Parish Cleco contract meets resistance

Published 9:22 pm Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Cleco Power ran into some interference Monday night during the public hearing at the Washington Parish Council meeting in its attempt to gain a non-exclusive franchise to distribute electrical power within the unincorporated area of the parish.

The power company has 755 customers within Washington Parish and services 21 parishes.

Burlon Bateman Sr., who lives off Louisiana Highway 25, north of the Washington Parish Fairgrounds, said he thought the Parish Council’s proposed 25-year lease renewal for Cleco was too long. He suggested a lease of two to five years was adequate. He also said he had problems with private rights of way. He presented the Parish Council a petition with the signatures of other opponents of the proposal, 60 of which he said signed the petition in the last week. He said he threatened to sue the company in the past.

“Every time it rains, we’re out of power,” Bateman said. “If they would maintain their right-of-way, we wouldn’t have a problem, but they don’t keep the right-of-way clear.”

Cleco Power General Manager Eric Schouest said he and company representatives could meet with Bateman at any time and attempt to work out their differences.

“I can arrange for crews to meet with you regarding any concerns you have,” Schouest told Bateman.

Schouest said the 25-year lease is necessary for lead time to build infrastructure.

“We want to hold you to a couple of years lease to see if you will do your job,” Bateman said.

After the discussion, the council voted 6-0 with one recusal to adopt the ordinance to grant Cleco the franchise to distribute power. Kenneth Wheat, who is associated with CenterPoint Energy, recused himself from voting because both companies are publicly regulated.

In other business, the Parish Council adopted a resolution to reinstate Fire Tower Road at Mt. Hermon into the Parish Maintenance Inventory. The road currently has two residences.

Parish Council members adopted a resolution to renew all ad valorem taxes. Taxes included 3.11 mills for the Health Unit, 1.03 mills for the courthouse and public buildings, 4.13 mills for public roads and bridges and 4.6 mills for the library.

Also, the council adopted a resolution authorizing parish government to apply for and administer a $225,000 grant through the Louisiana Governor’s Assistance program. The grant goes toward providing bus transportation for the elderly.

Monday was the final day for comments from the public concerning the proposed Washington Parish Reservoir Project along Bogue Lusa Creek in the Oak Grove Community. The proposed 3,262-acre reservoir is awaiting permitting from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Reservoir opponents who have been vocal about the project in the past again expressed their displeasure over the idea Monday night. No proponents of the project spoke. Opponents cited public safety, forfeiture of private land and road closures and other concerns.

Phillipp Bedwell asked about the possibility of an alarm system for residents who live downstream of the dam. Parish Council Chairman Michael Fussell said he has written to the corps regarding that issue.

Bedwell said he believed an alarm system meant more taxes for residents.

“We’re going to have two governing bodies, the Reservoir District and Washington Parish Council,” opponent Winford Pittman said. “Everybody in Washington Parish would be affected by this reservoir. Do you know what appropriate means? I’m just a dumb, old country hick from Pine High School. It means to take something without asking. At Pine, we have another word for appropriate, and that’s stealing. It’s legalized theft by the government.”

In personnel moves, the council:

• Reappointed Washington Parish Fire District No. 7 board member Malcolm Little to a three-year term and board member Ronnie Manning to a two-year term.

• Reappointed Tim Magee as chairman of Fire District No. 8.

• Approved term renewals for Mt. Hermon Water District President W.B. Estes and District Commissioner Rochelle Brumfield.

• Reappointed Ronald Owens to the board of directors for the Varnado Waterworks District and Carolin Bridges to the board for the Bogue Lusa Waterworks District.

• Reappointed Tom Pigott to the board of the parish Gas Utility District No. 1 and accepted the resignation of John Stevens from Gas Utility District No. 2.