Rathborne Land Co. L.L.C. and Willowridge Estates L.L.C. have filed a petition against the federal government because they say a permit issued to St. Charles Parish for construction of the West Bank hurricane protection levee is unlawful.
Rathborne and Willowridge cite a 2000 consent decree that ordered that a preservation area south of the Willowridge Subdivision not be disturbed.
In order to ensure that the preservation area remain undisturbed, Willowridge and Rathborne were required to create a 375-acre conservation servitude and then transfer it to St. Charles.
For years, the parish attempted to get a levee built behind Willowridge in the area of the conservation servitude to protect the low-lying subdivision.
Originally, the parish favored a southern route that would not have encroached on the conservation servitude and would have left a significant amount of wetlands between the levee and the Willowdale/Willowridge subdivisions. At the time, the parish believed that this route was essential because it would leave ponding areas for rain water. The property would also have been donated by Rathborne, which owns most of the land in that area.
However, the Army Corps of Engineers balked at the route because they foresaw the development of those wetlands into subdivisions in the future. Instead, the corps believed that the levee should abut areas that are already populated and called for a more northern alignment.
In order to speed approval of the permit, the parish proposed a northern alignment that would leave 27 acres of wetlands near the Davis Pond Diversion and another 23 acres of retention area south of the intersection of Willowdale Boulevard and Beaupre Drive.
According to the permit, one reach of the Luling levee would occupy eight acres of wetlands subject to the conservation servitude.
The permit for the alignment would leave little room for future development and was awarded to the parish in May.
According to court documents, Willowridge and Rathborne say they strongly oppose the northern alignment permitted by federal agencies because it violates the consent decree due to the fact that the conservation servitude will be disturbed by a Luling levee. Willowridge/Rathborne also say that the northern alignment reduces the level of protection from significant rainfall events for the residents of Willowridge Subdivision.
Instead, they believe that a permit should be issued for the southern alignment, which they say will cause less damage to wetlands protected by the consent decree, follow the alignment of the existing drainage levee and provide more reliable protection because the southern alignment is a passive system that does not rely on a pumping station.
Willowridge/Rathborne filed the petition on Sept. 2 and the federal government responded in a motion filed on Sept. 30. According to the U.S. motion, the consent decree “expressly reserves the Corps permitting authority, thus there can be no reasonable argument that the Corps violated the decree by issuing the permit.”
Also, the United States says that Willowridge/Rathborne’s proposed solution, which calls for issuing a levee permit for a southern alignment, is not even lawful because “the court is not authorized to rewrite the permit in this fashion.”
The case has been assigned to Judge Nannette Jolivette-Brown of the federal District Court in New Orleans.