"We had a decent span," says longtime Point resident Richard Legnon. "In 33 years, it's my third bad storm." Hurricane Lili washed mud into camps three years ago. But the storm surge and hurricane-force winds of Rita caused far more damage and have also changed the complexion of a dispute between land owner Cypremort Point Inc. and approximately 150 tenants, who have been fighting the company's increases in rent.
Tenants were notified last November that leases would rise in cost anywhere from 240-1,200 percent ("Point Taken," April 27). Many claimed they were unable to pay the new prices and unable to sell their camps, because no buyer wanted to take on the escalating costs of leasing the land. Following months of tension, CPI reversed its policy earlier this summer after an initial refusal to sell land that camp owners had been leasing for decades. Still, tenant organization Tenants at Cypremort Point filed suit against CPI on June 30, claiming that CPI was unjustly profiting through exorbitant rent increases.
In an August interview, CPI Development Manager Robert Guillotte said sales were brisk. "It's going very well. When you sign seven buy-sells in one day, that's a good business." Guillotte defended the corporation's pricing. "I'm selling property. If the property at Cypremort Point was overvalued, why would people who don't already have a camp want to buy property there? It's the recreational value you're buying. People need to understand that. You can't justify a man who goes fishing. You can go to the grocery store and buy fish a lot cheaper."
Realtor Frank Brown, who has been involved in Cypremort Point real estate for decades, said in August that those sales couldn't be compared to a traditional market. "The prices are high. It's not really an open market transaction. There's nothing you can do." On the flip side, he says that once people buy their lots, they will be encouraged to improve their camps, ultimately raising property values. "It's going to be good for Cypremort Point," he concluded.
The first 60 parcels were offered to tenants in March, April and May. Three sales were recorded in July at the St. Mary Parish courthouse: one Cove Row property for $100,000, and two located along Hwy. 319 fetched $40,000 and $31,000. Guillotte said he had more than 20 buy-sell agreements signed in early August. According to the St. Mary Parish Clerk of Court's office, there were three sales in August, nine in September and one in October.
But some renters turned down CPI's offer, claiming the land is overvalued. "They called and offered $168,000," said Cove Row camp owner Lonnie Bewley in August. "It's worth half of that in my opinion. Prior to this I had an appraisal of my camp and pier at $280,000. Let's suppose that it's worth $260,000. Add in the $168,000 lot, you're up to $428,000 for a camp. Who's going to pay that?"
The lawsuit was scheduled to go to court this fall, but after Rita caused massive destruction to many tenant's camps, attitudes have changed. "The people who bought, bought under duress," says TACP President Weldon Taquino. "They bought because they had a big investment. They bought because they had no choice. The people who bought at top dollar, I think they got screwed. People who want to buy now say there is a lot of negotiating going on after the storm."
Some lessees are putting thoughts of negotiation on hold while they ponder the costs of rebuilding. Ann Boutte's camp was knocked off its 10-foot pilings. The structure is so unstable neither the family nor the insurance adjuster is willing to go inside. Homeowner's insurance doesn't cover damage from rising water, and Boutte didn't have flood insurance.
The Bouttes bought the house in 1999 for $25,000 and spent another $20,000 to fix it after storm damage from Hurricane Lili in 2002. The lease was $300 annually when they bought the camp. It has gone up to $1,000 a year and is scheduled to go up to $3,000 next year when the existing three-year contract expires.
"Do they [CPI] think we're going to buy the land and then rebuild the camp?" Boutte asks. Boutte contends that the land her camp stood on is swampland. She adds that if the coast keeps eroding, the land will be worth even less. "It was rumored that they're going to sell these lots for $40,000," she says. "No one has contacted us. If we were going to pay $40,000 for a piece of land, we'd buy it along the bayou in New Iberia. There's other land in other places."
The Bouttes haven't made any decisions. The level of destruction is still too raw in Ann's mind. "We had new furniture, every stick of it. A new side-by-side refrigerator, a new dishwasher ' I haven't even used it. The beds are still made with clean sheets. We just about lived here. It was nice while it lasted," she says with a sigh.
