Land acquisition had been on schedule to be complete by Jan. 15, but St. Mary Levee District commissioners learned Thursday that determination of ownership of the canal itself has yet to be determined.
The board heard that news from Lauren Joyner of Professional Engineering Consultants, the firm retained by the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority to handle land acquisition on the $5.7 million project.
Appraisal of the properties cannot be conducted until the acquisitions are complete, she said.
Board President Bill Hidalgo said that in PEC’s most recent report to the board, the acquisition will now not be complete until March 1.
Joyner explained that CPRA required additional research after learning that ownership of the canal was uncertain. That report on the last owners of records, she added, was turned in last week.
It was originally thought the U.S. Corps of Engineers held title to the canal, but then learned that it only holds servitude, she said. The last known title holder was the now defunct Franklin Drainage District.
“Why not just take the canal segment out and do the appraisal on the land side?” Hidalgo said. “The appraisal on that water is going to be pretty simple.”
Board legal consultant Gerard Bourgeois said that is one option being considered.
Joyner said the report attempts to establish who the last owner was prior to government.
Reid Miller of Miller Engineers and Associates estimated that it’s just half an acre of water in issue.
“Can’t the parish just seize it?” Commissioner James Vidos asked.
“They don’t know who to seize it from,” Joyner answered.
Commissioner J.P. Hebert said the public would find the delay “unacceptable.”
Hidalgo told Joyner that he and other commissioners want to attend any upcoming meetings held with CPRA on the issue.
In other discussions, the board agreed to negotiate a contract with the Port of Morgan City on temporary office space at the port.
Hidalgo stressed that the district will continue to locate a permanent site.
“We need to be located central to the parish,” he said.
Also, the board heard from state Rep. Sam Jones (D-Franklin) that recommendations from all local state legislators are being submitted to the state to nominate Hidalgo to a vacant seat on the CPRA board.
Representation of south central Louisiana has been absent on the board, Jones said. It is imperative that the area has a voice on the board to present its unique issues and get its fair share of royalties, he added.
“This could lead to many dollars,” he said.