Destrehan resident argues parish is ignoring a safety hazard in a public servitude

A Destrehan resident and St. Charles Parish government are at odds over removing two trees in a legal disagreement that’s lingered nearly eight months.

Destrehan resident Victor Buccola has again asked the parish to remove the trees because they are in a 20-foot drainage servitude behind 107 Burguieres Lane.

At the July 1 Council meeting, Buccola again approached the council with the request for help with the trees.

“This council seemingly does not realize that it alone holds the power and authority to fix the problem of the hazardous trees within a drainage servitude,” he told the council.

Parish Risk Management Officer Rechell Champagne has told Buccola that the trees are owned by abutting property owner Frank Abbate at 173 Longview Drive and he should remove them. They are growing in the parish’s 20-foot drainage servitude, but Champagne said the servitude is for drainage only and “there is no evidence that the two trees impede the drainage flow” so “it would be a civil matter between property owners.”

But Buccola responded, “The civil law remedy you have suggested unnecessarily pits private landowners against each other, when in fact the parish of St. Charles is the responsible party given the fact these two trees are completely within a publicly recorded dedicated drainage servitude.”

The oak tree leaning toward Victor Buccola’s property.

But he maintains when the parish accepted the servitude without requiring the developer remove these trees, it also accepted responsibility for the trees. Buccola further argued the parish is legally obligated to police and maintain it and that includes caring for objects in the servitudes such as trees.

At the May 6 council meeting, Councilman Paul Hogan also questioned is this was a matter for Risk Management.

Parish Public Works Director Clayton “Snookie” Faucheux said it is, but Buccola maintained the law requires the parish’s governing authority to make the determination on a case-by-case basis.

“Like it or not, SCP government accepts responsibility for trees growing within the public servitudes when the servitudes over private land are dedicated to the parish for maintenance,” Buccola said. “This council cannot shirk its responsibility to scrutinize this situation and make its own determination by simply ceding its power and authority to any single employee or any other official or public body.”

Also, in an attempt to reach a compromise, Buccola attempted unsuccessfully to reach Abbate.

Despite the parish government’s position, he argued the tree removal is necessary, particularly when one of the two – an oak estimated at 45 to 50 feet tall – is leaning toward and hanges over property where his daughter plans on building a house.

“This council seemingly does not realize that it alone holds the power and authority to fix the problem ….” — Victor Buccola

Additionally, he argued the law obligates the parish to maintain and police the servitude, which includes tree removal as part of maintenance when necessary.

In November of last year, Buccola had then LSU Ag Agent Rene’ Schmit inspect the trees.

According to Schmit’s report, the oak is “a significant safety hazard due to its angle of weighted lean to the eastern side. This lean is greater than a 45-degree pitch and will remain ongoing.” He recommended removing the tree, particularly as “limbs are expected to continue growing and further cause the tree to lean.”

The timeline

  • Dec. 4, 2018: Victor Buccola sends an email to parish government requesting removal of two trees.
  • Jan. 17: Buccola meets with the parish’s Risk Management officer to discuss the removal.
  • June 19: Risk Management Officer Rechell Champagne advises Buccola it’s a civil matter between property owners. He responds by saying the civil law remedy is unnecessarily pitting landowners against each other and should be handled by the parish by law.
  • July 1: Buccola addresses the council again asking the parish to remove the trees. He also cites a Nov. 28, 2018 letter from then parish Ag Agent Rene’ Schmit calling one of the trees leaning toward the property “a significant safety hazard.”
About Anna Thibodeaux 1967 Articles
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