WEST FELICIANA PARISH, LA (WAFB) - A lawsuit between one family and West Feliciana Parish has been going on for years. The root of the battle is a riverside property which is the site of the former ferry landing.
"We already have a number of ships that dock here. Unfortunately, the facility wasn't really putting our best foot forward," said West Feliciana Parish President Kevin Couhig.
After years of fighting to figure out who's the rightful owner of the 72 acres bordering the Mississippi River in St. Francisville, West Feliciana Parish officials were able to prove there were too many claims and not enough proof.
"About nine months or a little longer ago, the court of appeals threw it all back and said 'start over,'" Couhig explains.
So the parish was able to take the property, get it appraised, have a judge sign off on the deal, then pay $540,000. That money is currently sitting in the registry of the court, the parish president says. "Now the parish owns the property," said Couhig. "It's now up to the court system to figure out who previously owned the property and decide who should be awarded the money, instead of the property."
Couhig says the parish is no longer in the business of litigation, but has moved on to developing the property. "What we hope to achieve is have a floating dock that is capable of managing the landing and disembarking of passengers from multiple boats in a single day," he said.
The future of the property is bright, according to Couhig, with three main purposes, including improving public safety, creating a public fishing area and parking lot, and providing a long-term facility for riverboats.
"That's a growing market for towns like St. Francisville and communities like West Feliciana," the parish president said. "There are more and more people who like the idea of riding in a riverboat."
The director of economic development for the parish, Karen St. Cyr, says at least 12,000 visitors per year come from their river cruise industry. "People are reconnecting and wanting to take riverboat excursions and go inland," said St. Cyr. "The river is just something we take for gr anted and it's a beautiful place. This is one of the most beautiful sites."
The first step for the parish is cleaning up the property, but long-term, the parish is looking at expanding their tourism reach and bringing in more boats and making the land more attractive. "Right now, we have more than one boat that wants to land here, so this will give us an opportunity to expand our tourism in a really significant way," said Couhig.
Couhig says the parish is close to entering into an engineering contract for a company to "design the riverboat landing and the utilization of this facility in the most efficient way."
"This is a big step for us in this community," St. Cyr said. "It's going to be a long-term project."
The planning phase will take another six to nine months and construction should begin sometime next year. Couhig says Representative Kenny Havard and Senator Neil Riser helped in securing $3 million in State Capital Outlay funds that will be used to develop the site. "The parish was able to submit requests to the 2018 to 2019 Louisiana Capital Outlay Program to begin engineering, planning and ultimately the construction of a floating dock and safe berth for river cruise vessels, riverboats, passengers, public parking and public boat ramp for recreation and commercial purposes."
According to a press release from the parish, "Currently, the American Steamboat Company and American Cruise Lines make frequent stops in West Feliciana Parish. The Parish and Viking Cruise Line are currently negotiating to make St. Francisville a regular call once those river excursions begin. A safe berth for the riverboats and passenger terminal is necessary."