While Lafayette Consolidated Government went to court to seize land for its largest-ever detention project, it had a much easier time putting together parcels for its second largest.
Some 50 acres of land along Coulee Ile Des Cannes were purchased earlier this year from clients represented by LCG’s chief legal officer, Greg Logan. Some of the land had been on LCG engineers’ radar since at least the summer of 2020, public records show. Logan stayed close to the project and the transaction, failing to follow state requirements to properly cure himself of an ethical conflict.
His connection to that land, part of a $30 million blockbuster detention facility near Scott, could create more problems for LCG’s signature drainage projects. The Coulee Ile Des Cannes detention facility is enormous, composed of multiple ponds totaling 90 acres on sites off Duhon Road. Together with ponds on Homewood Drive, across the Vermilion River, it comprises the Bayou Vermilion Flood Control Project, an $81 million program currently locked up in court and by a reimbursement squabble with state government.
Communication between LCG and the Louisiana Division of Administration broke down earlier this year after the state learned that LCG allowed the project’s contractor, Rigid Constructors, to purchase 44 acres of land to keep the project going. In all, the state has been withholding more than $22 million in funding for months. Reached this week, state officials confirmed they have not released any of that money.
Today, the massive project sits idle but nearly complete — on both sides of the river.
The state’s decision on whether to release funds may ultimately hinge on the outcome of an audit/investigation of that unusual arrangement and much of the Guillory administration’s $110 million parish-wide drainage program. Tuesday night the City Council passed a resolution giving Council Chairwoman Nanette Cook the authority to sign legal and financial documents related to the investigation.
Unlike the legally entangled Lake Farm Road project near Costco and the Homewood Regional Detention Pond north of Milton, in which LCG used quick-take expropriation authority to seize land from two prominent Lafayette families, Coulee Ile Des Cannes properties were purchased by LCG from their private landowners, including one family Logan represented for more than two decades (city-parish attorneys are allowed to have a private practice).
Four tracts owned by the family of Andrus Pellerin, Logan’s late client, are among the acreage LCG purchased earlier this year for the Coulee Ile Des Cannes facility. And records obtained by The Current suggest that it was Logan who brought the property to LCG’s attention within months of being named city-parish attorney. What remains unanswered is the extent to which science, or Logan, influenced LCG’s decision to buy the land.
Assistant City-Parish Attorney Mike Hebert withheld from disclosure contemporaneous notes of a September 2020 drainage meeting in which property owned by Logan’s client was discussed, citing attorney-client privilege conferred by Logan’s role in that meeting as LCG’s chief legal officer. Hebert asserted that the notes contain Logan’s work product as an LCG attorney. Logan was representing the Pellerin family at that time.
In April 2021, as LCG worked to put together parcels for what would become the 90-acre Iles Des Cannes project, the Pellerin property became part of the conversation — because it was easy to get.
“The Pellerin Property was targeted because it seems to be able to be acquired relatively easily (via GL),” wrote LCG consulting engineer Jimmy Ricks in an April 29, 2021, email to Public Works Director Chad Nepveaux. “The identifiable 20-acre tract does not touch the main channel.”
The day after Ricks’s email to Nepveaux, Andrus Pellerin died. Three weeks later, as counsel for Andrus’s son David, Logan made a cursory effort to cure his potential conflict. On May 20, 2021, he drafted and signed a “conflict waiver” and delivered it to his boss, Mayor-President Josh Guillory. The document falls well short of the state’s ethics requirements.
“There’s not a waiver concept in the Ethics Code,” says Louisiana Ethics Administrator Kathleen Allen.
“This is the property with the pond that your [sic] toured with Andrus Pellerin in 2020 when Chad [Nepveaux], Brian and others were there to review the bank failures on the Church Property, flooding of Diamondhead … the ditches dug in both Diamondhead and on Ulises [sic] Road that Andrus Pellerin was extremely upset about that held water and went nowhere,” Logan wrote in the memo to Guillory, which he supplied to The Current by request. “[A]ndrus has passed away and his children want to sell most of the property to avoid cutting grass. I was given permission to share the Pellerin appraisals on their tract of land with LCG.”
