A couple who owns property near French Settlement said an accidental shooting or armed confrontation could occur if a state court judge allows Livingston Parish officials to tear down their gate.
Calvin and Brenda Howell, of Tennessee, erected the gate across a gravel drive that they say extends from the paved portion of King George Road to about 100 feet from King George Bayou. The gravel drive splits in half the Howells’ property, which is leased for hunting.
The Howells contend in a lawsuit filed against the parish earlier this month that the gravel drive between the gate and the bayou is part of their private property. But a group of parish residents say in court documents that the drive has been part of a public road for more than two centuries and is a necessary path to the waterway, which connects to the Amite River.
The Howells said they are tired of people trespassing across their property, dumping garbage and illegally poaching game. They have asked the 21st Judicial District Court to declare the gravel drive beyond the gate is private property and to award them damages for the gate’s removal and the trespassing that’s occurred on their property.
Parish residents Scott M. Lobell, James A. Little, Curtis L. Little, Jason Guitreau and Jarrod M. Halker have asked to intervene in the lawsuit to protect their rights to use the path to access the bayou.
A hearing in the case has been set for 9 a.m. Monday. The lawyer representing the parish residents has asked for a continuance until Thursday, but it was unclear Friday whether that request had been granted. Attorneys for all parties did not return calls seeking comment Friday.
In the meantime, the Howells and the parish have agreed to a temporary restraining order, preventing the parish from interfering with the Howells’ right to secure their property until the matter can be settled in court.
The Howells bought the 161-acre tract in 1996, six years before Livingston formally accepted King George Road into the parish maintenance system, the couple stated in their lawsuit.
Parish records indicate the road, at the time of its acceptance, was 7,587 feet of asphalt roadway, according to the lawsuit.
The Howells say their property is several hundred feet south of the point where the asphalt ends and the gravel begins. The gravel path stops about 100 feet before reaching King George Bayou, they said.
“The gravel drive may best be described as an unimproved trail and has not been maintained by the parish or any other public body in many years,” the Howells state in their lawsuit.
Parish residents dispute that, saying the path goes all the way to the bayou and has been maintained by the parish since at least the 1930s, making it a parish road long before the Howells bought their property. The residents said they have used the road “for their entire lives.”
The Howells said they and neighboring landowners approached parish officials in 2012 about taking the gravel drive into the parish maintenance system. But parish officials told them the gravel part of the road was private and the parish was not willing to assume responsibility for it, the Howells state in the suit.
That’s when the Howells decided to put up a steel gate across the gravel drive at their property line. The gate stayed up until December, when parish officials demanded its removal and, after the Howells refused, pulled up the posts and took down the gate, the couple said.
With the gate gone, the Howells said they again had problems with trespassers. This time, in addition to the trash and poaching, hunters who had leased the Howell property also found their trail cameras had been removed or damaged.
In February, the Howells told parish officials they intended to reinstall their gate, but the day the poles were set, someone again removed them, the couple state in their lawsuit.
The Howells said the presence of both hunters and trespassers on the property “increases the likelihood of accidental shootings or other encounters between the lessees and the public using the gravel drive as well as the possibility of armed confrontation” between them.
The couple has challenged the parish residents’ right to intervene in the case because the residents do not own property along the road at issue.
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen. Contact her by phone at (225) 336-6981.