18th Judicial District Court rules in Iberville Parish’s favor over use of aquadams

Staff Report

A district court judge last week ruled in favor of Iberville Parish Government in the dispute with neighboring East Baton Rouge Parish over use of aquadams during flood events.

Judge Tonya Lurry ruled in Iberville’s favor, but she deferred her ruling until the parish brings forth evidence that the aquadams do not exceed the 15-foot benchmark for the base level for flooding.

The 18th Judicial District Court ruled in Iberville Parish’s favor last week over use of aquadams, but the parish must provide that they do not exceed the 15-foot benchmark for the base level for flooding.

The parish must provide the evidence by Nov. 3, in accordance with Lurry’s ruling.

“It's a partial victory, but I have to prove to the court here that the aquadams will not affect the historic levels of Bayou Manchac when we put the aquadams down, and that’s at 15 feet,” Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso told Post/South last week. “We finally got some relief, but for me to battle not only to water and this is one thing. But to have to battle the judicial system while battling the flood for your people and having temporary restraining orders to stop.

“Justice is slow, but justice is fair, and now that the 18th Judicial Court in Iberville – where the venue should be – it allows the parish and council the policing effort that we have to protect our people, and that we cannot be interfered with by another neighboring parish for us to protect our people,” Ourso said. “It's a partial victory, but I have to prove to the court here that the aquadams will not affect the historic levels of Bayou Manchac when we put the aquadams down.”

The court hearing stemmed from Iberville Parish’s use of aquadams for emergency flood control procedure drew vehement opposition from East Baton Rouge Parish in May 2021 when more than 13 inches of rain brought flooding to Iberville and surrounding parishes.

It ignited a war of words between Ourso and Baton Rouge Mayor/President Sharon Weston Broome – a dispute that eventually led to courtroom battles.

The sole purpose of the aquadams was to protect residents in the St. Gabriel area from additional flooding, Ourso said.

The Iberville Parish Government used aquadams last year to ease flooding that flooded homes throughout the eastern portion of the parish.

"You should expect any leader to do what I did – and if they didn’t do what I did, they don’t need to be there,” Ourso said. “People elect you to protect their life, health and property, and that’s what any leader should do.

“It's not because I enjoy doing it … it’s a lot of work and it’s costly, but these people suffered enough with this drainage,” he said. “We’re only trying to improve it, and in no way, shape or form is the parish of Iberville trying to hurt anyone. Never.”

The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled during that time to allow the blockades to remain in place to stop flooding in the tributaries along the Iberville-Ascension boundaries.

Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome fired back with a lawsuit in East Baton Rouge Parish, for which 19th District Court Judge William Morvant ruled in favor of EBR.

Ourso responded to that ruling by arguing that a ruling from a judge in the 19th JDC could not apply to Iberville, which is domiciled in the 18th JDC jurisdiction.

Iberville Parish residents should not become the scapegoat for East Baton Rouge’s lack of diligence on flood protection issues, Ourso said at the time.

Ourso and Broome also went to court over the use of the dams during Hurricane Barry in June 2019. In that hearing, an East Baton Rouge judge ruled in favor of Broome’s request.