USACE denies reservoir permit

Published 8:24 am Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The telephones of opponents of the controversial Washington Parish Reservoir Project rang incessantly Tuesday after word spread that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied the current reservoir application for permit.

The proposed reservoir was to be constructed in the Oak Grove Community in the center of the parish. Oak Grove residents said if a reservoir were actually built, they would lose their homes that had been in their family for generations. Also, opponents said family cemeteries and area roads would be flooded.

“I am almost speechless, I am so relieved,” ardent reservoir opponent Jalon Pittman Beech said on Tuesday. “I firmly expected it to be denied based on information from all agencies and organization who objected to all the information they submitted based on facts that demonstrated a negative impact to our area if the reservoir was built.”

Beech frequently addressed the Washington Parish Council voicing her opposition to the reservoir,

“I believe our parish government should take steps to remove Washington Parish as a Reservoir District because it’s a waste of taxpayer money, to reapply” Beech said. “It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars every time they apply. This should be strike three.”

Washington Parish Reservoir Commission Huey Pierce submitted the denial to The Daily News and requested the letter stand as his response without any other comment. The Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Vicksburg District, is John Cross. The response is below:

“The Washington Parish Reservoir Commission Chairman met at the request of the Commander of the USACE, Vicksburg District on June 18, 2015.

“The Chairman was then informed that the current reservoir application for permit had been denied without prejudice. The USACE explained that a reservoir in Washington Parish could be permitted and constructed, even in the same location, provided certain issues as outlined in documentation provided are addressed. The Commander confirmed that the new application can be filed and existing field data can be utilized. The Commission Chairman was also informed of the right to appeal this USACE decision.”

“This information is currently being evaluated and the Commission will determine the path forward on the Washington Parish Reservoir Project.”

Chief of Public Affairs for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Vicksburg District, Greg Raimondo, said there a number of reasons for the application to be denied.

“The applicant did not provide a complete alternatives analysis. A complete project design to include pertinent features, like infrastructure, etc., was not provided by the applicant,” Raimondo said in an email. “There were 21 public interest factors considered in the evaluation; 11 were determined to be adverse.”

Raimondo said the Reservoir Commission can appeal the decision.

“The applicant will have 60 days from the date of decision, June 18, to request an appeal through the Review Officer of the Mississippi Valley Division Headquarters in Vicksburg,” Raimondo said.

Beech said the money spent on feasibility studies for the reservoir could be better spent elsewhere. Denman Engineering has been in charge of the studies.

“It costs approximately $800,000 for the engineering firm to prepare feasibility studies. It’s just a big, fat waste of our money when we need roads and bridges,” Beech said. “I’m sure Denman Engineering is laughing all the way to the bank.”

Reservoir opponent Phillipp Bedwell was fishing on Lake Pontchartrain when he received the news about the denial.

“That tells me that the Army Corps of Engineers told the Reservoir Commission that they can’t do what they want to do,” Bedwell said. “That tells me they’ve got to start the application process all over again. Finally, the people of Oak Grove have some relief knowing their homes won’t be taken away from them.”

Oak Grove residents have fought against the Reservoir since 2005.

“I’m not opposed to a reservoir,” Bedwell said. “We just don’t need to be taking peoples’ homes away from them. Hopefully, the next time the Reservoir Commission tries to do a reservoir, they will be more open and transparent as to what they’re trying to do. I think this is good news for the parish. If we do decide to do one, it will be done without taking people’s land.”

Bedwell also spoke at length at the June 18 meeting against the reservoir, citing a lack of transparency regarding the accounting practices of the Reservoir Commission.