Imágenes de páginas

Opinion of the Court.

be established, without the permission of the Secretary of War, in any port, roadstead, haven, harbor, navigable river, or other waters of the United States, in such manner as shall obstruct or impair navigation, commerce or anchorage of said waters; and it shall not be lawful hereafter to commence the construction of any bridge, bridge draw, bridge piers and abutments, causeway or other works over or in any port, road, roadstead, haven, harbor, navigable river of navigable waters of the United States under any act of the legislative assembly of any State until the location and plan of such bridge or other works have been submitted to and approved by the Secretary of War, or to excavate or fill, or in any manner to alter or modify the course, location, condition or capacity of any port, roadstead, haven, harbor, harbor of refuge, or inclosure within the limits of a breakwater, or of the channel of any navigable water of the United States, unless approved and authorized by the Secretary of War. Provided, That this section shall not apply to any bridge, bridge draw, bridge piers and abutments the construction of which has been heretofore duly authorized by law, or be so construed as to authorize the construction of any bridge, drawbridge, bridge piers and abutments, or other works, under an act of the legislature of any State, over or in any stream, port, roadstead, haven or harbor, or other navigable water not wholly within the limits of such State."

Subject, then, to the paramount jurisdiction of Congress over the navigable waters of the United States, the State of Louisiana has full power to authorize the construction and maintenance of levees, drains and other structures necessary and suitable to reclaim swamp and overflowed lands within her limits. The pivotal question in the present case is whether Red Pass is a navigable water of the United States in such a sense that a dam erected therein for the purpose, and with the effect, of reclaiming overflowed lands and rendering them fit for cultivation, could be constructed without the previous authorization of the Secretary of War, it being admitted that no such authority was ever applied for or procured.

Evidence was tendered, on behalf of the defendants, tending to show that the dam in question was built by Robert S. Leovy,


Opinion of the Court.

who was the syndic or official of the contiguous ward, in pursuance of a resolution of the police jury of the parish of Plaquemines, dated July 1, 1890, directing such syndic to have Red Pass closed, and also tending to show an approval and ratification of the work by the levee board of the district and by the police jury at a meeting held February 8, 1898, and a direction to the attorney of the board to take such steps as should be necessary to prevent said Red Pass from being reopened. Some of these offers were rejected by the trial court, and exceptions were taken by the defendants. It is evident, however, that the court rejected the offers only because it was the opinion of the court that such evidence was immaterial, inasmuch as if Red Pass was not a navigable water of the United States, within the meaning of the statutes, the defendants would be entitled to a verdict of not guilty, regardless of the action of the police jury and of the levee board; and if Red Pass was such a navigable stream, the action of the state or parish authorities, unauthorized by the Secretary of War, would not avail the defendants. Indeed, the trial judge, in his charge, instructed the jury, as if the evidence had been admitted, in the following terms:

"I charge you that the police jury of the parish had no right to authorize Mr. Robert S. Leovy to dam Red Pass, if Red Pass was a navigable water of the United States. I say that it had no authority, because, in the year 1890, the Congress of the United States passed the law under which this indictment has been brought, forbidding the damming of any navigable stream of the United States without the previous authorization of the Secretary of War. Therefore, as it is not contended, in this case, that there was any authority from the Secretary, but on the contrary there is proof tending to show there was no such authority, then it results that it is no defence for Mr. Robert S. Leovy to show his pretended or alleged authority from the police jury of the parish of Plaquemines. The police jury could not legally have dammed it, and therefore Mr. Leovy could not."

We think, therefore, that we are warranted in regarding the dam in question as constructed under the police power of the State, and within the terms and purpose of the grant by Congress. There was evidence tending to show the character of

Opinion of the Court.

the country affected by floods from Red Pass-that it was swamp land and sea marsh from the Mississippi River to the Gulf. The testimony, enclosed in the record, of Shoenberger, president of the police jury and of the levee board; of Lewis, of the state board of engineers; of Wilkinson, ex-president of levee board, and of De Armas, showed that the closing of this pass has resulted in the redemption of large tracts of land, greatly increasing their value; that the property in the fifth ward, before Red Pass and Spanish Pass were closed, was valued at $5000, and at this time it is valued at $100,000; and that if those passes are kept closed for five years more it will be three times as much; and that, if this pass be opened again, by the removal of the dam, the orange property will be ruined.

It is conceded that Red Pass is not a natural stream, but is in the nature of a crevasse, caused by the overflow of water from the Mississippi River. This crevasse seems to have been formed some time before the grant by the United States to Louisiana, and the fact that by this and similar breaks through the banks of the river large tracts of land were rendered worthless, was, it may be assumed, well known to Congress, and was, indeed, the actuating cause of the grant.

