RACELAND, La. – Craig Zeringue’s Raceland property has been in his family for more than three centuries.
“I live on my property. I love my property,” said Zeringue.
Zeringue’s father grew sugar cane on part of the land. Now, soybeans grow in the fields. Zeringue uses the back of his property for hunting and recreation.
But the Corps of Engineers could take a big piece of Zeringue's property. The agency is considering a plan in which they would obtain more than 500 acres from dozens of Raceland property owners. The goal is to create wetlands to offset what was damaged when the Corps upgraded flood protection on the Westbank of Orleans and Jefferson Parishes.
“I don't understand a universe where a government agency can come in and build $14 billion worth of projects in another area, and then come to this area, which doesn't benefit from that hurricane protection system, and take land,” said Charlotte Randolph, Lafourche Parish President.
Emotions ran high at a Corps of Engineers meeting Wednesday night about the proposal. Out of 400 sites the Corps looked at, the area near Lake Boeuf, in North Raceland, made the most sense, said a spokesman. But, the Corps said there would have to be many more studies and public meetings before the proposal could become a reality.
“It's just a tentatively selected plan, a proposed action, and we're here to get comment,” said Soheila Holley, Corps of Engineers senior project manager. “We will investigate, analyze, and look at all comments.”
Most of the land, like Zeringue's, has been in families for generations. It's mostly used for either farming or recreation. And parish officials say, splitting it up could put farmers out of business.
In fact, parish officials say so many sugar cane fields would be affected that if the Corps goes through with the project, it could impact sugar mills like Raceland Raw Sugar.
Zeringue said he is willing to listen to what the Corps has to say, but ultimately, he hopes to keep his way of life.
The parish plans to work with land owners to decide its next course of action. So far, the only part of the project that has been approved will not affect Raceland land owners.