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Landowner frustrated over Comite Diversion Canal land acquisition process

4 years 1 month 2 weeks ago Thursday, March 05 2020 Mar 5, 2020 March 05, 2020 6:57 PM March 05, 2020 in News
Source: WBRZ

UPDATE During the last week of April, John and Teresa Cop received a check for $1.18 million. The parties involved reached an agreement in April for all five acres of land.

ZACHARY - State leaders have repeatedly said that the plan is to complete the Comite Diversion Canal project by 2021. Wednesday, the canal task force addressed concerns over land that has yet to be acquired.

Teresa and Mike Cop own five acres of land off Carney Road in Zachary and have yet to solidify a deal to sell the property for the project.

They bought the land in 1990 knowing the Comite Diversion Canal would be dug through their land. Before they built their 3,500 sq. ft hurricane-proof house and law office, the Cops say they inquired with the Army Corps of Engineers about the path of the canal and was informed then it would be dug in the rear of the property and were told to build in the front. It's what they did a few years later.

"They said as long as you build in front you'll be fine, it wouldn't affect us," said Teresa Cop.

Teresa Cop was surprised to learn later that the path of the canal changed to avoid some utilities and a cemetery. When the canal is dug in the future, it'll go through the house near the front of the five acres the Cops own.

Throughout the years, these property owners have been contacted regularly about their land acquisition but it wasn't until 2005 did they have their land appraised. Negotiations were coming to a close when Katrina hit and the attention turned to the devastation to the east.

In 2018, the Comite Diversion Canal project was fully funded. It was late 2018 when the Cops were contacted and not until May 2019 that appraisers finally showed up to conduct another appraisal. A group of people walked the property and were about to leave when Teresa Cop stopped them to show them the inside of her house.

The hurricane-proof building is constructed of metal studs. It has six-inch exterior walls and it's all custom meant to withstand winds of 250 miles an hour.

"I told them at the time I needed to be compensated, this cost more to build not only in material but in labor," said Teresa Cop.

After speaking with DOTD Chief Appraiser Donna Stinson in May 2019, an architect hired by DOTD showed up to her house. That architect drew Cop another building after he'd been shown the metal frame details of her house. Instead, Cop says the architect hired by DOTD drew another wood-framed building.

That information didn't come forward until the Cops received an offer from DOTD in November 2019. The offer turned out to be considerably less than what they were hoping for at a difference about $40 a sq. ft. A month later the Cops organized a detailed counteroffer. They didn't hear back from the state until February 2020 that DOTD barely considered the counteroffer. Instead, the Cops were told to take the offer or leave it on the table because now the Corps only needed three of their five acres. The rear two acres would be landlocked and the Cops would be unable to access.

"You won't be able to use it but you can keep it if you want to," said Cop.

For the last few weeks Cop has been in touch with various state leaders and hasn't heard back much from anyone. Rep. Garret Graves did offer this statement to WBRZ.

The Comite project is slated to be done by December 2021 if the State can complete real estate acquisition. If we don’t work quickly and efficiently, then we could risk more homeowners or businesses damaged by floodwater. The properties in the canal route need to be acquired quickly but fairly, otherwise, flood protection will be delayed or denied for hundreds of thousands of people in the Capital Region. Property owners have rights, and citizens need to be protected from floods. We urge a quick, fair process that honors both. It can be done. 

DOTD says all acquisitions are and will be acquired through state and federal real estate guidelines and specifically can't comment about Cop's acquisition because the two parties are still in negotiations.

And it's not just this one property. There are a number of properties on Carney Road that are affected by the canal project. Three of the properties are still in the negotiation phase. As of the end of 2019, DOTD says there are about 50 properties that have yet to be acquired for the canal project.

"We are ready to get out of their way," she said.

While negotiations are going on the Cops bought a new piece of land in the area to build on. The building process hasn't started yet because the negotiation process continues.

Cop attended Wednesday's task force meeting and was able to speak with elected officials. Thursday afternoon prior to the story airing on WBRZ, Teresa Cop contacted 2 On Your Side's Brittany Weiss to let her know that she was able to sit down with the Army Corps of Engineers and DOTD to discuss her concerns. The Cops say there's a new offer on the table for all five acres, which still has to be approved by the Corps.

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