The controversy over that 55,000-acre hunting lodge that straddles three central Louisiana parishes has taken a new and curious twist as the result of a $1.7 million highway resurfacing project that conveniently runs right past the entrance to the lodge that is owned by a major contributor to Gov. Bobby Jindal and to unsuccessful congressional candidate State Sen. Neil Riser.
The overlay of LA. 127, also known locally as the Olla-Sikes Highway, started on Feb. 20 at the Caldwell Parish line and run 5.5 miles east in Winn Parish to LA. 1238, according to an announcement by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD).
The intent of the project is to patch, cold plane and overlay the existing roadway with 3.5 inches of asphaltic concrete and is expected to take about 50 working days to complete.
The project is being financed by state and federal funding, according to an announcement last September by Jindal. He said at the end of each federal fiscal year (Sept. 30 of each year), the U.S. Department of Transportation gathers funds that some states will not spend and reallocates the funding to states that are successful in obligating their full federal highway funding allotment during the fiscal year.
As a result of that, DOTD recently received $34.2 million in additional federal highway funding to use for projects and the Winn Parish project was one of 12 projects totaling $34.2 million announced by Jindal.
Resident Gary L. Hatten said he did not feel LA 127 was in need of repairs nearly as much as LA. 125, the Olla-Winnfield Highway, and he feels the LA. 127 work is nothing more than political payback to Riser, whose state senatorial district includes the hunting lodge, and to Jindal.
A search of political campaign contributions would appear to support that theory. Last Nov. 4, Busbice and his wife, Beth Busbice, each contributed the maximum allowable $2,600 ($5,200 total) to Riser’s campaign for the 5th Congressional District seat won by Vance McAllister.
Jindal also picked up $20,000 from Busbice and from Busbice’s father-in-law Alfred Lippman of Morgan City, the registered agent for Olla Productions, LLC., one of Busbice’s many business enterprises.
Busbice contributed $5,000 to Jindal in April of 2009 and Beth Busbice gave another $5,000 in December of that same year, while Lippman contributed $5,000 in October of 2003, $3,500 in April of 2009 and his firm, Lippman, Malfouz, Tranchina & Thorguson of Morgan City gave another $1,500 in September of 2010.
Additionally, one of Lippman’s law partners, David Thorguson and his wife contributed $1,300 to Jindal, Jindal campaign records show.
LA. 127 runs for 54.7 miles south from a point east of Kitterlin Bay in La Salle Parish to LA. 126 in Winn Parish but the construction project includes only a 10th of that distance and conveniently runs right up to the camp’s entrance and stops at the property of TV reality show Swamp People star Troy “Choot ‘em” Landry, whose campsite is located within the hunting camp, said Hatten, a fact that some residents find particularly convenient and more than a little galling.
Lippman is Landry’s attorney and Landry was king of this year’s Krewe of Hepaestus, the premier Mardi Gras organization in Morgan City of which Lippman is a longtime member. Lippman also was master of ceremonies for former Gov. Mike Foster’s first inaugural party in 1996.
Busbice began purchasing some 55,000 acres in the three parishes, mostly in Winn, after Louisiana-Pacific shut down its operations at Urania in 2002. Louisiana-Pacific initially sold the forest land to Barrs & Glawson Investments of Atlanta, GA, to Roy O. Martin Lumber Co. and to Martin-Urania Corp. for $74 million. Barrs & Glawson re-sold tracts totaling 50,383 acres in Winn, 6,068 acres in LaSalle and 4,800 in Caldwell to Six-C Properties, headed by Busbice.
Since purchasing the land, Busbice has erected eight-foot fencing around the property and constructed a hunting lodge on the land that caters to high rollers who don’t mind ponying up a few thousand dollars for the privilege to hunt deer.
The hunting lodge, a participant in the state’s Dear Management Assistance Program (DMAP), is owned by William “Bill” Busbice of Broussard and has been a bone of contention with property owners in Winn, LaSalle and Caldwell parishes who claim that the Busbice has fenced off the 55,000 acres, thus entrapping deer and other game at the expense of area residents who claim they have been deprived of their hunting rights.
Two residents were arrested for trespassing on hunting camp property and the two, Wyndel Earl Gough and Hatten, promptly filed a wrongful arrest lawsuit against Busbice, hunting camp overseer Terry Carr and wildlife agent Rusty Parry.
Another local resident, Michael Atkins, sued Busbice and his company, Six-C Properties, after Busbice erected a fence completely surrounding 10 acres of land owned by Atkins. His lawsuit, which he won at the trial court level but which was overturned in part on appeal, contended that the fence not only prevented him from hunting but also blocked access to his property.
Names that have surfaced in what has become a conspiracy-laden story include imprisoned former Winn Parish Tax Assessor A.D. “Bodie” Little (now in federal prison for drug possession with intent to distribute), former Gov. Mike Foster and former Vice President Dick Cheney.
An Alexandria Town Talk investigation revealed that several of Little’s friends benefitted from under-assessments. Among those was Six-C, which was the beneficiary of an assessment that was $351,800 low, according to one local resident.
Under the $20 per acre forestland value, Six-C was billed $98,601 on its Winn Parish properties, then consisting of 31,600 acres. Winn Parish resident Grady McFarland, however, said Six-C should have paid taxes based on an $88.90 per acre value, or $450,410.
Landowners, including the Goughs, maintain that Foster hosted Cheney on a hunting trip in 2002 and shortly afterwards a federal grant came through Foster’s administration which was used to purchase the land which eventually came under the control of Busbice and Six-C.
Efforts by LouisianaVoice to confirm that allegation have been unsuccessful, though an entry of more than $87.86 million was included on page 29 in Foster’s fiscal year 2003-2004 executive budget under the column heading of Federal Funds.
Marty Milner, fiscal officer for the Office of Facility Planning and Control, said in a 2008 email to investigator Art Walker that he had found the $87.86 million but some projects were funded through the Department of the Military and the Department of Transportation and Development but his office did not handle the accounting for those departments. Accordingly, he said, he was unable to determine the disposition of the money.