Citizen urges Parish Council to take action on reservoir

Published 9:01 am Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Washington Parish Reservoir project proposed for the Oak Grove community again had its opponents speaking out before the Washington Parish Council.

Oak Grove community resident Winford Pittman was the lone speaker on the agenda. He brought with him a copy of Louisiana SB 475 from the 2003 session. The bill was proposed by then-Sen. Larry Thomas and then-Rep. Ben Nevers, currently a state senator. The bill concerned the Washington Parish Reservoir District.

“Several weeks ago, I asked the council if you truly understood what expropriation meant,” Pittman began. “Only two raised their hands. Expropriation is the act of a government taking private property. Eminent domain is the legal term describing the government’s right to do so. In the United States, this right is granted, indirectly, by the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which states, in part, ‘that private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation.’ The courts have interpreted this clause’s limitation of the power to expropriate as implying the existence of the power itself.”

Pittman cited two cases in which the government expropriated private property. One was during the labor troubles after World War II in which President Harry Truman tried to avoid a strike by the nation’s railroads. Pittman said Truman justified the action by declaring the nation’s welfare to be at stake.

The other case Pittman noted was in 1952 when Truman seized control by expropriating 88 steel mills across the country. Pittman said Truman took the action for the same reason as the first case.

“The State and some local lawmakers have figured out that expropriation makes a very good weapon to use against and hold over their citizens when they or their wealthy friends have a pet project,” Pittman said. “These projects could be reservoirs, sugar mills, canals, shopping malls, golf courses, McDonald’s, etc. In short, their attitude is, you will take what we give you whether you like it or not. Just compensation that is spoken of in the Constitution of the United States is always set by the federal, state or local government. The private property owner is never considered when the compensation is set.”

Pittman challenged the council into taking some kind of action.

“I have stood at this podium before, and for almost two years I have heard the phrase, ‘I’m sorry, there is nothing we can do’ so many times and so many different ways that it is not even funny. That old excuse will not fly anymore. There is always something that can be done. You just have to look for it. You are the most powerful group of people in the parish. The reason for that is, I, along with everyone else who voted in this parish gave you our voice to represent us. Not just the few people who think they run this parish or think they know what is best for the parish. Normally, they believe what is best for the parish is what is best for them.”

Pittman outlined things the council could do.

“First, you’ve got to get a backbone. Get the fire you had when you first ran for those seats,” Pittman said. “Then stand up for the people who need you to stand up for them. If you do, they will stand with you. Write a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers opposing this reservoir project, the site selection, and tell them that it does not have the support of the Washington Parish Council. Hold yourselves more accountable for what goes on in this parish. Hold the elected officials that we send to Baton Rouge more accountable on the bills they present to Congress, making sure that they benefit the poorest person as much as the richest person in this parish.

“Join with the school boards and Sheriff’s Office to better help build our education system and to make our parish safer,” Pittman added. “Work toward building a stronger infrastructure where people would want to come and live in our parish. There are many other things that you can do if you really cared about the people of this parish. We need long-term factory jobs, not another place to wet a hook or a flash in the pan job like a glorified mud hole would create.”

Councilman Pete Thomas said he agreed with Pittman’s arguments.

“I do not agree with this reservoir project and where they plan on building it,” Thomas said. “I’m not saying I’m not for a reservoir. We’re going to have a new senator, legislator and governor. I find it hard to believe that once they are elected they could appropriate that much money to build that reservoir.”

Pittman had more to say.

“If the reservoir is going to take a cemetery, church or home, I’ll be on the front line. If it is permitted, I guarantee you there will be conflict. I’m just trying to keep innocent people from getting hurt.”

Pittman said a meeting is scheduled for Friday at 7 p.m. at the fire station on Bill Booty Road for those who have concerns over the project.

Former Sen. Jerry Thomas was in attendance. He served in the House from 1987-1998 and in the Senate from 1999-2004.

“I want to make it clear I would never support a project that would cover up cemeteries, churches and homes,” Thomas said. “This project from the beginning was going to be a state-funded project. I think we need to poll our newly-elected officials to see what their positions are.”

In other business, the Parish Council adopted a resolution to set payment standards as required by HUD. The parish government assumed all management of the Housing Authority of Washington Parish at the beginning of the year.

A landlord meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday at the Parish Council chambers to set rental rates for this year.

The council also adopted an ordinance authorizing purchase of a warehouse on 2185 Greenlaw Ave. in Franklinton. The purpose of the warehouse is to store records from Clerk of Court Johnny Crain’s office. The warehouse can also be used for other purposes. Owners of the warehouse were asking $120,000, but the council got it for $50,000.

Additionally, Washington Parish Library Director Al Barron was recognized by council for his selection for the Anthony J. Benoit Award by the Louisiana Library Association. The award is given to administrative librarians for mid-career achievement. It is a cumulative award that is given once per year to a noted librarian in public service. Barron was nominated by other library directors.

In personnel matters, Joseph A. Felder was approved as board member for the Washington Parish Gas Utility District No. 2. He replaced John Stephens, who resigned in December 2014.

All Washington Parish Government offices will be closed Feb. 16-17 for Presidents’ Day and Mardi Gras, respectively.