Developer claims group broke contract



Land near Slidell central to lawsuits

Saturday, July 17, 2004
By Paul Bartels
St. Tammany bureau

An environmental group's latest legal efforts to block development in a vast area south of Slidell should be dismissed because the group signed an agreement three years ago not to pursue further litigation involving the project, the developer says in petitions to the court.

After losing suits brought in federal and state courts against the initial Lakeshore Estates project, Save Our Wet Lands executive attorney Luke Fontana and Ken Stewart, another attorney for the organization, signed the June 5, 2001, settlement agreement.

In return, Tammany Holding Corp., the developer of Lakeshore Estates and Lakeshore Village along and near Lake Pontchartrain, agreed to forgo any claims against the group for damages, legal fees and the like.

But Save Our Wet Lands in June sued the Army Corps of Engineers-New Orleans District and the state Department of Environmental Quality for approving permits for the buildout phase of the huge project.

The organization also sued the St. Tammany Parish Council over its approval in June of amendments to the two planned unit developments that make up the bulk of the 2,600-acre residential, recreational and commercial project.

In the 2001 document recently released by Tammany Holding President Robert Torres, the environmental group agreed not to appeal a judgment in the company's favor and not to pursue "any further litigation of any nature or kind whatsoever" involving property owned by the company or Torres.

"Simply put, SOWL understands that the current litigation or any further litigation . . . involving the subject property . . . is over, once and for all," the agreement says. "In short, our respective clients agree to forever end their respective differences."

In return, Torres and his company agreed not to pursue any claim against Save Our Wet Lands for "sanctions, damages, costs, frivolous filing of litigation or other similar claims." The settlement also is signed by Sam Collett Jr., an attorney for Tammany Holding.

Save Our Wet Lands President Janet Moulton and Stewart this week both referred to Fontana a reporter's inquiries about the organization's agreement with Tammany Holding. Fontana could not be reached for comment.

After the group brought its latest suits in June, Torres' attorneys filed petitions to intervene in the litigation against the Corps, Environmental Quality and the Parish Council.

Those filings deny the allegations in all three suits, make a counter-claim against Save Our Wet Lands, and urge the courts to reject the organization's efforts to remove itself from the federal and parish suits and substitute member Glynn Brock Jr. as sole plaintiff.

Save Our Wet Lands filed a motion June 25 to dismiss its suit, brought in state court in Baton Rouge, against Environmental Quality. District Judge Timothy Kelley's office said he apparently has signed the dismissal order, but it isn't yet in the civil processing division's computer.

Meanwhile, U.S. Magistrate Judge Alma Chasez in New Orleans on July 6 rejected the motion to substitute Brock, a resident of Pirates Harbor along the eastern edge of Torres' property, as plaintiff in the suit but said he could be added as a plaintiff along with Save Our Wet Lands.

In that case, Torres is asking the court to declare SOWL in breach of the 2001 settlement, to enforce its provisions and to enjoin the group from pursuing the existing case or trying to back out of it.

In the event the case is heard and Tammany Holding wins, the petition asks the court to award the company "all damages" incurred as a result of the breach of agreement, and award the company all costs and attorney fees and "any other . . . relief to which it is entitled."

No dollar amount is specified at this point.

Meanwhile, despite objections from Torres' attorneys, District Judge William Burris on June 24 allowed the environmental group to withdraw from the suit against the Parish Council. That leaves Brock as sole plaintiff in the case.

In 1996, Torres bought almost 3,000 acres generally bound by the lake, Interstate 10 and Louisiana 433 that Save Our Wet Lands and some public agencies wanted to preserve as public wetlands. He obtained his first permits in late 1998.

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Paul Bartels can be reached at
pbartels@timespicayune.com or (985) 645-2854.

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