ST. FRANCISVILLE — The West Feliciana Parish Police Jury voted Mo nday to hire an abstractor to determine if the public has a claim to property in the old town of Bayou Sara that the family of jury President Ricky Lambert says it owns.
The question of ownership arose after the state gave the parish the road that led to the former ferry landing. The jury recently poured a concrete strip from the end of the road to the water’s edge for a boat landing.
The family of the late Paul Lambert Sr. claims ownership of much of the property flanking the road and ferry landing. Ricky Lambert, who is the son of Paul Lambert Sr., abstained from voting on several items pertaining to the property and let Vice President Otis Wilson chair the meeting during the discussion.
Jurors set a $5,000 limit on the abstractor’s work.
Juror Mel Percy said the abstractor’s research should give the jurors an idea whether it should pursue any claims on the land.
Percy, Lea Williams, Wilson and Heather Howle voted to hire the abstractor, while Melvin Young dissented.
Lambert attorney Leonard Kilgore III said the family is doing its own abstract, but said “it is clear the Lambert family has clear title to the property on either side of the road.”
Kilgore also said most of the former town of Bayou Sara was expropriated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a plant that casts concrete mats for levee protection.
The jury’s moves angered Paul Lambert Jr. and former juror and legislator Tom McVea, who also spoke against Williams’ suggestion to hire a real estate or “waterway” attorney to advise the jury on the “legal owners of Old Bayou Sara Town and adjacent properties.”
McVea, saying he was speaking as a taxpayer, said “it appalls me to see this body spend money on lawyers when we have (other) needs.”
“I know this is part of your family,” Williams replied. “We’ve spent $22,000 a year for 10 years for access to the river that we should have checked on the (ownership) claim.”
Williams was referring to a lease with the Lamberts.
Williams also questioned the Police Jury’s March 22, 1960, decision to sell to Paul Lambert Sr. an old levee on the east side of Bayou Sara, which flows into the Mississippi near the ferry landing.
Williams said a slim majority of the jurors in office voted to sell the land, ran a legal advertisement two days later and completed the sale six days later.
“It doesn’t appear to me that proper procedures were followed,” Williams said.
Kilgore asked if the jury was going back 60 years to research other property sales.
“This is the most appalling thing on the agenda,” Kilgore said. “It clearly has gone from an issue of public interest … to becoming an axe to grind.”
Kilgore threatened future litigation if the Police Jury pursues the issue.
“We’re talking about a big lawsuit that’s going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars if this goes any further,” Kilgore said.
The jury tabled a move to hire a surveyor to survey the property in question and prepare a plat, after District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla suggested jurors wait until they hear from the abstractor.
In a related matter, the jury voted to terminate a lease for a second boat landing near the ferry landing, under which the jury pays $900 a month to the Vinci family.