The Louisiana House is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a bill that would give preferential treatment in bidding on new duck-hunting and agricultural leases at the state-owned White Lake property.
Senate Bill 119 would benefit current leaseholders on the 71,000 acres of marsh in Vermilion Parish land donated to the state by BP Amoco in 2002 under Gov. Mike Foster.
For copies of Senate Bill 119, go to http://www.2theadvocate.com/blogs/politicsblog
The property is home to a luxury lodge and world-class duck hunting.
Ten-year agriculture and hunting leases on the land, which were in place when the state took over ownership, are expiring this year.
The state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is preparing to seek public bids on the leases.
In SB119, Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham said he seeks to increase the acreage that can be leased from the current maximum 640 acres allowed by law.
One of the hunting leases today covers 17,150 acres.
SB119 would also allow current leaseholders to match the highest bid offered on the tracts in the event they are outbid and retain the lease.
“There is value having a known entity and known person for the lease, so we give them a right of first refusal,” Barham said.
“They have an opportunity to match the highest bid if they want to keep it,” said Barham. “They have proven they are good stewards of the land.”
Barham said his agency has hired LSU economist Jim Richardson to come up with the fair-market value of the acreage compared to similar southwest Louisiana land.
Today, some of the land is being leased for waterfowl hunting for a little over $1 per acre, Barham said. “That’s not reflective of fair-market value,” he said.
Barham said today it is within the discretion of the secretary whether to go out for public bid. He said he wants to seek public bids to get the best price for taxpayers.
The leases predate state ownership of the land. They are with Amoco Production Company.
The largest lease for hunting ducks and other waterfowl is held by Gregory E. Kung of Houston. The lease is for 17,150 acres, according to the state lease.
There are four agricultural leases for rice, crawfish and grazing — the largest held by Five-T Farms, Kaplan. The firm also has a large lease for hunting of ducks and other waterfowl.
State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, questioned the special treatment being given current leaseholders, especially when it came to duck hunting.
“I understand the farming issue, and I agree with that, but we are giving some fellows some preferential treatment on duck holdings and other guys are not able to participate,” Claitor said during a Senate Natural Resources Committee hearing on the measure.
Senate Bill 119 sponsor, state Sen. Jonathan Perry, said the leases will go out for public bid with an opportunity for those interested to compete.
“I think that is the right approach,” said Perry, R-Kaplan.
Perry said some of the lessees have spent more than $1 million on property improvements.
Wildlife and Fisheries general counsel Don Puckett said there 12 hunting and six agricultural leases involved.
According to documents, among those leasing acreage for duck hunting are:
Five T Farms, represented by Godfrey P. Trahan of Kaplan, 4,880 acres.
Cajun Chef Products Inc., represented by James Bullaird, John Larry Trahan Sr., John Larry Trahan Jr. and Chad Trahan, St. Martinville, 2,010 acres.
G & H Seed Co. and Quality Equipment, represented by Wayne Hensgens, Glenray and Scott Trahan, 800 acres.
Friendship Hunting Club, represented by Gene LeJeune, Crowley, 800 acres.
Bubba Oustalet, Jennings, 740 acres.
Smaller acreage is held by Lafayette Steel Erectors, Scott; Kersey, Kirby and Kersey Trahan II, Gueydan.
John Larry Trahan Sr. and Jr. as well as Chad Trahan, Kaplan, are current representatives or leaseholders on several tracts as well as Glenray and Scott Trahan.