Jan. 31, 2013 06:31

It's another painful lesson in what happens when you vote to undo a perfectly legal process.

In October 2011 the Lafayette City-Parish Council played election year politics, ignoring a warning by Lafayette City-Parish Attorney Mike Hebert that the legal liability of revoking a valid permit to build a waste transfer facility in unincorporated north Lafayette Parish "could extend into the millions of dollars."

Hebert's was an opinion shared by most legal minds. However, faced with an angry constituency in the Sunbeam Lane neighborhood, which is in City-Parish Councilman Brandon Shelvin's District 3, and an election just days away, the council voted unanimously to revoke Waste Facilities of Lafayette's permit. At the time, the company had already made a substantial monetary investment: It had puchased the land and was in the middle of constructing the waste transfer station.

When the Lafayette council voted to revoke Waste Facilities' legally obtained permit
in late 2011, the company had already purchased the Sunbeam Lane property
and construction was well under way.  


The result of the October 2011 vote is that the council will soon pull from your tax dollars to pay for its mistake - in much the same fashion it paid for repealing a zoning change that blocked Greyhound Bus Lines' move to Moss Street in 2008 (the settlement with Greyhound was finalized a month before the Sunbeam Lane project was blocked). But this time around, according to one source familiar with the negotiations, the price tag is upwards of $3 million. And that's only a partial settlement. Progressive Waste Solutions, which had a contract to lease the facility from Waste Facilities, still has a federal suit pending.

Waste Facilities maintained throughout the process that it followed all guidelines when applying for a local permit to build the facility on a 16-acre site. The property is located on a small island of unincorporated land.

The facility was to be a daily stopping point for truckloads of garbage being hauled from surrounding areas so that the waste could then be trucked to a landfill outside of the parish. Just as the company was receiving its final approval from Lafayette Consolidated Government's Planning, Zoning and Codes Department, nearly 10 months after the permitting process had begun, someone on Sunbeam Lane caught wind of the plans. Neighbors who feared the high volume of large trucks coming in and out of narrow roads leading to the Sunbeam Lane facility, noise from those trucks, the stinch of garbage and trash blowing into their yards complained to council members.

Councilman Brandon Shelvin led a neighborhood protest against the
waste transfer facility on Oct. 14, 2011.

Sunbeam Lane residents also were livid that they were never notified by the project's developers or anyone else with a hand in the project - including LCG's permitting office - that a facility of this type was moving in. Regulations governing unincorporated Lafayette Parish do not require public hearings or notifications for projects of this type.

Read more on the Sunbeam Lane saga and unfounded conspiracy theories surrounding it here.

While the council voted Tuesday to approve the partial settlement, it has not been finalized, and no one will publicly disclose the amount. The council must approve the final settlement, at which time the dollar figure is likely to be made public. Had the case gone to trial, the damages could have been substantially higher.

The Sunbeam Lane debacle is a fitting example of the need for a comprehensive plan that addresses land-use throughout the entire the parish. It's the only way to protect everyone's interests - and avoid another flawed vote that costs taxpayers millions of dollars.

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