A renter since 1986, Gerald Adams' camp sustained considerable damage from the storm surge. He says he couldn't afford flood insurance. "I got to pull the roof off, and the inside's no good," he says. Adams has been through numerous storms: Andrew, Danny, Lili and Rita. He is willing to weather another hurricane ' under one condition. "If I owned the land, I'd stay. I'd improve this place. It's the only way I'll get my money out now. I heard this (lot) was selling for between $42,000 and $44,000. My lease is $4,200 a year. Do you think this place is worth that?" he grumbles. "If I leave, I'm going to take my camp with me," he says. "CPI ought to be out here talking to us. We're not getting a fair shake."
CPI's Guillotte declined to comment following Hurricane Rita, and CPI attorney Raymond Allain did not return a call for comment. Taquino contends that CPI is no longer in a position of power. For those with flood insurance, Taquino contends, the storm has created a way out of the dilemma. "Thirty, 40 people in the tenants group will take their insurance money and run," he says. But even if tenants didn't have insurance, the situation has changed. "People lost their investments. The pressure to buy the property has been greatly reduced," Taquino says. "It seems like Rita called [CPI's] bluff."
An effort to prohibit employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity was shelved Tuesday for the legislative session.
Louisiana won't lessen its penalties for marijuana possession, keeping laws on the books that allow people to be jailed up to 20 years for repeat offenses of having the drug in hand.
“This is one of the oldest divides that exists, and that divide is about the haves and the have-nots.”
It took a few weeks for the pitfalls to emerge in the governor’s $25 billion budget, but the time of judgment has finally arrived.
With pressure continuing to build for him to resign, Congressman Vance McAllister announced plans recently to remain secluded during the Easter break, but the Swartz Republican has said he’ll be back on the Hill casting votes and attending committee meetings when the congressional recess ends April 28.
A bid to limit the use of unmanned aircraft on private property in Louisiana stalled Monday in the Louisiana Senate.
A Shreveport lawmaker said Monday he's scrapping his proposal to name the Bible as Louisiana's official state book.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Tuesday, April 22, 2014:
Tuesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Attorney hopes fellow lawyers will join him in urging the D.A. to step aside and allow a competent, ethical challenger to take over the scandal-ridden office.
An official with the Louisiana Department of Education was arrested on a range of charges Friday after allegedly breaking into a home and brandishing a knife.
State Rep. Stuart Bishop says he’s concerned with the quality of Capitol Lake, but when it comes to Louisiana’s coastline, this Lafayette Republican doesn't seem to give a damn.
Democrats sweating this year's elections may be hoping that the Obama administration's latest delay to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline takes a politically fraught issue off the table for the midterms.
Louisiana lawmakers are entering the second half of their three-month regular legislative session, which must end by June 2. Where some of the major issues stand:
Local and state agents Thursday night raided The Keg, the popular college bar located in the area known as The Strip, leading to the (at least) temporary closure of the venue.
Time and time again, the Lafayette Parish School Board shows an overwhelming tendency toward idiocy, but Wednesday night’s contentious discussion over Northside High School’s teen mother program tops the list of dumb discussions.
“The accomplishment of this goal within the next ten years is not only critical for the region to effectively compete with other regions for residents and businesses, but also to provide an amenity for everyone in Acadiana to enjoy.”
Education Superintendent John White says a continued push to try to keep Louisiana from using tests associated with the Common Core education standards are creating "a state of chaos" for public school teachers.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's plan to use $210 million in surplus and one-time money to help balance next year's budget received the backing Thursday of the State Bond Commission, support that was needed for the maneuver to work.
State wildlife and fisheries agents have arrested a 39-year-old man accused of stealing crawfish.
An East Feliciana Parish lawmaker has jettisoned his proposal to make it harder for a condemned prisoner to appeal a death sentence.
Senators advanced a proposal Wednesday that would let the governor remove New Orleans-area levee board members for violating what he considers to be public policy, despite concerns it would introduce political meddling into state flood protection.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council on Tuesday will vote on a resolution that if approved would clear the way for a December ballot proposition asking voters to approve a 1-cent sales tax parishwide to help fund the construction of a new terminal at Lafayette Regional Airport.
Just days before the fourth anniversary of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster and oil spill, the Coast Guard has moved cleanup of Louisiana's coast to a new phase, allowing BP to end its "active" efforts in the area.
Legislators still must leave their guns at the door of the Louisiana Capitol.