LAFAYETTE — A yearlong legal battle over Lafayette’s contract to provide water to the neighboring city of Broussard escalated this week, with shots fired from both sides.
The Lafayette Public Utilities Authority, a board of five City-Parish Council members who oversee Lafayette’s utility system, voted unanimously on Tuesday to authorize the administration to deny all requests for additional water service from Broussard.
Broussard officials said Thursday they plan to respond with a legal claim against Lafayette for intentional breach of the contract for Lafayette to provide water service to the smaller city.
Lafayette “has officially declared that it does not intend to honor its obligations under the 1998 wholesale water agreement between it and the city of Broussard,” Broussard spokeswoman Amy Jones said in a written statement.
The water agreement states that Lafayette “shall not unreasonably withhold” approval of new connections that Broussard wants, but the contract does not offer further explanation as to what might be considered a valid reason for denial.
Broussard has its own water system but does not produce enough water to serve the entire city, so Broussard buys some of its water wholesale from Lafayette and then re-sells that water to residents and businesses on Broussard’s distribution network.
The dispute over the water contract began last year when the city-owned Lafayette Utilities System discovered that a wholesale water meter had been bypassed for several years, allowing millions of gallons of water to flow un-metered from the Lafayette side into Broussard’s system.
Broussard paid LUS an $825,587 water bill under protest, but then filed a lawsuit seeking the return of more than half that payment.
Broussard argues it was overbilled for what Broussard Mayor Charles Langlinais has called “erroneously delivered” water.
Lafayette responded to Broussard’s lawsuit by asking the judge in the case to declare that Broussard breached its water contract with Lafayette, citing the bypassed water meter and other wholesale meters that have allegedly been tampered with.
A ruling on that issue in favor of Lafayette could open the door for Lafayette to end water service to Broussard or to force the smaller city to renegotiate the contract.
The vote by the LPUA on Tuesday to stop new water connections came after a judge last week made a pre-trial ruling potentially favorable to Broussard in the ongoing litigation, but most of the legal issues are still in play.
Jones said Broussard will now tack on one more legal claim to the existing lawsuit — that Lafayette is not living up to its legal responsibility to provide new connections for Broussard.
City-Parish President Joey Durel had already announced plans earlier this year to stop future connections, but the LPUA vote on Tuesday formalized that policy.
City-Parish Council Brandon Shelvin said during Tuesday’s meeting that Lafayette should not help another municipality while it is suing Lafayette.
“At the end of the day, we have a responsibility to the citizens of Lafayette, not the citizens of Broussard,” Shelvin said.
The relationship between officials in Lafayette and Broussard has been strained in recent years, and the latest flare-up in the water dispute comes after city-parish government in October ended a contract under which Broussard paid city-parish government for animal control services.
Durel said at the time that he decided not to renew that contract because Broussard had declined to drop a lawsuit challenging Lafayette’s annexation of more than 200 acres in southern Lafayette Parish, including land that Broussard officials were trying to annex.