Louisiana ‘dirt farmer’ asks Supreme Court for fair price
Louisiana’s Supreme Court ruled against Jarreau. State supreme courts and federal courts are divided about whether governments must cover business losses when they take private property, said Robert McNamara, a lawyer for the libertarian Institute for Justice, representing Jarreau.
The South Lafourche Levee District is responsible for flood control in the portion of the 106-mile Bayou Lafourche that runs through Cut Off before eventually draining into the Gulf of Mexico. The district took the dirt from just under an acre of Jarreau’s land as well as property from some neighbors, under Louisiana laws strengthened after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Without the levee system, Jarreau’s property would flood frequently, said Loulan Pitre Jr., a former state lawmaker who is the lawyer for the levee district. “There is a strong policy to say that this is all subject to flooding and it’s reasonable to expect a small sacrifice to protect everyone.”
The levee district certainly thought the sacrifice was small. It initially sent Jarreau a check for $1,326 after notifying him in 2011 that it was going to take the dirt from Jarreau’s land that was closest to the bayou.
Jarreau couldn’t believe the paltry sum and kept digging because he had a contract for 23,000 cubic yards of dirt — enough to cover a football field nearly a foot deep — with a private company that does a lot of work on the levees in coastal Louisiana.
But then the levee district sued to make Jarreau stop digging. Their legal fight eventually went to trial.