Ethics issue halts work on Vermilion River detention pond in Lafayette as lawsuit drags on
Mar 18, 2022

Lafayette Daily Advertiser - Andrew Capps

March 18, 2022

Lafayette Consolidated Government must halt its work on the 300-plus acre Homewood Detention Pond while an ethical concern over the project's engineer is addressed, a judge ruled Friday.

Judge Valerie Gotch-Garrett, of the 15th Judicial District Court in Lafayette, issued an order prohibiting LCG from continuing its excavation of the 372-acre lot after attorney Randall Smith, representing the owners of the land that LCG took to build the ponds, raised concerns over whether the project's lead engineer could testify in court.

The Bendel Partnership, which owns the 372-acre lot along the Vermilion River, sued in December to block LCG from expropriating the land from them to build the pond.

Engineer Pam Granger, owner of McBade Engineering, was set to testify as an expert witness this week in support of the Homewood project's impact on local flooding.

LCG relied on a rarely-used "quick-take" authorization to seize the land from the Bendel partnership in December and begin work within weeks.

According to LCG, the project's contractor, Rigid Constructors, has finished digging two of the four proposed detention ponds on the property and had started work on a third.

Garrett blocked Granger from testifying Friday after Smith raised concerns that state law prevented her from participating in the lawsuit since her firm has a roughly $3.6 million contract with LCG to design and oversee construction of the massive detention pond project.

"I don't know how you can be an independent expert when you have a stake in the issue," Smith said Friday.

Garrett adjourned Thursday's hearing in frustration after Smith raised the issue, telling her staff and the suit's attorneys to research the matter and come back Friday morning to settle it.

"I don't like ambushes," she said Thursday.

Smith pointed to a state provision that prevents engineers contracted by government bodies from participating in "considerations or actions" related to the work they are being paid to do.

LCG called the move a tactical ambush, since it came after hours of testimony from other engineers and was only raised shortly after Granger took the stand to testify around 4 p.m.

"This issue wasn't raised at any time until it was raised tactically at the start of Pam Granger's testimony," Assistant City-Parish Attorney Mike Hebert said Friday.

"The impact is we don't have an expert to testify today," he told Garret.

After discussion's and arguments Friday morning on whether the case over LCG's taking of the Bendel's land for the project could continue without Granger's testimony, Garret decided to wait on a decision from the Louisiana Professional Engineering & Land Surveying Board, who Hebert said make a recommendation on the matter after its April 4 meeting.

"Whether or not this was an ambush, it was a great strategy," Garrett said.

"For now, do not touch the property."