Three residents of Dove Park Road who have raised concerns about how a parish street-widening project will affect drainage on their property have sued St. Tammany Parish, seeking a halt to the work. They’re asking for damages and attorneys’ fees as well.
Terri Lewis Stevens, a frequent critic of parish government, and her neighbors Jennifer Fruchtnicht and her husband, Craig Rivera, filed suit Wednesday in 22nd Judicial District Court.
The plaintiffs contend that actions taken by the parish over a number of years have resulted in drainage problems on their land and amount to a public use of private property.
When the neighborhood was designed, their properties didn’t have drainage problems because there was a limited amount of impervious ground, the suit says.
But when the parish paved the subdivision’s gravel streets in 2003, the suit claims, water was left with nowhere to go but through a concrete culvert dating from 1956. The suit claims water now has begun to scour out a channel that cuts through the plaintiffs’ properties.
The suit says Stevens this month noticed drainage coming from Heatherstone Subdivision into the channel — a man-made rerouting that the suit calls illegal.
The channel creates a barrier between the front and rear of the plaintiffs’ properties, the suit contends, and the drainage water that flows onto their land is sometimes contaminated with sewage.
The suit points to a 2004 moratorium on new construction in the area, saying it proves the parish itself recognized the adverse effects of the 2003 work.
The parish’s plan to widen the road and construct a second culvert to drain water and discharge it at or near the existing discharge pipe amounts to an unauthorized outfall that would further harm the plaintiffs’ property, the suit alleges.
The parish “was fully knowledgeable that it did not then and never has had a legal right of any kind to so use the petitioners’ property,” the suit says.
St. Tammany Parish wrote a letter to the plaintiffs’ lawyer, also dated Wednesday, that offers to revise the project by removing the second culvert along Dove Park Road.
The letter, signed by Kelly Rabalais, executive counsel for the parish government, says work on the project is not expected to begin for another two to three weeks. “I suggest to you that this timeframe eliminates any argument for the necessity of a temporary restraining order and allows the parties additional time for continued discussions,” Rabalais said.
In an interview earlier this month, Ronnie Simpson, a spokesman for Parish President Pat Brister, said the road was being widened at the request of the neighborhood and that the parish responded to Stevens’ concerns by having an engineering firm evaluate the plans.
That review, completed in January, concluded that the work would not cause the problems anticipated by Stevens, Fruchtnicht and Rivera, he said.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.