A swamp buggy in the path cleared for construction of the West Shore Lake Pontchartrain hurricane levee, in 2019. Construction has been delayed by a fight over ownership of land to be used for access roads and the levee path.
Army Corps of Engineers

The judge said no and the authority went to court. The levee is needed and the judge was wrong.

The Pontchartrain Levee District has asked an appeals court to overturn a ruling by a St. John the Baptist Parish judge that has halted construction of the long-awaited West Shore Lake Pontchartrain Hurricane Levee for at least 30 days over a difference of opinion on whether the district has the right to seize land to build the levee system. In a request for review filed Monday with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeal, the levee district said 40th Judicial District Court Judge Vercell Fiffie was required by state law to grant the district’s request to expropriate 364 acres in exchange for $492,800. The land is owned by a company called Nature Land Co. LLC that is owned by a former judge and a prominent New Orleans lawyer and developer. Fiffie instead ordered both sides to appear before him on Dec. 17 to determine whether to combine the levee district’s request with a lawsuit filed by Nature Land over whether the laws being used by the levee district to seize the land violated rules for expropriation that are laid out in the federal and state constitutions.


The land is owned by a former judge and a major developer making this seem like a bow to them. Judicial preference and we love developers. Maybe not, but perception is reality.

At issue are segments of land owned by Nature Land, whose controlling partner is Thomas Kliebert Jr. of Paulina, a former judge of the 23rd Judicial District Court. New Orleans lawyer and developer John Cummings III is also a partner. The land includes property to be used for two access roads and for part of the path of the $760 million, 18½-mile-long levee system, which is designed to protect St. John the Baptist, St. Charles and St. James parishes from storm surges like those that devastated their east banks during Hurricane Ida earlier this year, and during Hurricane Isaac in 2012. Nature Land did not respond to a request for comment Monday. In its request for review of the lower court decision, the levee district said that if it does not gain control of the disputed property by Dec. 23, contracts already awarded by the Army Corps of Engineers for construction of the access roads will have to be re-bid or renegotiated, which could drive up the levee project’s cost and delay its construction.

It seems like an interpretation of law. Two looking at the same words and getting different meanings.

In its petition, the district argued that the state law governing expropriations for building levees requires local judges to sign expropriation orders, which allow construction on the property to proceed, while still reserving the landowners’ rights to challenge the value of the land in additional legal proceedings after the property has been seized. Nowhere does that law give the judge the right to consider whether the two parties participated in good-faith negotiations over the land purchase before approving the expropriation, the levee district argued. Fiffie, in his ruling, said there was no proof that such negotiations had taken place. The levee district, in its appeal, said it had hand-delivered its initial purchase offer, based on the highest of two appraisals, to the company on Sept. 24. Nature Land did not reply to the purchase offer. The district made a final written offer on Oct. 12, and when it again received no response, filed the expropriation request. And Nature Land also did not respond to the expropriation notification, the district said.

The courts will be only winner in this case especially if the case is drawn out past the Corps deadline. Stay tuned!

Ban the levee – meet me in court