There can be no question that the late-Friday afternoon issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order by U. S. District Judge Donald Walter in the Hwy. 3132 Extension matter was dramatic. As we in theFinish 3132 Coalition have been schooled, the issuance by a federal judge of a “TRO” is a big deal, legally speaking, and the bar for achieving that goal in this case was set very high.
More to the ultimate point, though, the TRO is a first legal step taken by Judge Walter on a fact-finding and decision-making jaunt which requires him to sort through a cluttered expanse of official tricks and traps over a decades-long history.
When and How It All Went Wrong
From the recent history of this project, we can always talk about developer Tim Larkin’s bridge, and his Esplanade development‘s Railsback Road entrance and exit, and who is really financing his deal, and who his real partners are, and what obviously wrong things Mayor Cedric Glover and his city engineer did with the help of the state highway department and Northwest Louisiana Council of Governments (NLCOG) and the Shreveport Metropolitan Planning Commission (MPC), etc., etc., etc. But, to really understand how we came to this point, we must begin with an almost-lost fact from nearly 10 years ago.
In an almost year-and-a-half period between late 2003 and early 2005, the developers of Shreveport Development Corporation’s Twelve Oaks subdivision somehow convinced NLCOG and MPC – and possibly the Caddo Parish Commission – to “move” the long-established route of the highway. The key to this accomplishment was the somehow related moving of the preferred corridor route, set in and after a 1991-1992 study, from the east (Twelve Oaks) side of Bayou-Pierre to the west (Railsback Road) side. This was officially – stunningly – accomplished by the stroke of a pen, evidenced on a single map of a key transportation route study at about the same time.
After a lot of hard work stretching over the past 18 months, I have not been able to get a single official to tell me when, and how, and specifically why this happened. When it did, it set the stage for the present fight about how the route corridor managed never to be protected by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the Louisiana Department of Transportation & Development(LDOTD), the City, the Parish, NLCOG, the MPC, or any other agency with that responsibility. Given its crucial placement in the overall “Shreveport / Bossier loop project,” this is a stunner.
Larkin’s Choice of Where to Build His Esplanade
The land now at issue has two distinct parts: the somewhat more than 100 acres west of Bayou-Pierre, stretching from it to Railsback Road. This was the original site of Larkin’s development. In his planning, he wanted and needed much from city and parish officials, and while they werecertainly very pliable for the Bossier City Councilman on that side of the Red River, they normally would have been much less so on the Shreveport side. The developer thus began – deepened? – his financial and other support of Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover, elected at precisely this time, in November 2006. (Simultaneously doing the same was a key Larkin friend and attorney, Sam Gregorio, who we are told chaired Glover’s campaign finance committee. Gregorio would come to be a key figure in Glover’s work of killing the extension in the now infamous April 7, 2011, NLCOG meeting, and a two-months-earlier Glover appointee to the board of the Port of Caddo-Bossier.)
During the time of Glover’s election campaign, Larkin had run into stiff opposition to his development among certain Railsback and Ellerbe Road homeowners, yet at the same time gained crucial support, including financially, from some of these home- and landowners. As that heat of opposition increased, Larkin found it necessary to enter into a contract, which became a Caddo Parish ordinance, with the Railsback Road Homeowners Association. The contract stipulated that to go forward with Esplanade, Larkin had to have a second access point, i.e., Flournoy-Road, so his entrance/exit on Railsback Road would not cause those homeowners traffic congestion and safety problems. That this “solution” caused far greater danger to the public safety on Flournoy-Lucas Roadseems to have been lost in related considerations.
Months before the contract with Esplanade “neighbors” was finalized, Larkin had purchased acurative tract of land on the east of Bayou Pierre. That tract was owned by Shreveport Development Corporation. It, as earlier discussed, was the 36.99-acre tract through which the preferred corridor route passed as 3132 was intended to extend over Flournoy-Lucas and head southeast to the Port of Caddo-Bossier. Supposedly – but not really – the route for 3132 was “preserved” when Shreveport Development (Tony Janca and partners) got NLCOG and MPC approval to build more Twelve Oaks houses on its eastern side.
In shining testimony of this chapter in the story, Larkin built a nearly $1.2 million bridge to connect the 100-acre western tract with the 37-acre one on the east.
