G. Perret, Ulysses Gene Thibodeaux and Elizabeth A. Pickette said that Champagne had obtained the required permits before building and expanding his boat tour business and denied the parish’s petition for an injunction.
In part, Judge Perret said in the 59-page decision that “Appellees relied in good faith, to their detriment, on the permits issued by the parish and have incurred expenses as a result ...”
Perret added, “We find no manifest error in the trial court’s judgment dismissing St. Martin Parish Government’s petition for injunction.”
But in a dissenting opinion, Judges John E. Conery and Van H. Kyzar expressed their support for Parish Government’s injunction lawsuit.
Judge Conery wrote that he feels the permits were not valid, even suggesting that the parish did not have a right to grant the permits, that the site in question falls under the jurisdiction of the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
He pointed out that Champagne gave the parish the wrong address – 1076 Rookery Road – for his initial building permits.
That address is on the opposite side of the road from the lake, putting the location “on the land side of the levee. Anything on the lake side of the levee is Lake Martin and part of the state preserve.”
In his dissent, Judge Conery also argued that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for navigable waterways and “Mr. Champagne should have been required to obtain a Corps permit ... before building any structure on the lake and before building wharfs, docks, decks and piers from which he now operates a motorized boat tour business and other commercial business on the lake, assuming he could do so with LDWF approval.”
The situation at Lake Martin has become more complicated for the public since private landowners closed the only boat launching site, which is located on their property, last February, citing concerns over liability issues.
This action has severely limited public access to the lake for recreational purposes and also ended any boat tour operations other than Champagne’s.
The parish has the option of appealing the Third Circuit’s ruling to the Louisiana Supreme Court, and Parish President has indicated he would bring it to the Parish Council’s attention after he has carefully reviewed the ruling and conferred with Allan Durand, the parish attorney who has been handling the matter.