APSB committee takes no action on land swap issue
There was a lot of discussion concerning a proposed land swap of 16th Section property for federal lands, but the Avoyelles School Board Building and Lands Committee took no action on the issue.
Among those voicing an opinion at the Oct. 24 committee meeting was Marksville Mayor John Lemoine, who questioned why the School Board would want to swap the Bayou Joson tract for federal land along Spring Bayou.
Board President Chris LaCour said there is no right-of-way to the Bayou Joson tract.
He said the board needs to make a decision on what it wants to do, which could include swapping land with the federal government that would provide a right-of-way to access the property.
Lemoine, who is also a former School Board member, asked why the state can give the parish 16th Section property to manage and provide revenue to support the school system, but cannot require that the board have right-of-way to access that property.
District Attorney Charles Riddle said the law concerning 16th Section property is complex. He noted it was written in the late 1700s when people did not require a right-of-way to access property.
Now there are situations where adjacent land owners refuse to grant a right-of-way and are willing to fight the issue in court.
To obtain a right-of-way, the School Board would have to go through state and federal court to be granted the right-of-way and then have to pay to maintain it.
“Something needs to happen, but what do you gain by swapping the land,” Lemoine asked the committee. “You have 640 acres of land, so why not cut the timber and put the property in a conservation plan where they pay to manage the property.”
Riddle said it still boils down to no right-of-way.
WILLING TO FIGHT
The D.A.’s office is willing to fight the battle at no cost to the board, Riddle said, but the adjacent property owners will hire lawyers that could tie the issue up in court for several years.
Riddle reminded the board members that the school district has been involved in one right-of-way lawsuit for five years and there are still problems because it will cost thousands of dollars for the board to maintain it.
“There may be an initial charge of $20,000, or much more, the first year and then an unknown charge each year to maintain the road,” Riddle told board members. “If you want the right-of-way, tell us -- but don’t tell us later you are not willing to pay for it.”
The ongoing issue seems to be Buck Road in the Lake Ophelia Wildlife Management Area. The School Board property is about five miles off the highway and goes through federal property. The first 2.5 miles is Lake Long Road and the last 2.5 miles is Buck Road.
The problem with the road concerns the last mile of Buck Road, which passes through private property before reaching School Board property. The distance could be cut to a half-mile on private property if the federal government would allow the right-of-way to take a shortcut through a 300-500-foot area.
The federal government is refusing not only the requested short cut, but use of all of Buck Road. The private landowner is also refusing to give a right-of-way.
NO PLACE TO HUNT
Things heated up a little when Lemoine said “the poor people of this parish have no more places to hunt in Avoyelles.”
He said allowing people to hunt on 16th Section property helps the parish’s economy and the proposed land swap would hurt the economy.
LaCour countered by saying the board needs revenue from the properties to help the school system.
The federal government has offered land with an equal appraised value of the Joson tract. That property is about 740 acres of virgin timber next to Spring Bayou. The trees on the tract were planted in 1994.
Brent Wehrle, of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, said the federal government is still willing to handle all costs and fees associated with the land swap. However, he said the state Legislature must pass a bill giving its approval to allow the swap.
Maintenance Supervisor Steve Marcotte, who oversees the 16th Sections, said Avoyelles’ state representative and both state senators serving parts of the parish need to be involved in helping the school district to get necessary rights-of-way or to pass approval for the swap with the federal government.
School Superintendent Blaine Dauzat said he spoke to Rep. Robert Johnson and invited him to the committee meeting. However, Dauzat told board members that Johnson said he would only come if he were sent a written invitation.
Dauzat said it is not his custom to write an invitation, “so I didn’t.”
Committee members indicated they will continue to study the land swap proposal, including determining the cost of maintaining a right-of-way if one is granted.