Reader has questions concerning reservoir

Published 7:25 pm Sunday, January 11, 2015

Dear Editor:

The following is a copy of a letter, with some minor changes, I sent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

I am requesting a public hearing in the matter of the Washington Parish, Louisiana, reservoir permit application. In my opinion there are numerous areas of concern that need to be addressed publicly before a decision is made.

I am opposed to the reservoir because I do not believe in expropriation of private property unless it is absolutely necessary for the public good. I do not own any property that will be affected by the project. Hereafter I will refer to the Washington Parish Reservoir Commission as “Commission.”

I would first like to address some water and land use issues. On page 2 of the 2009 Pearl River Basin Characterization Report, Louisiana State Reservoir Priority and Development Program, prepared by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (Report), the area that is included in the Pearl River Basin (PRB) is clarified (refer to Map 2 on page 2). The area proposed by the Commission for the reservoir is clearly included in the PRB. On page 4 of the Report it states “The PRB contains some land considered Prime Farmland by the Federal Natural Resources Conservation Service). The NRCS must be contacted regarding proposed irreversible conversion of any Prime Farmland for reservoir construction.” I believe there is some Prime Farmland included in the proposed reservoir area. Since there are no public records, I have found it impossible to determine if the Commission has met this requirement.

Pages 6 and 7 of the Report discuss water use. In 2005 the PRB used a total of 30.7 million gallons of water per day (mgd), of which 14.9 mgd were used for industrial purposes. If you compare all of the water usage information, the Bogalusa Water System used approximately 7.5 mgd for industrial purposes, basically one fourth of all water usage and one half of all industrial usage for the PRB. I don’t think it would be difficult to argue that a large majority of the industrial usage was used by the paper mill in Bogalusa. If there have been any studies conducted concerning the effect of the reservoir on the industrial water usage, I cannot find it.

Page 10 of the Report discusses water quality. Map 6 on page 10 clearly identifies Bogue Lusa Creek as impaired. Under the Federal Clean Water Act, impaired waters are rivers, lakes or streams that do not meet one or more water-quality standards and are considered too polluted for their intended uses. On page 10 of the Report it states “Design of new reservoirs either impounding impaired waters or discharging to impaired waters would need to consider these water quality challenges and any ongoing or planned water quality improvement projects.” Once again, due to the lack of public information, I cannot determine if the Commission has addressed this issue.

The U.S. EPA web page still lists the creek as impaired for recreation due to fecal coli form (sewage). The Commission has put forward the possibility of using the reservoir for potable water, but the EPA does not list that as a usage for Bogue Lusa Creek. Does that mean that the EPA has to change the usage category? What impact will this pollution have on the usage of the reservoir for recreational purposes? Has the Commission conducted research and/or studies to determine if the water will be safe for swimming, fishing, etc., especially since the water will be maintained in a reservoir as opposed to free flowing water? I am not a biologist, but I believe I am correct in saying that the level of bacteria will be higher in an enclosed environment.

Page 11 of the Report discusses discharge permits. The Report states “The City of Bogalusa’s wastewater treatment facility is the largest municipal discharge at 15 mgd, followed by Temple Island at 9.7 mgd. The only industrial discharger within the basin is the Washington Parish Energy Center (this facility is no longer operating). Discharge permit conditions are based on receiving-water low-flow quantity and quality. Future water development projects that change low-flow quantity or quality at the discharge location could affect the ability of permit holders to comply with permit conditions.” Has the Commission addressed this issue with the permit holders? Will Bogalusa have to modify its discharge permit? What will it cost the taxpayers? Can the Commission tell us what they have done about this?

