New houses under construction in the Lakeside Terrace neighborhood along Bill Morgan Road south of La. 42 in the Galvez area of Ascension Parish sit high Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019, on a mound of dirt to keep them out of flood risk. Across the road, older homes and sheds, not pictured, are on existing land at a lower elevation closer to the road height. Some parish residents and officials are questioning the practice of using that much dirt fill to raise homes.

GONZALES — A state district judge extended on Friday a ruling that frees builders in Ascension Parish to continue using fill dirt to raise homes and businesses.

The judge had previously blocked an attempt by the parish to temporarily ban the use of fill dirt across more than 70% of the parish. The ruling came as a result of a builder lawsuit over the ban.

The court's ruling effectively renders the ban moot while the parish council works on changes to the fill ordinance that are expected to be adopted by next month. The council had intended to lift the ban once the fill ordinance changes are made.

Kim Landry, an attorney for the builders, said they likely won't be able to get a permanent injunction before the council adopts the new fill ordinance.

The temporary fill ban had applied to the most high-risk areas for flood in the parish as defined by federal flood insurance rate maps. 

Dirt is important in lower parts of Ascension so new homes and businesses can meet elevation requirements and also not be required to have flood insurance.

PS Development LP and SLC Development of Ascension LLC had sued Parish President Kenny Matassa over the temporary fill ban last month in state court in Gonzales after the Parish Council adopted the ban resolution July 18.

The heart of the suit was that the ban is improper because it was adopted by resolution and not as an ordinance. 

Judge Jessie LeBlanc, of the 23rd Judicial District Court, had agreed to block the ban for 10 days, pending the outcome of Friday's hearing at the Parish Courthouse Annex in Gonzales.

LeBlanc issued a longer preliminary injunction on Friday after finding the council could not use a resolution to supersede the current fill ordinance, which allows the use of dirt for structural elevations.

Suzanna Beiriger, one of the primary owners of the two development companies, called LeBlanc's ruling the right outcome. Beiriger said she sued because her companies had bought six lots on Wirth Evans Road in the Galvez area and had started developing them when the fill moratorium went in effect. 

She said her companies, which were halted from continuing work July 24, had a loan on the line. 

"I have a lot at stake," Beiriger said in an interview. 

The companies were prevented from putting in 3 feet deep of dirt, under the limits allowed by the current ordinance for smaller individual lots.

Beiriger's husband, Jared Beiriger, a developer and former parish councilman, was with her in court Friday and is a partner in the plaintiff companies. One of Jared Beiriger's other companies does engineering work for developers in Ascension and for parish government.

Since the builders' suit, some activists and parish council members who favor limits on the use of fill have been critical of how the administration and parish council handled the matter. They say it was fatally flawed from the start and was done for election year purposes. 

But Councilman Travis Turner, the sponsor of the resolution, said in an interview Thursday night that if the ban is blocked in court, he would seek to introduce an ordinance enacting the same ban.

Before LeBlanc ruled, O'Neil Parenton Jr., the parish attorney, argued that the parish's home rule charter gives the council general powers to perform acts in the best interests of the public. He said the resolution was aimed at protecting property owners.

Critics of the parish's fill practices claim the elevation of new homes with dirt worsens flooding of older, lower homes.

During arguments, Landry, the attorney for the builders, told LeBlanc that, under the parish's home rule charter and the state Constitution, the parish could plainly not give a resolution the force of law.

"You can't pass a temporary law through a resolution," Landry said.

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