ST. FRANCISVILLE — The West Feliciana Parish Council voted Monday to appeal the judgment over a controversial piece of Mississippi riverfront property that has already cost the parish more than $700,000.
Twentieth Judicial District Court Judge Betsy Jones ruled May 1 in a summary judgment that the heirs of Paul A. Lambert Sr. and Lambert Gravel are in possession of the property.
The ruling does not resolve the central ownership issue of the land, but instead recognizes the Lamberts’ right to possess the property free of any further disturbance from the parish.
The council voted 4-1, with Ricky Lambert abstaining, to proceed with the legal appeal, which attorney Dennis Blunt, of Phelps Dunbar, predicted will cost the parish at least $30,000 more. Voting to pursue the appeal were council members Heather Howle, John Kean, Lea Williams and Otis Wilson. Voting against was Councilman Mel Percy, who called the appeal a waste of money.
After the meeting, Parish President Kevin Couhig did not say he would veto the appeal legislation, but he told Blunt in an email that he will not authorize any additional payments for the lawsuit, including an appeal.
“The only way that appeal will be paid for is if the council specifically adopts an ordinance that forces me to do so,” Couhig said. “I don’t think they can get the votes to do it because it would require five votes for a supermajority to override a veto.”
The parish has until Aug. 7 to file the appeal.
The legal battle over the riverfront property began after the John James Audubon Bridge opened in 2011 and the state Department of Transportation and Development transferred the old La. 10 to the parish.
The parish then built a concrete slab at the end of the road for use as a public boat launch. Since 1998, the parish had paid the Lamberts $1,000 a month for use of the property to accommodate visiting tour boats.
When the parish ceased lease payments, the Lamberts set up concrete barriers to prevent public access to the property north of the road. The parish then removed the barriers, and the Lamberts filed suit, claiming the parish trespassed when its workers removed the barriers.
In other action, the council:
Set a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 10 at the Parish Council meeting room in the Courthouse Annex to consider the renewal of property taxes and levying of additional property taxes.
Approved the annual budget for the West Feliciana Parish Tourism Commission of $260,000.
Proclaimed June 30 as Al Lemoine Day in honor of the retirement of the longtime educator after 40 years of service to the parish.