Parish offers solutions to lake access
St. Martin Parish government is offering a new proposal to the owners of the boat launch area at Lake Martin.
At the council committee meeting on Feb. 18, Parish President Chester Cedars disclosed ongoing efforts to solve the stalemate that threatens public access to the popular recreation area by entering into an agreement that would absolve owners of liability. The owners have published notices that they will close the ramp and surrounding area to the public at the end of this month.
Cedars gave a quick explanation of the legal maze that has led to a complicated relationship between the parish, land owners, lake users, Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries, the Nature Conservancy and lake protection advocates for many years.
The organization responsible for the 1950s construction of the levee system that defines the lake as we know it today – the St. Martin/Lafayette Game and Fish Commission – was dissolved in 1981. Control of the lake bed, to the high-water mark, was transferred to Wildlife and Fisheries.
Wildlife and Fisheries, however, took charge of weed control, but has remained hands-off with regard to
lake use and ownership rights. A void developed in the understanding of factors like access servitudes and legal liability of owners.
The sole power of parish government has been the enforcement of zoning regulations. The parish has, however, provided maintenance of Rookery Road and provided limestone for the parking area near the boat launch without a written agreement to do so.
Deteriorating docks and piers at the launch area began to worry owners about injuries and lawsuits. The vague legal status and lack of an agreement has prevented the parish from repairing the facilities, as work on private property by government entities is prohibited.
Cedars said the threatened closure is not unreasonable on the part of the owners under the current conditions. He has proposed an agreement that would guarantee access and allow the parish to maintain the facilities. Similar agreements between the parish and private owners are in place at the Uncle Dick Davis and Bayou Benoit boat launches.
He said a Feb. 11 meeting with the two owner groups involved was very productive, adding, “They have always been good to work with.”
Cedars added, “The parish is, and always has been, very active in the issues at Lake Martin and will continue to be involved.” He added that rumors that Rookery Road may be closed should not concern lake advocates and users unduly. The decades-long maintenance of the road by the parish should legally guarantee its status as a public road.
Parish government is awaiting a response from the owners’ representatives.