GALVEZ — Ascension Parish workers and homeowner Kevin Delaune were hard at work recently on the Bert Delaune ditch north of Gonzales.
They were in the process of installing 5- by 6-foot box culverts and wooden bulkheads in the parish ditch that cuts diagonally across Kevin Delaune's property north of La. 44 and Bertville Road.
Visible to drivers on busy La. 44, along with the election sign for Parish Councilman Dempsey Lambert in Delaune's front yard, the work has drawn fire on social and local media sites as a sign of improper election-time parish work on private property.
Delaune, 51, who has lived on the property for 30 years with his wife and has seen the online commentary, said that while he has known Lambert for years and is supporting his reelection, his support has nothing to do with the job.
Delaune said he has been trying for nearly four years to have the parish help him replace an old wooden bridge over the lateral. The parish supplied The Advocate with his work order from November 2015.
"People want to take pictures of Dempsey's (sign). That man ain't got a ... damn thing to do with what's going on over here," said Delaune, who said he is originally from Napoleonville and isn't related to the Delaune family that owns hardware and grocery stores in Ascension.
Lambert, who represents the Galvez area where Delaune lives, is facing an election challenge this year from Cheryl Malbrough. Lambert is a Republican; Malbrough is an independent.
Lambert called any allegations of impropriety with the work a "complete lie."
"We followed all the policies and procedures with this job," he said in a recent interview.
Parish officials say the work is part of a standard deal it offers landowners to replace damaged culverts used to cross parish ditches and access private property: The parish provides the engineering specifications and does the labor; the landowner supplies a culvert built to parish requirements.
"The parish will do this for any resident who meets the criteria," said Martin McConnell, parish government spokesman.
Though in practice for many years, the East Ascension drainage board formalized the policy on April 20, 2017, and publicized it online.
According to parish engineering estimates, the ditch running through Delaune's property drains nearly 107 acres upstream, including homes across La. 44 from Delaune in the Old Hickory Avenue area. The parish sized the planned culverts to handle a 25-year rainfall event, a newer and more robust parish drainage standard than the one from a few years ago, parish documents show.
According to Delaune and a parish spokesman, Delaune did not have the money in March 2016 when parish engineers first designed the culverts after his initial request. Delaune, who is a heavy crane operator on the Mississippi River, said a concrete yard wanted $8,900 for culverts custom-built to the parish specifications, which Delaune said he could not afford.
Martin McConnell, parish government spokesman, said Delaune's work order was left open but he recently obtained the money to buy the materials and called the parish in August to do the job.
Delaune said he went back recently to the same yard and asked to buy a precast culvert that was bigger than what the parish required at a cost of about $5,000, providing more drainage capacity at less cost for surrounding homes.
The now removed bridge was originally installed on Delaune's property years before he owned the land to give the parish access to cut grass along the ditch. The parish has 15-foot-wide servitudes along each side of the ditch, McConnell said.
About 15 years ago, Delaune said he told the parish he would cut the ditch so workers would stop using the heavy equipment that he said was rutting his yard. Since then, the parish installed another bridge downstream, making the bridge in Delaune's yard unnecessary for parish ditch maintenance.
The old bridge became Delaune's responsibility, he said, because it only served as an access to the back part of his property, which has a home and storage sheds on it but is separated from La. 44 by the parish ditch. The property is landlocked from access to other roads besides the highway, parish assessment records show.