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Mandeville City Councilman David Ellis, photographed Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017, during a Mandeville City Council meeting.

The fate of a controversial bike path project along West Causeway Approach will be determined this week when the Mandeville City Council considers dueling resolutions: one to authorize the mayor to sign a contract for the path and another to reject all bids.

Councilman David Ellis, who represents the area where the path is proposed, said he's cautiously optimistic that the project will be killed.

Mayor Donald Villere, who favors it, said, "We'll see come Thursday."

The mayor and council have been at odds since early February, with Ellis trying to derail the project, which would be funded in large part by a federal grant, and Villere insisting it was too late in the process to call a halt.

The path, which would cost about $645,000 in all, is slated to run in front of the Fontainebleau subdivision, along the north side of West Causeway Approach from Skipper Drive to Dalwill Drive.

Residents there say it will cause traffic and safety issues and destroy the appearance of their subdivision's entrance.

The residents say they are concerned about the visibility and safety of those using the path. But they also object to the project's impact on the subdivision's front entrance, which would have to be relandscaped, plus the threat to live oak trees and the loss of a natural noise buffer.

They've also questioned the need for the project when there's already a bike path on the other side of West Causeway Approach.

"It's a boondoggle," Ellis said Friday. "The business community doesn't want it. Fontainebleau doesn't want it." Ellis lives in the subdivision.

But Villere has been adamant that it's too late to yank the city's share of funding from the project because bids were opened last month and the state Department of Transportation and Development has identified the low bidder.

He declined to comment Friday on why he thinks it's important to go forward with the project. But he has said in meetings that the city could find itself in breach of contract and face potential litigation if it tries to pull out.

Ellis said the administration is engaging in scare tactics, including talk that the city would be on the hook for more than $500,000.

He said he spoke to the project manager for the state Department of Transportation and Development, who told him that the city simply has to write a letter saying Mandeville doesn't want the money and that the state will be held harmless so it can't be sued. 

The grant money will be redirected elsewhere, Ellis said, although Mandeville might have to pay $51.63 — the cost of the Federal Highway Administration's time to deal with the bids.

Ellis is skeptical that the low bidder would sue the city for lost profits, which would be about $100,000, but acknowledged that's a possibility.

"That's a lot of money, but not what was threatened over our head: $510,000," Ellis said.

Ellis saw previous efforts to pull funding for the project derailed on procedural grounds, and the City Council's March 14 meeting was canceled because of a failure to meet a public advertising deadline for the agenda.

His ordinance to defund the project is on Thursday's agenda, but Ellis and Councilman Mike Pulaski both said that measure will likely be deferred.

Instead, the action will center on the pair of resolutions. Councilwoman Lauré Sica has introduced a resolution to reject all bids for the project, citing the fact that they came in over estimates.

The second resolution, introduced by Councilman Mike Pulaski at Villere's request, would authorize the mayor to execute the contract. If it is adopted, the project would go forward. But if the council rejects that resolution, it would effectively kill the bike path. Pulaski said he plans to vote against the resolution even though he introduced it. 

"I know the mayor is wanting a compromise," Ellis said. "I don't think the community wants a compromise anymore. Where was that two months ago?"

During those early discussions, Ellis said, Villere would not even guarantee that the city would restore the subdivision's entrance after the path is built.

Ellis said he doesn't know why Villere is "so passionate" about getting the project through when it has so few supporters. "It doesn’t need to be this complicated," he said. 

But Pulaski said he thinks the debate over the path is an example of how government should work.

"This started five years ago, six years ago with really good intentions … and the best interest of Mandeville at heart. When the execution came about, it was not so good and citizens got involved and said, 'Take another look at this,' and lo and behold, I think they're right," he said. 

This story was altered on March 25, 2019 to reflect that the $51.63 was for time spent by the Federal Highway Administration, not the state Department of Transportation and Development.


Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.