LCG says it has a comprehensive drainage plan. Does it?

In what marked its first use of Louisiana's 2018 quick-take law, LCG expropriated more than 16 acres at the corner of Republic Avenue and Lake Farm Road to ease flooding in Kingshaven subdivision near Beaullieu Park and immediately cleared it and began excavation work. The property owners objected to the seizure, and a judge ruled in their favor in November.

The gist: Legal action on two detention ponds under construction hinge, at least in part, on whether Lafayette has a “comprehensive drainage plan.” LCG’s answer to that question is elusive. 

Get caught up, quickly: A pair of lawsuits have challenged LCG’s diligence ahead of seizing private lands for two detention projects: the Lake Farm Road Detention Pond and the massive Homewood Regional Detention Project. At issue is whether LCG has thoroughly proven the projects’ necessity, including developing a comprehensive drainage plan and adhering to an undefined standard of “best modern practices.”

August 2021: “Not a formal document. No.” That’s how LCG Engineering Supervisor Fred Trahan, who oversees drainage projects, responded to the question in court on the Lake Farm Road project in August of last year. Instead, he described a compilation of individual drainage projects and evaluations. Asked about a comprehensive stormwater management plan, he said, “A plan, no. A program, yes.” 

December 2021: Yes, we have a “pliable” plan. LCG changed course in the Homewood suit. Public Works Director Chad Nepveaux cited the 2017 Lafayette Parish Areawide Drainage Plan, authored by Pam Granger, who is engineering the Homewood project. He claimed Trahan was mistaken in his court testimony. 

April 2022: We started one two years ago. At Tuesday’s council meeting, M-P Josh Guillory rebuffed any suggestion that LCG was not “following the science.” Instead, he said LCG has been working on a plan for two years. 

“Our public works department works on a plan, designed by engineers, that’s more comprehensive than most counties and parishes in this country, I would argue,” Guillory said. 

In 2021 LCG hired a firm to complete a stormwater management plan. CSRS Inc. was awarded a contract sometime last year, LCG spokesman Jamie Angelle confirmed in July. HNTB Corporation created one for Baton Rouge that’s currently in progress. It’s a sprawling approach that includes reviews of development codes, a prioritization scheme and a master plan. 

Granger cited her 2017 areawide plan on the stand as the Homewood suit continued Wednesday. She said LCG was in the process of updating the plan, an apparent reference to the work CSRS was hired to do last year. This one is being funded by LCG, not the Corps, she said in an attempt to clarify the two plans. 

LCG has not produced CSRS’ contract. LCG granted itself “a 30-day extension” on a request for the contract filed by The Current on March 14. State public records law requires officials to turn over available public documents within five days. A four-page handout LCG issued after Wednesday’s hearing documenting the history of flood control planning over the past four decades does not mention CSRS.

Is the Areawide Drainage Plan comprehensive? That’s LCG’s case now. It makes many of the recommendations found in CSRS’s work in Baton Rouge, including more modeling, updated development standards and codes. On the whole it’s fairly broad and lists only a few infrastructure projects. Lake Farm and Homewood are notably not among them. 

A plan to plan. The RFQ for the “Comprehensive Stormwater Management Plan” contract awarded to CSRS tasks the winning firm with producing similar deliverables to the Baton Rouge plan. The word “update” appears once in reference to recommending water channels to be “modeled and/or updated.” The request makes note of “preliminary and separate steps” already taken, in possible reference to the areawide plan and others produced by Lafayette Parish municipalities. 

When is a plan a plan? That’s a good question. When it comes to Homewood and Lake Farm, that much is up to the courts. LCG’s decision to contract out for a comprehensive stormwater plan suggests there’s a need to go wider and deeper.  

Additional reporting by Leslie Turk