River Navigation Trumps Weed Control, Court Says

     (CN) – The Northwest Louisiana Fish & Game Preserve Commission can’t stop a river project that prevents it from draining a lake into the nearby Red River, the Federal Circuit ruled. The court said the agency’s interest in controlling the lake’s aquatic weeds and fish levels conflicts with the government’s duty to keep the river navigable.

     Congress authorized the Red River Navigational Project in 1968 to allow year-round navigation of the river. In the past, the commission controlled the fish population and blocked the growth of aquatic weeds by draining the nearby Black/Clear Lake into the Red River.
     However, the navigational project allowed the Army Corps of Engineers to raise the lake’s water levels so that people could still use the river. This meant that the commission could no longer drain the lake for aquatic weed and fish control.
     The commission accused the government of violating tort law and the Fifth Amendment’s takings clause. The Court of Federal Claims dismissed both claims and explained that the takings claim was barred by the “navigational servitude.”
     The appellate panel in Washington, D.C., affirmed.
     The commission’s interest in draining the lake is “subservient to the navigational servitude” of the government, Judge Randall Rader wrote.
     Rader also acknowledged the “distressing ambiguity” of the issue, noting that navigation should not receive any more “special protections” than any other Fifth Amendment issue.

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