Lafayette-Vermilion boundary dispute continues to smolder

LAFAYETTE — The Lafayette City-Parish Council is scheduled to consider a measure next month that would — as far as Lafayette is concerned — push the parish line a little farther into Vermilion Parish.

Vermilion Parish sees things a bit differently, and the issue seems unlikely to be resolved outside of a courtroom.

The City-Parish Council voted unanimously in October to back out of decade-old agreement with the Vermilion Parish Police Jury that had set the boundary and ended years of dispute over the parish line.

City-Parish Councilman Don Bertrand, who has taken the lead on the renewed border fight, is now moving forward with the second stage.

He is asking his fellow council members to adopt a new boundary drawn by a researcher who has dug through old surveyors’ notes and archived maps in an effort to pinpoint where the line was drawn when Vermilion Parish was carved out of Lafayette Parish in 1844.

What that vote could mean is not clear.

“We continue to feel that we had a contract and that one party acting alone cannot break that contract,” said Vermilion Parish Police Jury attorney Paul Moresi III, referring to a 2002 boundary agreement between the two parishes.

Bertrand’s proposal calls for adopting a new line on the west side of the Vermilion River, then to spend up to $30,000 for additional research on the parish boundary east of the Vermilion River, a portion of the Vermilion-Lafayette border that has not been as closely scrutinized.

“Once we have that, we can connect all the dots,” Bertrand said.

As to what happens next, no one is certain.

Bertrand said “unless Vermilion sees it the way we see it,” he expects the border dispute to land in court at some point.

Any number of things could spawn litigation over the border, such as questions over which parish someone should vote in, which parish school system a child should enroll in or which parish should collect the property tax.

Lafayette Parish Assessor Conrad Comeaux said he has no imminent plans to began collecting tax in the disputed area, even if the council votes to push the boundary farther into Vermilion.

“Nothing is happening yet because it is still up in the air as to where this might land,” Comeaux said.

As for how it might play out, he said, “I have no idea.”

The disputed border last became a legal issue in 1999, when then-City-Parish Councilman Lenwood Broussard argued challenger Linda Duhon should not be allowed to run against him because she lived in Vermilion Parish.

Duhon had voted and paid taxes in Lafayette Parish for several years, but a state judge ruled she could not run because she was legally a resident of Vermilion Parish.

In the aftermath of the controversial election challenge, the Lafayette City-Parish Council and the Vermilion Parish Police Jury agreed in 2002 to ask the state Land Office to research the line and also to adopt whatever line the state agency drew.

The City-Parish Council’s vote in October was an effort to void that agreement, though Vermilion Parish argues that Lafayette, on its own, cannot legally do that.

“It’s a real mess, and that’s why we though we had put it to bed,” Moresi said.

Bertrand has argued the Land Office did not do a thorough job in researching the boundary and t he line he supports is based on more extensive research that includes a review of old survey field notes from the 1800s and historical records from the police juries in Vermilion and Lafayette .