Parish hit with second Alligator Bayou Lawsuit

Wade McIntyre

Louisiana’s largest environmental group Friday filed a lawsuit against Ascension Parish President Tommy Martinez for  authorizing the opening of the floodgate that drained Alligator Bayou.

Louisiana Environmental Action Network alleges that Martinez acted outside his bounds of authority by draining water from the bayou.

The suit in Ascension Parish’s 23rd Judicial District asks a judge to make the parish stop the draining of Alligator Bayou and Spanish Lake.

LEAN’s court action is the latest event in an escalating battle over the fate of the bayou. It follows within eight days a suit filed by the owners of Alligator Bayou Tours on July 23 in district court Ascension and Iberville parishes and requesting that Alligator Bayou be returned to a navigable waterway.

Martinez had no comment on either lawsuit Monday, parish spokesperson Scott Rabalais said.

The parish Monday received its copy of the first lawsuit filed July 23, and now has 15 days to prepare a response to the suit, according to Rabalais.

Martinez won’t comment on the first suit which was also filed against Iberville Parish because it is pending litigation, or on the second suit, which names Martinez specifically, because he has yet to see the suit, Rabalais said.

On July 28, the Department of Environmental Quality responded to a dramatic fish kill occurring in the bayou.

DEQ concluded that the 60 or so fish in the kill died due to low levels of oxygen in the water.

Martinez said at the time that the fish kill was an unfortunate but not surprising event because since the floodgate was opened the water levels in Alligator Bayou were down.

The LEAN lawsuit alleges that Martinez acted in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner by having the floodgate opened and allowing the water to drain out of the bayou.

The LEAN lawsuit claims that the floodgate has been operated since the gate was built in the 1950s to keep the bayou navigable.

The suit further alleges that Martinez has taken away the rights of LEAN members to use the bayou for recreation and educational activities.

Martinez opened the gate in late March after Ascension Parish was threatened with a lawsuit by Iberville Parish if the gate was not opened. Iberville officials at the time claimed they had been threatened with legal action by a group of landowners if the gate was not opened to reduce flooding.

Iberville Parish Chief Administrative Officer Edward Songy claimed in a presentation to the Ascension Parish Council earlier this year that opening the floodgate was legal under Louisiana Civil Code 658. That code, Songy said, forbids interference with natural water flows.

Since its construction more than 50 years ago, the gate has long been ignored, except in times of major flooding when it was occasionally opened to drain Alligator Bayou and Spanish Lake.

Songy did not address at the Ascension council meeting whether long-standing accepted use of the gate for more than half a century has any bearing in how the gate should be used today.