Judge dismisses lawsuit filed by Alligator Bayou business

A judge dismissed a lawsuit that owners of a tourism business along Alligator Bayou filed against Ascension and Iberville parishes, according to a copy of a summary judgment signed Jan. 25 in 23rd Judicial District Court.

The lawsuit was filed by Frank Bonifay, one of the owners of the Spanish Lake Wildlife Refuge and Botanical Gardens Inc., which ran Alligator Bayou Swamp Tours from 1996 until 2009.

In early 2009, officials of the two parishes decided to open a floodgate that separates Alligator Bayou from Bayou Manchac, and the water levels became too low to operate the swamp tours. Alligator Bayou Swamp Tours went out of business, and Bonifay sued the parishes and the East Ascension Consolidated Gravity Drainage District No. 1.

However, the court found that the parishes were acting within their authority when they opened the floodgate.

“This court does not find that the parishes owed a duty to maintain the artificially high water level of Alligator Bayou, regardless of whether or not a promise was made or inferred to do so,” Judge Thomas Kleibert Jr. wrote in the reasons for judgment. “To the contrary, with regard to the floodgate, the parishes’ duty is to protect its citizens from flooding, as supported by its authority to regulate drainage.”

The judge continued, “Based upon the evidence before this court, it is clear that the parishes’ decision to open the floodgate was directly related to drainage and flood prevention and control. While the loss of the Plaintiff’s eco-tourism business is admittedly a tragic consequence stemming from the opened floodgate, it cannot be said to have been an unforeseeable possibility.”

Efforts to reach Ascension Parish President Tommy Martinez and Bonifay’s attorney for comment late Tuesday were unsuccessful.