Lafayette Consolidated Government violated the law when it seized 372 acres of land along the Vermilion River in December for the construction of its Homewood Detention Pond, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Judge Valerie Gotch-Garrett, of the 15th Judicial District Court, determined that LCG did not follow the law in its quick-take expropriation of the land owned by the Bendel Partnership on Dec. 6.
Gotch-Garrett's ruling prohibits LCG from working on the massive detention pond project effective immediately after her previous injunction against work there expired on April 13.
Her ruling comes weeks after the third and final day of hearings in the matter was held on April 7.
During arguments, lawyers for LCG and the Bendel Partnership fought over whether LCG had proven that the project was a public necessity and whether it had followed the law in the steps it took leading up to its sudden seizure of the land in December.
Ultimately, the Bendel Partnership's attorney Randy Smith's argument prevailed, as Gotch-Garrett wrote in her ruling.
"While LCG undoubtedly conducted some analyses, data collection and modeling regarding the Homewood Detention Project, this Court finds that LCG fell short of an adequate determining principle and/or that the decision to expropriate this particular (site) was not arbitrarily determined," she wrote.
LCG first publicly outlined plans for four detention ponds on the site during a townhall meeting last spring. Engineer Pam Granger was chosen to design the project, while Rigid Constructors was picked to build it.
As of Tuesday, work there had resumed after a brief injunction ordered by Gotch-Garrett, and the first two ponds, further from the river, were 85% complete, according to Granger.
Gotch-Garrett honed in on LCG's selection of the 372-acre Bendel site as her key reason for determining that it had acted "arbitrarily and capriciously" in seizing the land.
"LCG did not adequately consider other properties in selecting the location of this project," she wrote.
"None of (LCG's) studies consider other possible locations for the detention ponds to the extent that the Bendel Property is considered, which suggests to this court that LCG decided first that it would expropriate the Bendel Property and then conducted studies to support its decision," she added.
"Unfortunately for LCG, those after-the-fact studies do not sufficiently justify the expropriation either."
Gotch-Garrett's ruling comes a day after LCG appeared before the Third Circuit Court of Appeal via Zoom Tuesday to argue that another judge in Lafayette was wrong when she determined LCG had unlawfully seized a 16.5-acre lot on Lake Farm Road last May for another detention pond.
Judge Michelle Breaux, of the 15th JDC, similarly ruled against LCG in that quick-take land grab, citing the local government's lack of a defined set of "best modern practices" in developing the project, which fell short of the state's legal requirements.
LCG is expected to appeal Gotch-Garrett's ruling to the Third Circuit Court of Appeal in Lake Charles.