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Port of BR locks landowners out of their property

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BATON ROUGE- A group of landowners claim the Port of Baton Rouge locked them out of their property, and now they are suing to have the courts intervene.

At least 53 property owners claim the port shut them out of their own land. The issue goes back half a century when the landowners donated part of their property to the port. In the 1950's, landowners agreed to give some property to the port, only if they could retain access to their existing property. But, three years ago, the port installed a fence at the driveway leading to it.

The area in question is in Devil's Swamp which is north of the old bridge, right off of Scenic Highway.

For the last two years, James Cox has been trying to get to land he leases.

"It's a great place to hunt deer and gators," Cox said.

Now, the property is only accessible by boat.

"I don't want to battle the Mississippi River and the currents... fog, when there's a right of way 100 feet off this road," Cox said.

The canal is owned by the Baton Rouge Port Commission. The land was given to the Port by the very residents now suing over their blocked access to their properties.

"In the 50's when the port canal was built, all of these landowners donated land to the port commission to build a barge channel," Hank des Bordes, attorney for the landowners said. "Those documents say they were guaranteed access to their property."

An article from the Advocate in the 1950's outlines when the landowners gave the property to the Port. The donation documents clearly state all landowners shall have access to the proposed operating highway, or the road leading to their property. But, the street recently became off limits to them.

In 2011, the port installed a fence and locked it to prevent people from trespassing. It says that was the prudent thing to do.

Jay Hardman with the port declined to do an on camera interview and wouldn't elaborate. However, he did say the issues are far more complicated than the documents that were signed in the 1950s.

That's still little comfort to the landowners who just want access to what is rightfully their own.

"You can't restrict people from getting to their property," des Bordes said.

A hearing is scheduled on this matter in July. The attorneys representing the Port Commission were unavailable for a comment.

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