ST. FRANCISVILLE — Parish President Kevin Couhig emerged from a 40-minute executive session Monday with a compromise plan to resolve a lawsuit stalemate, avert an expensive trial and possibly end a contentious issue that has caused bitter divisions within the West Feliciana Parish Council.
The lawsuit was brought by the Lambert Gravel Co. and heirs of Paul Lambert Sr. over a piece of land along the Mississippi River front at the end of Ferdinand Street. So far, defending against the lawsuit has cost the parish at least $450,000 with estimates between $600,000 to $1 million if it were to go to trial. The appraised value of the land is less than $40,000.
Addressing the council and audience after the executive session, Couhig said the parish would acquire property near the KPAQ plant along La. 964 near the south end of the parish. He said the site would be sufficiently large to accommodate the parish’s proposed port.
A portion of that property would be exchanged with the Lamberts to relocate their dormant gravel operation, which is next to the old ferry boat landing. The current site would become property of the parish.
“This proposal would be a solution for everyone,” Couhig said. “The Lamberts would have a site near the port for their gravel operation and the parish would reclaim the land for the public and tourism use.
“I believe the Parish Council is in complete accord with this proposal. This plan would make the Lamberts the first business to locate at the port and the town of St. Francisville can have the quiet enjoyment of its streets.”
After the meeting, Couhig said he had not yet discussed the new proposal with Paul Lambert Jr. or his brother Councilman Ricky Lambert.
He said the amount of property to be swapped is “north of 40 acres” and there are a number of suitable locations for the port along La. 964. Couhig said he remains hopeful a deal can be reached.
“It’s a complicated negotiation,” Couhig said, “and negotiations are continuing. I’m hopeful that we’ll reach a negotiated settlement on what we introduced tonight.”
Also Monday, Councilwoman Lea Williams sparred verbally with Couhig, council President Heather Howle and Councilman Mel Percy during the introduction of an ordinance to amend the parish’s operating budget for legal expenses associated with the Lambert lawsuit.
The $200,000 request would cover additional expenses.
“How does it stop?” Percy asked.
“It’s not going to stop as long as members of the council keep sending emails and texts to the attorneys,” Couhig answered.
He said Phelps Dunbar attorneys are ethically obligated to answer queries from the council members, their clients.
“You’re asking me to predict something that is unpredictable,” Couhig said.
Williams said Phelps Dunbar was an expensive firm and another attorney, Gary Keyser, had offered to take the case for a flat fee of $20,000 or pro bono.
“We have no offer from Mr. Keyser, he needs to make an offer in writing,” Couhig responded. “I don’t think he should be interfering.”
Howle several times pounded her gavel when the discussions became heated and members argued repeatedly out of order. The council decided to hold a public hearing Nov. 17 to consider the $200,000 budget allocation.
In addition, the council also will consider the “4-1” redistricting plan as established by the Home Rule Charter.
The charter reduces the number of parish council members from the current seven to four representing specific districts and one at-large.