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Sunday, July 21, 2019

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Councilman wants to expropriate Company Canal

Councilman wants to expropriate Company Canal

Parish Councilman Lindel Toups is again taking up the battle to reopen the Company Canal near Gheens to public access.

Hoping that the owner of the canal and the adjoining land, Arlen Cenac, will finally acquiesce to at least meeting with parish officials to discuss access, Toups is calling for the expropriation of the canal.

His justification in doing so is for recreation, he says, and also for better water drainage if the parish is in control of the canal’s maintenance.

“Our canals would drain better; they would have less salinity, less erosion, if they were open,” argued Toups at Tuesday night’s Parish Council public meeting in Mathews.

The Company Canal was dug by the state of Louisiana in the 1800’s to improve transportation and commerce. It was a public waterway.

The Gheens Family bought the property surrounding the canal in 1930 and did not prevent public access to the waterway.

In April 2002 Cenac purchased the property from the Gheens Foundation and shortly thereafter blocked access to the Gheens boat launch and canal, prompting a group of residents to form an organization called Public Access Water Rights Association (PAWRA) to fight the closure.

In June 2003, PAWRA and others were unsuccessful in proving to the courts that there was an “implied dedication” of the land and canal to public use because it was accessible for so many years.

The canal, they said, was never closed and was in fact the only means of ingress and egress for many Gheens residents.

After winning his court battles, Cenac closed the launch and acquired a Corps of Engineers permit to block the canal with pilings, eliminating water access to Bayou Des Allemands and Lake Salvador from Gheens.

Many Lafourche residents who have camps along Bayou Des Allemands were unable to access their sites from the Gheens launch and were forced to launch elsewhere.

“This started 15 to 20 years ago. We tried to meet with the man (Cenac) but he would not meet with us. Closing the Company Canal affected all of Lafourche Parish,” said Toups.

In 2011, Toups attempted to pass an ordinance rescinding an agreement the council made with Cenac that removed two roads from the parish's purview and gave them to Cenac in exchange for access to his property to perform drainage work for Gheens and Lockport.

But Lafourche Parish District Attorney Cam Morvant advised the Council not to proceed with the proposed ordinance, saying Toups’ measure “would not only shut down the levee and drainage projects already under way in the area but may also subject the parish to costly litigation.”

The proposal was shelved.

Those people seeking the reopening of the canal then asked the state’s Attorney General Buddy Caldwell to reinvestigate the case.

In a letter to Morvant on Oct. 20, 2011, Caldwell responded that: “The courts of this state have ruled that the state historically divested itself of any public title and claim to the Company Canal,” adding that his office would be officially closing its file on the matter.

Tuesday night Toups vowed to renew his fight to get the canal opened, proposing a resolution asking parish administration to expropriate the Company Canal.

“I am asking for backing from you the council,” he stated.

The vote was 8-1 in favor of the resolution. Phillip Gouaux dissented.

Toups then stated that he is starting a petition seeking the canal reopening and asked everyone to sign it.
After the meeting, Toups said he will also ask the parish to hire an attorney to handle expropriation.