Lawsuit filed to halt Slidell development



Impact statement lacking, group says

Thursday, June 03, 2004
By Paul Bartels
St. Tammany bureau

The 25-year build-out of the vast Oak Harbor East area south of Slidell will degrade water quality, endanger marine and wildlife habitat and increase flooding, Save Our Wetlands of Louisiana says in its latest lawsuit against the project.

The lawsuit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in New Orleans against Col. Peter J. Rowan, district engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers.

The corps and the state departments of Environmental Quality and Natural Resources on May 7 issued the permits necessary for the second phase of the massive residential, recreational and commercial development under way since late 1998.

The new developments for which the permits were granted will encompass two large planned unit developments, Lakeshore Estates and Lakeshore Village, on 1,600 acres north and east of the existing Lakeshore Estates subdivision between Interstate 10 and Louisiana 433.

The projected build-out period for the PUDs is 25 years, but Save Our Wetlands wants the court to halt further development at the site until the corps meets what the group says are requirements of federal law.

The group contends the corps' permit action violates the National Environmental Policy, Clean Water and Administrative Procedure acts, as well as Council on Environmental Quality regulations and the corps' own regulations.

The group has fought unsuccessfully for at least a decade to block development in the 2,900-acre coastal region along and near Lake Pontchartrain.

Corps officials declined Wednesday to comment on the suit. Officials with Tammany Holding, which is developing the property, said they don't expect the suit to get any further than previous ones in federal and state courts. However, they said, the company probably will file as an intervenor on behalf of the corps.

"We can't stop them from filing a lawsuit," company President Bob Torres said. "They haven't won any of them. We don't think they have any grounds."

Company attorney Wayne Collier added, "Each and every time they've filed suit, the courts have found them meritless."

In its current suit, Save Our Wetlands expresses amazement at "the first 25-year permit in the history of the New Orleans district" and disbelief that the agency found that "development of a small city over a 25-year period . . . would not have a significant impact on the environment."

More specifically, the suit says the corps granted the wetlands-mitigation permit to Tammany Holding Corp. without the required environmental impact statement.

The smaller-scale environmental assessment fails to devote sufficient attention to the direct, indirect and cumulative effects of the project on the immediate and adjacent areas, waterways and Lake Pontchartrain, the suit alleges.

The corps assessment also failed to adequately consider alternative sites, the suit contends, but instead relied solely on the project developer's analysis and conclusion that the project is water-dependent.

The environmental group claims many Save our Wetlands members who live in St. Tammany Parish "will be directly injured by the degradation of the natural and scenic values and biological productivity" in the lake basin.

The corps has placed numerous conditions on the permit.

Tammany Holding will have to pay Louisiana Nature Conservancy the equivalent of 580 acres of wetlands in cash -- that comes to $2.3 million -- to acquire and maintain pine flatwood savanna at the Money Hill wetlands mitigation bank near Abita Springs.

The company also will have to build at least 6.7 acres of new wetlands through special plantings along a stretch of the west bank of East Diversion Canal along Louisiana 433.

At least 10 acres of wetlands restoration area must be developed as part of the project's drainage system to filter storm-water runoff from Lakeshore Village before it's discharged into the canal.

The canal enlargement will create an essentially new channel 12 feet deep and more than 200 feet wide linked to the existing one that runs from below Schneider Canal to Salt Bayou. The company says this will improve drainage and sewage disposal in the area.

However, Save our Wetlands says, the corps doesn't have an enforcement staff. Given that Tammany Holding paid a hefty fine two years ago for illegal dredging in the early days of the project before a permit was granted, the group said, "it is unreasonable for the corps to expect THC to self-regulate."
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Paul Bartels can be reached at
pbartels@timespicayune.com or (985) 645-2854.

http://www.nola.com/sttammany/t-p/index.ssf?/base/news-2/1086246230183560.xml



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