Council adopts resolution in support of RTP | Will be sent to governor, other officials

Published 6:56 am Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Washington Parish councilmen are urging Gov. Bobby Jindal to support the federal government’s Recreational Trails Program.

In a resolution adopted Monday during a council meeting, councilmen called upon Jindal “to support continued funding” for the program and “to oppose any efforts to opt out of the program.”

The federal government has gives states the opportunity to back out of the program, which was originally created by the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 and has since been reauthorized on three occasions, including earlier this year by President Obama as part of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act.

Louisiana has received more than $18 million in RTP funding and parish officials said some funding has gone to Cassidy Park in Bogalusa.

Most importantly, according to Councilman Ken Wheat, is that the parish has been approved to receive more than $170,000 in RTP funds that will be used for an ambitious project to improve and expand the area around Pool’s Bluff.

If the governor would decide to remove the state from the program, and officials concede some states will do so because of administrative costs and other expenses, then the money for Pool’s Bluff could be jeopardized, even though it has been approved, Wheat said.

“I can’t see why the governor would do that,” he said.

There has been no word from Jindal regarding his intentions.

The resolution will also be sent to the Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne’s office as well as state Sen. Ben Nevers and Rep. Harold Ritchie.

Also at the meeting, council members heard a presentation from Frankie Crosby of Franklinton about the Washington Parish Re-entry Institute, which helps those released from prison integrate back into society. The aim of the program, according to Crosby, is to cut down on the high recidivism rate, especially considering the state of Louisiana has the highest number of inmates per capita in the country.

“We are moving and are moving fast,” said Crosby, a longtime Franklinton activist who added that he hopes to soon bring the program to neighboring Tangipahoa Parish.

The program will be overseen by a 12-member re-entry committee, which is based in Baton Rouge and is in the process of getting organized.

Crosby said officers at Rayburn Correctional Center will provide training to volunteers and added he is hopeful the Washington Parish program will start accepting released inmates Dec. 1.

“We would like to know if you have some office space that is not being used,” he asked council members. “We need an office.”

Crosby said a board of directors must initially be formed before inmates can be accepted and asked council members to either be on the board or recommend someone to serve in their place. He also challenged councilmen to donate “$1 to $100,” money that will be used to purchase liability insurance for the board, training and the costs of establishing a non-profit agency.

Crosby said only inmates who are residents of the parish will be accepted and that others who previously lived outside of the area will not be accepted, which seemed to satisfy Wheat, who expressed some concern about who would be moving into the area.

“I would have a problem if Mississippi, Arkansas (inmates) are released and coming to Washington Parish,” he said. “We are not ready for that level of a program.”

Crosby said he is hopeful area businesses will be open to hiring the former inmates so they can begin a new life.

Program officials will begin meeting with inmates up to 60 days before their scheduled release and continue to work with them for up to one year after their release, more if necessitated.

“We want to make sure they have somewhere to go when they are released,” Crosby said.

Near the end of the meeting, Parish Director of Public Works Leo Lucchesi reported 50 percent of the planned 33 miles of blacktopping in the parish has been completed and 96 percent of new culvert piping has been installed.