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|Bancroft sues levee board|
A federal lawsuit filed this summer against the Fifth District Levee Board may delay work in progress to raise the mainline Mississippi River from Morville to north of Vidalia in Concordia Parish, according to levee board officials.
The lawsuit was filed June 10, 2011, in Jackson, Miss., by Clarkban and Bancroft Enterprises, LLC, and concerns Giles Island property.
Speed Bancroft is President of Bancroft Enterprises, located in Monroe.
Fifth District Levee Board President Reynold Minsky said the mainline levee north of Vidalia that includes the Giles Island property is "the lowest point in Concordia we've got left to raise."
He said the work should not be delayed because "I don't think the levee there is sufficient to hold another flood like we had this year. If it happens again and the levee's not raised we'll be teetering on levee failure."
The Giles Island property is located on Mississippi soil but approachable by land from Louisiana. Giles Island was formed during a Corps of Engineers project in 1933 to excavate a cut-off from the Mississippi River above Vidalia at Giles Cut-Off, also known as Cowpen Bend Cut-Off.
Levee Board Superintendent of Operations Jason Trichell said the Bancroft property on Giles Island is located on the riverside of the mainline levee north of Vidalia and protects Louisiana citizens from flooding.
Trichell said the Louisiana Department of Transportation & Development informs the levee district of "the property owners we need to contact for rights-of-way and the location of the barrow area where dirt will be removed to raise or build the levee."
In a March 2010 letter, the levee board notified Bancroft Enterprises that the levee district was giving the company 60 days notice to "remove any timber deemed merchantable within the right-of-way. After sixty days, USACE (U.S. Corps of Engineers) has the right to remove any timber within these limits."
In April 2010, the levee board informed Bancroft that it had adopted a resolution to appropriate Louisiana lands required for rights-of-way work for levee enlargement and berns from Morville to Vidalia. The levee board said it would have the tracts of land along that route appraised and that negotiations for compensation of acreage would be initiated.
Minsky said Bancroft was offered fair market value of $246,286 ($3,235 per acre) for about 78.56 acres.
"This was based on appraisal," Minsky said.
Trichell said Bancroft rejected the offer in late April 2011 and proposed a counter offer a month later of $555,000, asking for $40,000 for loss in damages to trees, $100,000 for lost business opportunity, $50,000 in attorney fees and $360,000 ($6 per cubic yard) for dirt already taken for levee work.
"The levee district only buys by the acre in standard cases," Trichell said. "That's part of what has caused this lawsuit. They (Bancroft) wants to be paid by the yard."
Because of the legal entanglement, Trichell said the contractor performing the levee work in Concordia Parish may be paid a penalty fee and the contract severed.
"The Corps will complete work south of Vidalia and then they will have to move on, likely to Tensas Parish," Trichell said. "The Corps only does projects that are fully funded and it may be a while before work returns to Concordia."
In the lawsuit, Bancroft claims that the levee district removed dirt from its property and left a "huge mud pit" making the land unsuitable for hunting "or other economically viable activity."
Bancroft also claims the levee board had no lawful authority to take the property, that it has no 11th Amendment immunity against suit and that the Bancrofts' 5th and 14th amendment rights were violated.
The suit seeks "just compensation for the property that Defendant purportedly took for public use."
The lawsuit alleges six counts against the levee board, including taking of property in violation of rights, conversion, trespass, negligence, gross negligence and fraud/misrepresentation.
In a request for relief, Bancroft is seeking a monetary judgment against the levee board for damages, punitive damages for the levee board's "willful, wanton, reckless, and bad faith," reasonable attorney's fees, expert witness fees, pre-judgment and post judgment interest at a legal rate and "such other and further legal and equitable relief" available.
Bancroft Enterprises is represented by the law firm of Phelps Dunbar.
The levee board is represented by James Paxton of St. Joseph.