Feb. 20, 2013 04:14
There should be serious repercussions for the Lafayette City-Parish Council members. 

IND sources say the federal lawsuit filed against Lafayette Consolidated Government by Waste Facilities will be settled Wednesday afternoon when a $3.4 million check is written to the local entity prevented from developing a waste transfer facility on Sunbeam Lane.

Playing election year politics with taxpayer money, the Lafayette City-Parish Council voted unanimously in October 2011 to revoke the company's permit amid warnings from LCG legal counsel that its action could cost local government millions of dollars.

In late 2011, about 10 months after Waste Facilities had begun the permitting process and work on the 16-acre site in unincorporated north Lafayette Parish was well under way, neighbors unaware the facility had been permitted began complaining. In the midst of what could have been a contentious re-election, Councilman Brandon Shelvin, in whose district the facility was being built, introduced an ordinance to block it. The October election was days away.

District 3 Councilman Brandon Shelvin, leading an October 2011 protest of a waste transfer station on Sunbeam Lane, and his colleagues on the council cost LCG $3.4 million by voting unanimously to block the legally permitted facility from completing construction.

Before the council's vote, however, City-Parish Attorney Mike Hebert issued an urgent warning to council members about the potential repercussions of Shelvin's ordinance. Hebert said none of the permits or approvals had been issued by mistake or error and that all complied with state and local laws, ordinances and regulations. "If Waste Facilities has acquired a vested property right to its building permit, a withdrawal of that permit would likely be held a taking' of property obligating LCG to pay compensation to Waste Facilities," Hebert wrote the council at the time.

Hebert predicted potential damages could extend into the millions of dollars and might also include relocation costs and economic damages such as loss of profits. View Hebert's six-page letter outlining the consequences here.

Despite the warning, the council voted unanimously for Shelvin's ordinance. It became law after City-Parish President Joey Durel refused to sign it.

Durel, however, made it clear that he thought the council had made a big mistake. In an Oct. 28, 2011, memo sent to the City-Parish Council clerk after the vote, Durel told the council that he would not veto the ordinance, "even though my conscience tells me to do otherwise."

Wisely, Durel feared that a vote to override his veto could set local government up for further damages in a lawsuit.

"Given that the council's vote on this ordinance was unanimous, it seems that a veto would be a futile gesture that would force a useless, contentious and divisive override session of the council," he said in the memo. "And ... anything said in that override session could be used against us in a lawsuit. I know you have to make extremely tough decisions, and I feel for you when they are emotionally charged. In this instance, my only ability to strongly disagree with this vote is simply not to sign the ordinance, reluctantly allowing it to become law."

This is at least the second time the council's action has had such costly consequences. Only a month before the Sunbeam Lane project was blocked, the council finalized a settlement for illegally repealing a zoning change that prevented Greyhound Bus Lines' move to Moss Street in 2008.

And keep in mind that this $3.4 million payout to Waste Facilities is only a partial settlement. Progressive Waste Solutions, which had a contract to lease the transfer station from Waste Facilities, still has a federal suit pending. And today's check does not include what may already amount to some $200,000 in LCG legal fees.

Neither Durel nor Waste Facilities' attorney would comment on the settlement this morning. The council voted in late January to approve the partial settlement.

The IND will have more on this story later today. In the meantime, we want to know what readers think of this council's action and this costly settlement ­- and what should be done to prevent this type of council negligence in the future.

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