I would now like to discuss some issues related to the revised law establishing the Commission, ACT No. 307 Amended. Paragraph 3087.193B(2)(b)(ii) states that if a private residence is taken through expropriation the district will provide “a parcel of land equal in value to the parcel of land equal in value to the parcel of land where the existing home was located and as near as practicable to its current location unless another location is specified by the owner.” I think the only way to read this section is that the displaced homeowner can require the district to take the land of anyone in the parish to meet the requirements of this section. So does the Commission have the right to expropriate the land of anyone in the parish? How else can they fulfill their responsibility? I think it would be very appropriate if every homeowner that has their property stolen by this Commission specify they want property owned by the Commission members and every elected person in the parish that does not oppose this atrocity. If you live in Varnado, Angie, Isabel or anywhere else in the parish, be warned that your property is not safe from these people either.

Paragraph 3087.197A(8) gives the district the right to grant franchises to utility companies to provide services inside the district to inhabitants or any person or corporation …“when such construction is within the single reservoir created by the district.” I thought the purpose was to build a reservoir. When I look at the permit application for the reservoir I do not see anything requesting permission to build residences or any type of habitat. Is the intent of the Commission to build a reservoir or to take land and homes from some and sell it to others for development? But if you do have a home inside the district and want to use DISH TV the district can require you use DIRECT TV. Sounds more like Communist China or Russia than America.

Paragraph 3087.198A(6) states “To place, with the consent of the landowner, building restrictions on non-submerged property of the landowner, which is located adjacent to or bordering on the reservoir.” Is this giving the landowner the right to refuse the district? I think this needs clarification.

To paraphrase Paragraph 3087.199, no one can do anything to any water supply of any kind that drains into the reservoir or is part of the drainage of the reservoir without the permission of the Commission. How far does this section stretch from the reservoir, and exactly how restrictive is this? If you live upstream from the reservoir and you want to put a pond on your land, build a bridge across a ditch to build a new home; etc., do you have to get permission from the Commission? I don’t know exactly how far the reservoir is from the headwater but I would estimate 10 to 15 miles, and that does not include all of the little creeks and streams that eventually enter Bogue Lusa Creek. I think this needs to be clarified to all residents of the parish.

Another issue is the financial statements prepared by the LaPorte Professional Accounting Corporation in Covington. I was able to look at online reports dated for 2010 and 2012. Both reports contain a letter signed by a representative of LaPorte. There are two statements on each that raise concern. The first is paragraph 4, “Management (Commission) has elected to omit substantially all of the disclosures required by accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America. If the omitted disclosures were included in the financial statements, they might influence the user’s conclusions about the Washington Parish Reservoir Commission’s financial position, results of operations and cash flows. Accordingly, these financial statements are not designed for those who are not informed about such matters.” My interpretation of that is that if you are not part of the Commission you don’t have the right to know what is going on. Why did the Commission not provide all of the documents? What information was not provided and why?

The second statement on the financial report that I believe needs looking into is paragraph 6, “We (LaPorte) are not independent with respect to the Washington Parish Reservoir Commission.” The only conclusion that can be drawn from that statement is that there is some type of connection between someone at LaPorte and someone on the Commission that creates a conflict of interest. I believe we have a right to know what that connection is.

There are some additional concerns in relation to the financial statements. The first financial reports I could locate (2005 and 2008) were completed by William Durden, CPA, in Franklinton. His reports do not contain the above statements. Why did the Commission change to LaPorte when there is a conflict of interest?

Also, in 2013, I gave a copy of the letter for the 2012 statement to Charles Mizell, vice chairman of the Commission, and advised him of my concerns. He stated he was not aware of the issues but he would look into them and get back with me. I am still waiting!!

There are some other questions that I believe need to be answered before a decision is made. What is the lowest water level that will be permanently maintained in the reservoir? What happens downstream if there is a drought and there is not enough water draining into the reservoir to maintain that level and provide water downstream? Will the Commission have the right to restrict water draining from the reservoir? How will this impact the farmers, wildlife, etc., downstream, especially the paper mill in Bogalusa?

How much non-submerged land is included in the district’s plan?

What activities will have a user fee assessed? What will the fees be and will parish residents have to pay the same as non-residents?

– Phillipp Bedwell