Judge sides with parish in Alligator Bayou land dispute

Landowner calls ruling injustice

Iberville Parish received permission to expropriate 1.16 acres of property from an Ascension Parish man for a project to improve drainage by upgrading a floodgate at Alligator Bayou.

Eighteenth Judicial District Judge J. Robin Free ruled late Wednesday, after a two-day bench trial, that the parish will have to pay Frank Bonifay $72,455 for the land.

Parish officials said they have attempted to obtain the land since 2011 but sued when those efforts failed.

Bonifay owns more than 1,200 acres in the Spanish Lake Basin, and his property includes the Frog Bayou floodgate in Ascension and Alligator Bayou floodgate. The parcel of property at the center of the dispute is located at the juncture of Alligator Bayou and Manchac Road.

“Even though the court ruled in the parish’s favor, I really don’t like that we had to resort to this method of taking someone’s land,” Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso said Thursday. “We’ve been trying to get this land to protect the lives and the property of the people in Iberville Parish. I would have thought the property owner would have done the right thing since the property has been for sale a number of years, but it looks like it was for sale to anyone but the parish.”

Bonifay shot back at Ourso Thursday evening, accusing the parish of devaluing his property before convincing a court to force him to sell it.

“After opening the locks and flooding the basin three times within the last five years, the parish devalued my property and put us out of business,” he said. “They drained us of the land’s value and then took the property for pennies. And that’s an injustice.”

Bonifay’s attorney, Glen Petersen, said his client is mulling over an appeal to Free’s ruling.

“We will make that decision shortly,” Petersen said Thursday afternoon. “We feel the parish failed to justify the need to take Mr. Bonifay’s property. And we’re certainly disappointed in the final evaluation of the damages he sustained. This just added insult to injury to the destruction of 20 years of hard work from Bonifay and his business partner.”

Bonifay is the owner of the defunct Alligator Bayou Swamp Tours.

In its petition to the court, the parish stressed the need to acquire a portion of Bonifay’s property because the Alligator Bayou floodgate that’s located on it was too small to adequately control drainage flow from east Iberville Parish and St. Gabriel into the Spanish Lake Basin.

Debris and overgrown vegetation on Bonifay’s property often clogged the Alligator Bayou floodgate, restricting water flow and therefore causing backups and flooding for east Iberville Parish residents, especially during heavy rains, the lawsuit says.

Increased growth and development in east Iberville Parish added additional pressures to the floodgate’s restricted water flow problems, the lawsuit says.

The parish asked the court for ownership of Bonifay’s land to mitigate flood control by using $2.3 million in federal funds to upgrade the Alligator Bayou floodgate and spruce up the waterway for public use.

Ourso said the floodgate project is currently in the design phase.

“Because we’re using federal money to upgrade that floodgate, it’s hard to lease property; they want you to acquire the property,” Ourso said. “The new structure will get water through there twice as fast and feature the latest technology. I’m calling it a miniature Hoover Dam.”