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Congressional delegation opposes 'land grab' - 10/30/2015 -

By
Senior Staff Writer
Published: Friday, October 30, 2015 at 5:56 p.m.

Louisiana's entire congressional delegation signed a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers expressing "serious concern” over an attempt to turn nearly 500 acres of sugar-cane fields and swamps into wetlands.

On Oct. 15 the Corps of Engineers accidentally released a proposal that would take 460 acres of privately owned sugar-cane fields and swamps along La. 307 between Kraemer and Raceland and convert them into wetlands to compensate for any environmental damage caused by upgrading hurricane protection on the West Bank of New Orleans.

In a letter sent today to Col. Rick Hansen, all eight Louisiana congressmen denounced the proposal, noting that mitigating those lands would be "counterproductive” to the economy and the community. Reducing the size of sugar-cane yields is a hit to the economy, while building wetlands and swamps on what is now high ground would only increase the region's chances of flooding.

"A result that would directly hurt private property owners and local residents,” the letter states.

Corps' spokesman Rene Poche said the proposal was released by mistake because it had not been thoroughly vetted internally, but acknowledged the same or a similar proposal may be released at a later date.

This recommendation is a watered down version of one released in the spring of 2014 that would have affected about 60 Raceland homes. Residents flooded the Lafourche Parish Council chambers to decry the proposal, which also drew the ire of the state's congressional delegation.

"What was made clear then is still the case today - any attempt to take property from unwilling sellers is going to be met with stiff resistance,” the letter states.

Congressmen encouraged the corps to instead turn its focus to restoring the state's disappearing coast instead of attempting "a multi-million dollar federal land grab.” Coastal Louisiana has lost nearly 1,900 square miles of coast since the 1930s.

Following hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, the corps developed the West Bank and Vicinity 100-year Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System.

Federal laws require the agency to replace any damaged wetlands with land elsewhere.

Sugar-cane fields and swampland will be reflooded and turned into wetlands as part of what the corps describes as mitigation work.

If the corps intends to move forward on the land, it will first seek an appraisal of the property. If landowners refuse to sell, the corps could expropriate the land. Under the law, a public agency can force an owner to sell, at fair market value, property for a public purpose such as flood protection.

The letter is signed by U.S. Sens. David Vitter and Bill Cassidy, and U.S. Reps. Garret Graves, Steve Scalise, Charles Boustany, John Fleming, Cedric Richmond and Ralph Abraham.

Parish Administrator Archie Chaisson said the parish received support from the entire congressional delegation in 2014, as well, including then U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.

In an interview earlier this week, Chaisson said he plans to work with the delegation to force another public hearing in Lafourche.



For more information visit: HTTP://http://www.houmatoday.com/article/20151030/ARTICLES/151039969/0/search

 

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