AMITE — The Tangipahoa Parish Council unanimously approved a resolution Monday that supports the local NAACP chapter’s efforts to try to force the reopening of three railroad crossings state transportation officials closed last month.
Patricia Morris, president of the Greater Tangipahoa Parish Branch chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the NAACP will seek to have a federal civil-rights investigation done “to advocate for those households who must now suffer the effects of the closures.”
Closures of the crossings at Babb Street in the village of Tangipahoa and Rev. J. White Road and Capace Road near Independence have been an ongoing issue of contention between the council and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development for more than a month.
Early on June 22, DOTD crews closed the three crossings and later tore out the short sections of roads leading from La. 22 across the Canadian National Railroad tracks. The council subsequently sought an injunction in 21st Judicial District Court demanding that DOTD restore the crossings.
However, Judge Robert Morrison ruled that DOTD had the right to close the crossings and had followed its rules for such closures. At a subsequent meeting, the council chose not to appeal the rulings.
But Morris said Monday that DOTD did not follow its own legislatively mandated rules for the proper closing of railroad crossings. Further, Morris said, a pattern of closings near neighborhoods with large numbers of minorities may exist.
She said that more than 500 households in the parish are directly affected by the three closures.
At one point, Morris said, “Questions arise as to why actions are taken using laws and plans that govern railroad closures in Louisiana which are made more often than not in neighborhoods that disparately affect the people located in the areas of closure, for example, diverse minority areas.”
Further, Morris charged that the railroad closures have already resulted in lower property values for those residing in the affected areas. She said that if nothing else is accomplished, she wants to see the state, through DOTD, reimburse property owners for value lost because of the railroad closures.
Morris said one of the NAACP attorneys with whom she is working, Victor Goode, suggested that information be gathered on the history of the closures to assure that all proper procedures were followed, including two public hearings required by state law before a crossing can be closed.
The three crossings in Tangipahoa Parish and one in New Iberia were the only ones closed recently by DOTD according to research offered by the NAACP, according to Morris.
There are about 1,300 ungraded railroad crossings in the state, she said.