St. Martinville, Breaux Bridge spar about donation

BREAUX BRIDGE, La. (AP) — Two groups are fighting to donate property for a new community college campus.
South Louisiana Community College issued a request for land donations last year to locate a $9.2 million building that will replace its existing Evangeline campus in St. Martinville.
"This is a competitive donation," said Stephen Smith, a member of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System board. "Those two words you don't usually see together."
The competition over where to place the campus has led to a charge that the selection process is improperly weighted in favor of St. Martinville over Breaux Bridge.
The Advocate reports ( ) the process was overseen by the LCTCS Facilities Corp., a private, nonprofit group created to help expedite the system's capital outlay projects.
A review committee selected the City of St. Martinville's proposal of nine acres off La. 31 near the old Martin Mills' plant over a proposal by Breaux Bridge businessmen Ray and Frank Pellerin for a nine-acre site off Rees Street in Breaux Bridge.
The Pellerins contend the site recommendation process was flawed.
Smith, who's also chairman of the LCTCS Facilities Corp., said both proposals remain under review. The board's next meeting is Wednesday.
"We're still trying to make a decision on who's the best partner and what's the best (site) for students to be served," Smith said.
The Pellerins, who own a chain of funeral homes and an insurance company, claim the review committee didn't follow its own requirements outlined in the land donation request and that St. Martinville Mayor Thomas Nelson made public comments alluding to assurances from LCTCS officials that the St. Martinville site was a done deal.
The St. Martinville property is owned by the Levert family, longtime sugarcane farmers turned real estate developers. At the time of the site recommendation announcement in April, St. Martinville didn't have possession of the property.
According to the request proposal, the land must be free and clear and ready for transfer after board approval. It also outlines other conditions, such as requiring the site to have existing utilities infrastructure and be located within city limits.
The St. Martinville site doesn't comply with either of those conditions, Frank Pellerin said.
"How can you donate land you don't have?" asked Ray Pellerin.
Nelson has said the St. Martinville site, if chosen, would be annexed into the city and the city would cover the cost to set up utilities on the site.
Attorneys for LCTCS Facilities Corp. said no laws were broken in the selection process. Further, the request for land donation document allows it to waive requirements at its discretion, according to a response to the Pellerins' letter from Leo Hamilton, an LCTCS Facilities Corp. attorney.
A plan to replace the existing campus has been in the works for the past few years with funding for the new campus tied to 2007 legislation that funded more than $170 million for multiple projects across the community and technical college system.

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