Parish president backs down from 'dirty' lease for proposed boat launch

Parish president backs down from 'dirty' lease for proposed boat launch

ST. CHARLES PARISH, LA (WVUE) - St. Charles Parish President Larry Cochran plans to introduce an ordinance at the parish's September 18 council meeting to cancel a lease ordinance that some residents have called "bad" and "dirty".

For years, residents have asked for a boat launch on the west side of the parish.

At the August 28 council meeting, Cochran introduced the lease that is now getting backlash from the community.

"This is the perfect place to do it. It truly is, and it's going to cost us some money. No doubt, it is," Cochran said at the meeting.

The lease was for 32 acres of marshland near the Jefferson Parish line off Highway 90 near Boutte.

The lease called for the parish to pay $54,000 a year for the next 30 years, a total amount of $1.6 million.

St. Charles residents made their concerns known at the August 28 meeting.

"We need a boat launch but to pay this amount of money in 30 years and somebody could walk up and say all right the lease is up, get off my property," resident Bruce McDonald said.

"This makes no sense. This is a bad deal," resident Milton Allemand said. "To get to the property you're looking to lease, we got to go through Jefferson Parish. Please don't do this."

Council members Benedetto, Gibbs, Woodruff, Fletcher and Fisher-Perrier voted for the lease. Council members Hogan and Wilson voted against it.

Clulee and her husband, Neal Clulee, purchased the marshland in 2009 as a part of a larger acquisition, but on August 10, the Clulees sold the land to Gator Cove Marina II for $100 dollars and other valuable considerations.

The owner of Gator Cove Marina II is Gerald Savoie Jr.

Councilwoman Clulee confirmed Savoie Jr. is her husband's nephew.

"I call this deal a bad deal for the taxpayers of St. Charles Parish...I call this deal dirty," Councilman Paul Hogan said. "When I did my research to find out who we were doing the lease with, it was a company called Gator Cove Marina who happened to be owned by their nephew and the sale didn't occur until four days before the ordinance was introduced for the lease. I was like man this just doesn't add up. Something doesn't seem right here."

Hogan argues to lease the 32 acres for just one year is more than what the land is worth.

He believes the parish should spend money on upgrading boat launches already in place instead of leasing the land then put more taxpayer money on top of that to build a boat launch at the location the council approved.

"Ducks Unlimited just recently bought a piece of property that they donated to the state. It's adjacent to this piece of property so it's an excellent [comparison]," he said. "It just happened within the last few months. That property valued at $750 an acre. So by the time you take the 32 acres at the $754 an acre, multiply it out and take into account the land that was acquired has a servitude the maximum that this property is worth $16,000."

Clulee declined an interview Friday but said she would talk with Fox 8 in an on-camera interview Monday instead.

She said she sold the property to her nephew because she herself "could not do business with the parish".

When asked if she saw the ethical issues with her nephew's deal with the parish, she responded by asking "what ethical issues specifically".

Clulee would not comment when asked if any money has exchanged between herself and her nephew for the purchase of the property.

She also said the value of the land depends on "what someone is willing to pay for it".

When Fox 8 approached Cochran about the lease ordinance he introduced he sent an email saying,

"My staff and I have decided to introduce a new ordinance seeking authority of the council to cancel the Gator Cove Marina II lease. This decision was made because other possible land options have only recently been presented.  I feel it is in the best interest of St. Charles Parish to commission a committee comprised of sportsmen who are residents of the parish to identify a piece of property that can be used for a west bank boat launch. The committee will work in conjunction with an engineer to assess each location's viability.   A recommendation will be made from the committee to the administration who will then evaluate it and bring it before the council. Anyone interested in being selected for the committee can contact their councilman."

At the August 28 meeting, Cochran said the parish worked with this property for a year before he introduced the lease ordinance.

"We vetted this project for a year. There's a lot of work that's been done on this property," he said at the meeting. "We truly feel that this is the best place. If I could get it for free, I'd take it for free."

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