He then suggested LCG reappraise the property. On Oct. 1 of that year, LCG received a new appraisal on four tracts of Pellerin family land, 50 acres in all, valued at $855,000.
In the memo, Logan said he deferred negotiations to another attorney already handling Andrus’s wife’s succession and asked that attorneys with Becker and Hebert, a LCG-contracted law firm, handle the transaction. Despite putatively waiving his conflict, he asked the mayor-president’s permission to remain involved.
“[B]ecause of my knowledge of the property and surrounding tracts, I need your approval to work through Mike Hebert and whoever is the engineer on the project,” he wrote.
Logan advised Guillory that his signature was all that was needed to “approve this course of action and waiving any conflict I may have under the Rules of Professional Conduct or Board of Ethics as I believe it is in LCG’s best interest to look at this property and have it evaluated for a drainage project or projects.”
An LCG spokesman did not respond to an email seeking comment about the waiver.
Logan’s assertion to Guillory that an ethical conflict can be waived is not accurate. The Louisiana Ethics Code prohibits public servants like Logan from participating “in a transaction in which he has a personal substantial economic interest of which he may be reasonably expected to know involving the governmental entity.”
Logan did not respond to several requests for comment, including a specific question about whether he personally benefited from the transaction.
Louisiana Ethics Board records confirm that Logan did not request an advisory opinion before bringing his client and LCG together and recommending his client’s property. Such opinions are required to properly clear potential conflicts for public officials.
“If you’re going to have a conflict under the participation provision under the Ethics Code, there’s not the ability to waive it and still participate,” says Allen, the ethics administrator. “The only way is you don’t participate.”
By “participation,” Allen means a public official’s actions with respect to a transaction. “Is he taking part in, sharing responsibility through approval, disapproval, decision, recommendation, rendering advice?”
It’s clear Logan continued to take part in the project. Court documents show that on Nov. 29, 2021, Logan drafted a motion and order to substitute Julie Chauvin of Liskow & Lewis as counsel of record for David Pellerin. Chauvin signed it the following day. Logan did not file the substitution until January 14, the same day LCG first bought parcels of land from the Pellerin Estate.
But it’s less clear whether the land is essential to the massive pond.
Ricks, a contract engineer, confirmed in a phone interview that he was involved early in the project, assisting LCG with evaluating multiple tracts for regional detention. Among those was the Pellerin property.
“My evaluation in the early stages was, is this an area that could be beneficial to reducing flood water in the area and reducing discharge on Coulee Ile des Cannes,” he says.
Backups on the coulee are a major contributor to upland flooding. Finding ways to hold water during heavy storms is a standard flood prevention strategy.
In his April 2021 email, Ricks noted that a 20-acre pond at the site with storage of 10 to 12 feet showed an approximate 4-inch drop on the coulee in a 10-year storm event. Storms of that size rarely flood homes and other structures. “The benefit was not seen in larger events,” he wrote.
“To realize something more, you need [to study] a much larger area,” Ricks says.
Site selection was underway as Pam Granger of McBade Engineers, LCG’s current consulting engineer on the $81 million Bayou Vermilion Flood Control Project, sprinted to complete within 90 days a technical memo supporting the project. The memo detailed the Homewood site but withheld identification of the properties targeted on the Coulee Ile Des Cannes side, citing the “preliminary” status of the project.
Granger’s report trumpeted water surface reductions in small storms but did not project flood relief in major storm events, a finding similar to Ricks’s preliminary review. It’s unclear whether the Pellerin property was included in the modeling. Granger did not respond to several requests for comment.
LCG has largely touted the “cumulative effect” of the Bayou Vermilion Flood Control Project’s constituent parts. In August, a McBade engineer appeared in a video published to Facebook claiming Homewood and Coulee Iles Des Cannes combined would reduce water surface levels by a “foot” in “certain areas.”
Whatever the impact, the overall Bayou Vermilion Flood Control project is on hold. Both of the major detention sites remain unfinished — with tens of millions of dollars already spent.
News + Notes
Lafayette is running out of shelter space
Housing support agencies moved people into hotels around Lafayette using emergency federal and state government funds. Those funds have long since dried up.