Last Modified: Wednesday, May 16, 2012 10:09 AM
BATON ROUGE — A House committee approved a Senate measure Monday to give the Port of Lake Charles legal authority to maintain the Calcasieu Ship Channel on the state’s behalf.
The House Transportation, Highways and Public Works Committee approved Senate Bill 698, by Sen. Dan “Blade” Morrish, R-Jennings. Several amendments were added to the bill, including one that gives the Cameron Police Jury a voice in whether the Port of Lake Charles can expropriate property within the parish.
The expropriation issue is still being resolved, Morrish said. The ship channel runs from Calcasieu Parish into Cameron Parish.
Cameron Parish Assistant District Attorney Tom Barrett said many parish officials and landowners are pleased with the bill, but are still concerned about expropriation.
“It feels like it is a sovereignty issue ... and that right should not be diluted any more than we agree to in this bill,” he said.
According to Act 66 — which the Legislature approved in 1960 — the state is responsible for construction and maintenance of the channel. An executive order in 1962 by then-Gov. Jimmie Davis designated the Port of Lake Charles to work on the state’s behalf.
Morrish said he is considering letting the Lake Charles port appeal to the state Public Service Commission any decisions by the Cameron Police Jury against using land within the parish. He said port officials would have to prove their case to the PSC for a particular project.
“A landowner could intervene in that case,” Morrish said. “Everyone would have a say-so. It takes the home cooking on both sides out of it.”
Morrish said he — along with Port of Lake Charles, West Cameron Port and Cameron Parish officials — has spent “countless hours of negotiation” on the bill.
Lake Charles Port Director Bill Rase said he is confident the bill will be approved this session. “We’ve got a little work to do, but I’m sure it will pass,” he said.
The bill passed in the Senate with a 35-0 vote. It heads to the full House for consideration. If approved, it will return to the Senate for concurrence.
The committee also approved the state’s annual coastal protection plan and the $50 billion, 50-year comprehensive master plan for coastal protection.
Senate Constitutional Amendments 41 and 46, both by Morrish, were approved without opposition.
The 50-year plan is a revision of a 2007 plan issued by the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. It calls for nearly $11 billion in coastal protection and restoration projects for Southwest Louisiana, including a $1.13 billion levee project in Lake Charles that would protect the area from a 500-year flood event.
Garret Graves, CPRA chairman, said the state could lose up to 1,750 square miles of coastline over the next 50 years if nothing is done to protect it. He said the master plan includes several projects, like levees, bank stabilization and barrier restoration.
“It literally uses every tool in the tool chest,” he said.
Rep. John Guinn, R-Jennings, praised the plan, saying it “has been a very aggressive movement on our part,” and is “something our state does deserve.”
Both constitutional amendments were assigned to the House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment, which is expected to consider them Wednesday.