Line separating Lafayette, Vermilion questioned
LAFAYETTE — A border war is brewing between Lafayette and Vermilion parishes.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a measure that would revive a dormant dispute over where the boundary line should be drawn between Vermilion and Lafayette parishes, an issue settled 10 years ago by agreement between both parishes.
The proposal before the council next week would undo that agreement, which Lafayette Parish Councilman Don Bertrand argues gave too much land to Vermilion Parish because the line was based on inaccurate and incomplete historical records.
Bertrand says research has turned up sound evidence that the line should be moved.
“We know where it is. We know exactly where it is,” he said.
Bertrand has long advocated revisiting the agreement, and his proposal seems certain to pass because six other councilmen have signed on to the proposed ordinance, a clear majority.
Still uncertain are the repercussions if the Lafayette City-Parish Council voids the 10-year-old border agreement, because Vermilion Parish officials plan to enforce it.
“As far as Vermilion is concerned, we have a binding public contract,” Vermilion Parish Police Jury attorney Paul Moresi III said.
Vermilion Parish was carved out of Lafayette Parish in 1844.
The entire border is not in dispute, only sections of it, and various estimates put the amount of property at stake between 300 acres and 1,100 acres, much of it farm land.
The border has been in question off-and-on for decades.
The most recent episode began in 1999 when then-Lafayette 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 paid taxes and voted in Lafayette Parish for several years, but a state judge sided with Broussard, ruling Duhon could not run because she was actually a resident of Vermilion Parish.
In 2002, the Lafayette City-Parish Council and the Vermilion Parish Police Jury agreed to settle the issue by asking a third-party, the state Land Office, to research where the parish boundary should be.
The agreement also called on the parishes “to accept the findings of the state Land Office’s survey.”
Vermilion and Lafayette parishes voted in 2003 to adopt the line as drawn by the Land Office, but Bertrand had raised questions early on its accuracy.
In 2003, Bertrand was not yet serving on the Lafayette City-Parish Council, but the oil-and-gas landman already had taken up the cause of researching the parish boundary and had asked council members to not accept the Land Office boundary line because it likely was wrong.
The council at the time didn’t take his advice.
And Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel, who had just come into office at the time, had even considered vetoing the ordinance adopting the line but decided against the move, citing, among other things, the agreement with Vermilion Parish to abide by the findings of the Land Office.
Bertrand said he believes Lafayette has some legal wiggle room because the council members 10 years ago did not realize critical historical documents had not been reviewed by the Land Office.
The Land Office relied largely on a border drawn in the 1930s at the request of Vermilion Parish, which had voted at the time to adopt the new boundary.
Bertrand said the Land Office report left out records that indicated the old Lafayette Police Jury did not accept the boundary from the 1930s survey and voted to fight it.
Bertrand said new research has uncovered field notes from surveys in the 1800s that can be used to chart the boundary as it existed when Vermilion Parish was created.
Moresi disputes that the Land Office made a mistake.
“We don’t agree it’s an error. It’s a difference of opinion,” he said.
The attorney said even if there were issues with the research of the Land Office, the two parishes agreed to abide by the results and that upsetting the current line could lead to controversies over which parish should tax the property, where kids should go to school or which parish people should vote in.
“They really are opening up a can of worms,” Moresi said.
Moresi added the border has already been unsuccessfully challenged in court.
Duhon and other border residents had filed a federal lawsuit alleging a political effort to push them out of Lafayette Parish and a state lawsuit seeking to block Lafayette city-parish government from adopting the new line.
Both of those lawsuits were dismissed.
A few dozen families in the area have a third lawsuit pending in state court against Lafayette city-parish government that challenges the accuracy of the new border, though there has been little court action in that case for five years.
Lafayette Assessor Conrad Comeaux, who supports revisiting the border issue, said that regardless of what’s happened in the past, the boundary should be set in the proper place.
“The reason is to get it correct,” he said.