Avoyelles School Board discusses permits, refunds

By Raymond L. Daye

Attempting to “clear up a few misunderstandings” in the public, an  Avoyelles School Board committee recommended a “recreational permit” policy for its 16th Section lands. It also discussed the possibility of refunding camp owners their $100 annual “insurance” payment for the past few years.
The board’s special committee on 16th Section properties met April 21 and adopted a recommendation, which was then recommended by the board’s Building and Lands Committee later that day. The recommendation keeps the $200 permit fee for any resident over 21 that was discussed previously. No permit will be required for persons under the age of 21.
Those leasing Section 16 camp sites will be given two recreational permits as part of their lease. There will be no permit required for using  waterways that run through board-owned property.
Committee Chairman James Gauthier said the permit is not required if someone is passing through board property “with an unloaded gun” en route to another tract not owned by the board. However, if the gun is loaded, it is assumed they were hunting on the Section 16 tract and would have to have a permit.
The committee said the policy will be reviewed by District Attorney Charles Riddle and then be presented to the full School Board for a final decision on whether to implement it.
Supper Guests
Board members also noted that people visiting a camp on 16th Section property will not be required to have a permit if they are only visiting for supper or a cook-out.  However, if they leave the campsite with a loaded gun, they would be assumed to be hunting on board property and be subject to the permit requirement.
Gauthier said if the policy is approved by the board, the Police Jury will be requested to pass a parish ordinance imposing the permit and penalties. The Sheriff’s Office and state Wildlife & Fisheries would be asked to enforce the law, issuing tickets to offenders.
Lease owners who violate the permit policy would be fined $50 for a first offense and could have their lease terminated on a second offense.
Non-lease holders would be fined $50 for a first offense and be arrested on a charge of trespassing on a second offense.
Gauthier emphasized that 50 percent of recreation permit receipts will be earmarked for maintaining roads and parking areas in the 16th Section tracts.
Property liability insurance
In the other matter, insurance consultant Tom Hudson told board members that lessees were either misinformed or misunderstood the issue of liability insurance for their camps.
“I understand that they were being told the School Board was providing liability insurance for them for $100 a year,” Hudson said. “That is not true and was never the case.”
Hudson said the board added the Section 16 camp sites to its property liability coverage for about $3,000 a year. That protected the board’s liability for that property, but did not provide liability protection for the lease holder. The difference is, for example, if someone were to injure themselves on the Section 16 property due to a condition that the School Board was deemed to be negligent in not correcting, the policy would protect the board. However, if someone were injured inside a camp house due solely to the negligence of the lease holder, there would be no protection for that lease holder.
“I suggest that if you are making those kind of statements, that you cease and desist,” Hudson said. 
He said the board’s property liability insurance policy “is a good one, and there are many things that it provides -- but liability coverage for lessees is not one of them.”
Among issues discussed was the possibility that -- to err on the side of caution -- the board reimburse camp owners the $100 a year they paid for the past three years in the belief that they were purchasing insurance protection. It was pointed out that there has been only one liability claim presented on a 16th Section camp over the past three years.
The rationale behind a refund would be based on the lease holders making a payment to receive something they never received.
It was noted during the committee meeting that the $100 payment was intended to help the School Board recover some of its insurance cost directly related to adding camp sites to its property insurance coverage. It was always intended to only protect the board and never afforded insurance protection to the lessee.
The new leases also emphasize that convicted felons are not allowed on the board’s 16th Section or FFA property.  The board made that point during its special meeting on April 14. That provision means a person who has been convicted of a state or federal felony is not only barred from leasing board-owned property, but cannot even be on the land at all.
Requests reduction
On another lease-related matter, Terry Bonnette asked that the board reduce the lease amount charged for his Spring Bayou camp because only a small portion of the 100 x 100 camp site is actually on 16th Section land. He said he has been aware of the issue for many years, but always paid the $400 lease amount because it was a reasonable amount to pay and avoided any hassles.
He said only about 10 sq. ft. of his 100 sq. ft. camp is on board property. He said he is willing to pay $500 to the board for that small part that is on its land.
Bonnette said he was told many years ago that due to a survey error of some sort, “Lot 176” of the 16th Section -- his camp site -- actually “disappeared” from the section “because the property line shifted.”
Maintenance Supervisor Steve Marcotte said this is the only such situation that he is aware of. He said the “north corner of that Section 16 is messed up” because it was improperly surveyed many years ago.
He explained that when the camp site in that location was laid out, the site was presumed to be all board-owned property but was actually split between board and private property, with most of the site on the private property.