In the broader context of the 3132 Extension battle, the public is seemingly most aware of the flash-point that is Larkin’s continuing work to finally – no matter what government action is taken against it – build this roadway from his bridge into Flournoy-Lucas Road. Ultimately, in late 2010 and early 2011, Larkin and his political friends determined that the only solution to the developer’s need for this connection was the termination of the 3132 Extension, and that is precisely what he, Mayor Glover,the city engineer, Sam Gregorio, Kent Rogers and others did at the NLCOG meeting on April 7, 2011.
That the op necessary to kill the Extension was completely contrary to law was apparently little more than an afterthought to team members – a risk they were enthusiastically willing to run (and document in their e-mails), with no downside they could see in Shreveport’s current climate. It was, nonetheless, also the end of a 40-year effort requiring the work of hundreds of diligent officials and other Shreveport citizens.
The Smoking Gun?
In everything which has transpired since Willis-Knighton Health System organized the Finish 3132 Coalition, nothing has been more critically important than a mistake made by one of the key collaborators in the scheme. In one of dozens of Public Records Requests the Coalition has made since the summer of 2011, one of these men slipped-up and officially “produced” a study showing what Extension feasibility study consultants and engineers believe is the best route for a future 3132 Extension. With Twelve Oaks now an irreversible fact, these specialists determined that the routemust pass to the Railsback Road side of Bayou Pierre, directly through the meat of the land Larkinintends to use to build his $200,000,000 – he says – Esplanade.
Needless to say, this route never saw the light of day until we in the Coalition turned it into a newspaper ad, and put it up on our website. More to the point, it was never presented to the public for study and comment by LDOTD, NLCOG or the consultants they hired with taxpayer funds, though such public involvement – real and transparent – is a requirement of federal law. Even in a public meeting supposedly held specifically for that purpose, it was never shown in any form. Instead, another version of that “study” was publicly produced, with route options very offensive to Twelve Oaks residents, and completely protective of Larkin and Esplanade. That protection did, in fact, drive the official placement of the publicly produced route.
As soon as the Coalition went public with our discovery of the hidden Extension route, Mr. Larkin dramatically accelerated the building of infrastructure on both sides of his bridge, apparently rushing to transform his development so it is not the only undeveloped land through which a future Extension might proceed. Just as he bet huge sums in building his bridge, buying the land in the Extension route, etc., now he doubles-down on those bets to put a roadway in place for which he could not gain approval in repeated attempts before the MPC and Shreveport City Council. Again, when push came to shove, his needs and desires – public interests again and still be damned – led him to Mayor Glover and his city engineer, who – again – gave him what he was denied by rule of law and administrative process.
Put more directly, and as specifically alleged in our lawsuits, the entirety of the so-called “planning process” for this part of the 3132 Extension effort has been a complete sham which has forcefully suppressed public oversight and participation. In all things, however, it has protected the interests of the Esplanade developer, financiers and political and other governmental helpers.
A simple and logical fact rests at the heart of the Court’s study and deliberation: not only was the 3132 Extension route selection process fouled many years ago, but attempts to remedy those many years of obvious official failures have, since April 7, 2011, gotten much worse, and taken a muchmore dramatic and serious turn.
As Tim Larkin rushes to use his political clout to bail-out himself and those who help him, the degree to which he is acting contrary to law is garishly – some have described to me as obscenely – on display. The evidence is in the dense and sizable documentary record of the related government agencies and officials, yes, but it is also staring us in the face as we drive by his site and see his feverish road-building.
Since late on Friday, the developer’s road-building has stopped, and the interested public’s hopes, as directly expressed to us, strongly buoyed. We do not envy the Court its task. Regardless, there is a glaring fact in this history: among the many would-be government overseers, regulators and otherdeterminers of fact and law, the U. S. District Court had not until now been called upon.
The appearance and presence of the U. S. District Court’s apolitical duty and responsibility under our Constitution is more than merely welcome, it has now – indisputably, we believe – become anabsolute necessity. Elliott Stonecipher
Finish 3132 Coalition, LLC
Elliott Stonecipher’s reports, essays and commentaries are written strictly in the public interest. No compensation of any kind has been solicited or accepted for this work. This work is protected, and no other use of it is permitted without the written consent of Mr. Stonecipher.