Property owners voiced fear and frustration Wednesday over a proposed Army Corps of Engineers project that could destroy miles of farmland along Highway 308 in Raceland.
"There's a lot of unclear information that needs to be expressed and explained to the people of Lafourche Parish before they can just come in and take our lands," said Brad Fields, a land owner who could be affected.
Fields first discovered the plan and quickly spread the news to his neighbors, who had no clue what may be in the works.
The Army Corps is exploring options for an environmental mitigation project.
When the corps upgraded some levees in the New Orleans area, the process damaged wetlands.
Officials said they're required by law to make up for that by creating swamps and wetlands elsewhere.
"We looked at over 400 sites in the basin. Basically by law, we have to mitigate in kind, in basin," said Sohelia Holley, Senior Project Manager with the Army Corps. "That means, if you impacted swamp, you have to recreate that and you have to use the same watershed."
That led them to focus on the Raceland properties, which include the sugarcane-rich land owned by Brad Fields' family since 1924.
"Most of the land for these land owners holds sentimental value for generations to come and we don't want to lose it," Fields said.
Fields was among an overflow crowd for a meeting on the issue Wednesday night. Army Corps officials stressed to those in attendance that the project is only tentative, and they vowed to consider all public comments in their decision.
Lafourche President Charlotte Randolph backed residents in criticizing the idea.
"In what universe does it make sense where you do $14 billion worth of work in Orleans Parish to protect the people there, and in order to mitigate the damage you did there, you come to Lafourche Parish and take property away from people who live here? That makes no sense to me," Randolph said.
Army Corps officials said they'll explore all options before taking private property, which they said would be a last resort. However, if that does happen, land owners would be paid a "fair market value" as determined by the state, officials said.
Those on hand at the meeting made their feelings clear.
"You want comments to be made so that you will know what the general lay of the land is, what people feel about this," said attorney Jerald Block, directing his comments to several Army Corps representatives. "They're against it. They're against any moving forward with the potential of losing their property."
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