Avoyelles School Board upset by damage on 16th Section property
As the years go by, the battle of who can hunt and camp on 16th Section property continues to haunt Avoyelles Parish School Board members.
The thorny issue rose again during an Executive Committee meeting June 27. This time, the major concern was vandalism on the “Garfish” 16th section.
The incident allegedly began when camp lease owner Dusty Lacombe was asked to do work with an excavator on another camp site. Lacombe allegedly used the excavator and damaged a four-wheeler dirt trail, destroyed at least two deer stands and knocked down some trees.
Lacombe has made restitution for the deer stands and was arrested by the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff’s Office in late June on a charge of criminal damage to property. The case has been turned over to the District Attorney’s office and will be presented to a Grand Jury.
Board members asked whether the board could revoke Lacombe’s lease. He is one of five individuals leasing one camp site.
Board member Darrell Wiley noted the case is still under investigation and no action should be taken against any lease holder or camp owner until the investigation is finished. Assistant District Attorney Anthony Salario agreed.
ALLIGATOR BAYOU LEASE
On another Section 16 issue, board members were told that a group leasing the Alligator Bayou section is threatening to cancel its lease unless the board agrees to a lower rate. The current lease is for $34.50 per acre, for a total of $22,390 per year. The lease holder wants to reduce the lease amount to $25 per acre.
The group has leased the property for six years and has paid over $134,000 over that period. The original lease expired and has continued on a month-by-month basis while the group decides whether to renew the lease, Maintenance Supervisor Steve Marcotte said.
In a May 5 letter, the lease holders said several factors have led them to seek a change in the lease terms.
“Even though we have followed a strict game management plan, there has a been a steady decline in the deer population,” the letter said. “There are also other influences which led us to this decision, such as a decline in habitat and food source (declining cover/thinning vegetation) to support and attract whitetail deer as the property ages.”
The letter also alleges that poaching has been an ongoing issue on the tract.
“These factors have led to a continuing decline in our hunting access,” the letter stated.
The group offered to sign a 10-year lease for the tract at the $25/acre price.
“They signed a five-year lease and now want to pull out, wanting to pay a lesser amount,” Wiley said. “We are in the education business and not hunting and fishing. The lease should mean something.”
Marcotte, who manages the 16th Section lease program, said if the group pulls out of the lease, the board will have to advertise for new bids at a stated minimum rate of $34.50 per acre.
“If we let them break the lease and get $25 an acre, other lessees/ owners will ask for the same,” Marcotte noted.
That issue led into a discussion concerning all 16th Section properties.
“Is hunting and fishing more important than education,” Board Member Van Kojis asked. “If the people with camp leases don’t govern themselves, they could lose their leases.
‘A PAIN FOR THE BOARD’
“I’m tired of fooling with this and I’m ready to lease to one person,” Kojis continued. “This has been a pain for the board.”
Kojis said he doesn’t want anyone to lose their lease, but the money raised by leasing property is used to fund the district’s capital improvement program.
“Until we get rules, regulations and enforcement, these problems will continue,” Marcotte said. “Most of the problems are on the Garfish property.”
He said the Garfish property has only eight camps, but several individuals have purchased hunting permits for that tract.
One camp owner said only a few people are causing problems. Kojis countered that camp owners are not helping to enforce rules and regulations.
“People, who have been leasing School Board property forever think they own the property now,” Wiley said. “We should run our property just like the Wildlife and Fisheries runs its property.”
Salario recommended the board consider strengthening its policies for camp leases.
“We want our property to be policed,” Kojis continued. “It’s currently not being done right .”