LAKE MARTIN – Representing owners of the closed boat landing at Lake Martin, Clifford Hebert said he wants to see the lake preserved and returned to public use as soon as possible.(Karl Jeter)
PC to appeal Lake Martin decision
A 3-2 Appeal Court loss of a 16th Judicial District Court ruling against the parish in the zoning violation case against Cajun Swamp Tours will not end efforts to protect Lake Martin from commercial development.
With a unanimous vote at their Sept. 1 meeting, Parish Council members agreed to pursue the case to the Louisiana Supreme Court.
District Court Judge Keith Comeaux ruled in April 2019 that Bryan Champagne, relying on an erroneously issued permit, had a vested right to continue operation of the business. The appeal of that ruling to the Third District Court of Appeal in Lake Charles also went against the parish in a decision handed down on Aug. 19.
After a brief executive session, the council heeded the advice of President Chester Cedars and attorney Allan Durand, agreed to petition the Louisiana Supreme Court to review the case.
The 3-2 ruling by the Third Circuit judges and a detailed dissenting opinion, Cedars said, leaves an encouraging opening for pursuit of a Writ of Certiorari. Such a writ would seek relief on the basis that the lower courts had failed to comply with state statutes.
Specifically, the parish will argue that the decisions result in a violation of Article 9, Section 1 of the constitution on two grounds.
“Governing bodies,” Cedars said, “are required to protect the natural resources and habitats of the state as well as protecting the sovereignty of governmental entities.”
Landing Closure A related Lake Martin issue, the closure of the lake’s only boat launch area by the owners of the land on which it is located, was addressed by Clifford Hebert, representing owners of the property.
Hebert spoke passionately at times about his extended family’s wish to preserve the lake and ensure public access. “We hate to see what has happened,” he said, “It was never our intent to stop fishermen, hunters and others from enjoying the lake.”
He said that the owners closed the landing because Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries, which has responsibility for the landing, had allowed it to deteriorate to an unsafe condition and the owners were left exposed to serious liability issues. Cedars has said they were right to close it under the existing circumstances.
Hebert weighed in on the permit issue as well. “It was politics that allowed this to happen,” he continued. “Those permits were not right. Why was he (Champagne) allowed to keep going? You should get him out of there. That should have happened a long time ago.”
“If we continue to let the lake be ruined,” he added, “we will lose one of the gems of St. Martin Parish and Louisiana. The public needs to be involved in this. That lake should be something we leave in good condition for our grandchildren to enjoy as we have.”
Cedars said the parish will continue to work with the owners’ group to resolve the access and liability issues. Hebert added that the group wants to see the landing and an adjacent space under parish control as a recreation area.