ST. FRANCISVILLE — The West Feliciana Parish Port Commission agreed at its May 18 meeting to form a committee to begin negotiations with the Lambert family for purchase or lease of a disputed piece of riverfront property.
Commissioners Andrew Grezaffi, David Opperman and Z. David DeLoach agreed to participate in informal talks with the Lambert family and their representatives to explore an outright sale of the land or having the parish lease or rent the property.
Grezaffi and Opperman agreed to report the status of the negotiations to the commission at its June 15 meeting.
Earlier this month, 20th Judicial District Court Judge Betsy Jones ruled that the Lamberts and the Lambert Gravel Company were in possession of the property, although the central issue of actual ownership was not part of the decision.
The legal battle began after the John James Audubon Bridge opened in 2011 and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development transferred old La. 10 to the parish.
The parish then built a concrete slab at the end of the road at the site of the old ferry landing to be used as a public boat launch. Since 1998, the parish had paid the Lamberts $1,000 a month for use of the property.
After the parish ceased lease payments, the Lamberts set up concrete barriers, preventing 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.
The lawsuit has cost the parish more than $600,000 and the two tracts of land — one 31.12 acres and the other 41.9 acres — were appraised in September 2013 with the smaller tract valued at $15,500 and the larger tract at $21,000.
Parish officials are interested in using the land to build docking facilities that can accommodate riverboats and tour vessels.
Beginning this summer, three boats a week will need docking facilities, and that will expand to five boats a week by 2017. The riverboat companies, DeLoach told the commission, are seeking a long-term agreement for docking privileges.
Expropriation of the property was also discussed, but attorney Len Kilgore, who represents the Lamberts, said that attempt “would likely lead to litigation.” Donation of the land is unlikely.
In addition, the commission authorized Grezaffi, DeLoach and commissioner David Duvic to find an appraiser to assess the value of the property.
The commission also agreed to accept $25,000 from the parish’s Economic Development Board to be used for expenses related to the docking facility.