As respects navigation through Red Pass, there was some evidence, on the part of the government, that small luggers or yawls, chiefly used by fishermen to carry oysters to and from their beds, sometimes went through this pass; but it was not shown that passengers were ever carried through it, or that freight destined to any other State than Louisiana, or, indeed, destined for any market in Louisiana, was ever, much less habitually, carried through it.

The evidence on the part of the defendants showed that for many years these crevasses or passes have been steadily growing shallower and narrower, and that at the time of closing Red Pass few of the smallest craft attempted to pass through it, and that the so-called mouth, or end of Red Pass next the Gulf, had closed up and become a mere marsh. The trifling use that was made of that pass was restricted to the river end of the crevasse.

We cannot accept the contention of the government's counsel

Opinion of the Court.

that, because the jury was left to determine whether the pass was in fact navigable, and found the defendant guilty, the decision of the jury is binding upon the appellate court. We have a right to consider under what instructions and definitions, given by the trial court, the jury found their verdict.

Before we examine the charge of the court, we shall briefly review some of the cases from which may be derived a definition of "navigable waters of the United States," within the meaning of the statutes under which this indictment was brought.

In the case of Boylan v. Shaffer, 13 La. Ann. 131, it was said by the Supreme Court of the State of Louisiana :

"Were the mere fact that steamboats. or flatboats had been a short distance up a stream or bayou in high water a sufficient ground for declaring it a navigable stream, every slight depression on the banks of the Mississippi would then become a navigable stream, and should be opened for the benefit of rafts and boats and the convenience of a few persons, to the total destruction of the planting interests on the banks of the river. It is well known that the State has, for a number of years, been closing the small bayous making out of the principal rivers and bayous, and thus redeeming large and valuable tracts of land.”

In the case of Egan v. Hart, 45 La. Ann. 1358, there was considered the right of the board of state engineers of the State of Louisiana to build a dam across an alleged stream, designated as Bayou Pierre. It was alleged that it was a purely private undertaking which the board of state engineers was not authorized to do at public expense, and that the dam would obstruct the navigation of Bayou Pierre, and would therefore violate the statute of Congress which forbade the construction of any bridge or other works over or in any navigable waters of the United States, unless approved by the Secretary of War. The trial judge, as to the contention that Bayou Pierre was a navigable stream, said:

"From Grande Ecore, where Bayou Pierre enters Red River, to a point some miles below its junction with Torre's Bayou, a stream flowing out of the river, Bayou Pierre has been frequently navigated by steamboats. But from the point of junction to the dam in question it has never been navigated, and is

Opinion of the Court.

unnavigable. Between these two points it is nothing but a highwater outlet, going dry every summer at many places, choked with rafts and filled with sand, reefs, etc. It has no channel; in various localities it spreads out into shallow lakes and over a wide expanse of country, and is susceptible of being made navigable just as a ditch would be if it were dug deep and wide enough and kept supplied with a sufficiency of water."

And accordingly it was found by the trial court that Bayou Pierre was not a navigable water of the United States. Its judgment was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Louisiana, and the case was brought to this court and the judgment of the court below affirmed. Egan v. Hart, 165 U. S. 188.

In Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway v. Ohio, 165 U. S. 365, a judgment of the Supreme Court of Ohio, affirming a judgment of a trial court, whereby the defendant, an Ohio corporation, was directed to absolutely remove a bridge or modify its structure over the Ashtabula River, a stream wholly within the State of Ohio, was brought to and affirmed by this court. The case was thus stated in the opinion delivered by Mr. Justice White:

"Both the pleadings and the errors here assigned deny the jurisdiction of the State of Ohio or of its courts to control the subject-matter of the controversy, on the theory that the determination of whether the defendant possessed the right to erect the bridge and to continue it, although constructed without authority, is a Federal and not a state question. This contention is predicated on the act of Congress of September 19, 1890, (26 Stat. 423).

"The contention is that the statute in question manifests the purpose of Congress to deprive the several States of all authority to control and regulate any and every structure over all navigable streams, although they be situated wholly within their territory. That full power resides in the States as to the erection of bridges and other works in navigable streams wholly within their jurisdiction, in the absence of the exercise by Congress of authority to the contrary, is conclusively determined." Wilson v. Blackbird Creek, 2 Pet. 245; Withers v. Buckly, 20 How. 84; Cardwell v. American Bridge Co., 113 U. S. 205;

« AnteriorContinuar »