Parish council hears reservoir complaints

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Although the Washington Parish Council had a relatively empty agenda, the public brought plenty for the board to consider.

Specifically, a handful of parish residents asked for the board to nominate new members of the Washington Parish Reservoir District and also to pass a resolution opposing the project.

The reservoir project has been in the works since 2001 when the state authorized the formation of the district and a commission. The reservoir is intended to be in the Oak Grove area and its supporters say it will attract tourism, development and provide a water source and preserve habitat, while its opponents say the project will displace residents, flood cemeteries and is generally a waste of money.

State Sen. Beth Mizell has authored a bill, SB 373, that will dismantle the law authorizing the district, if it passes.

Mizell has said that with the state facing a budget shortfall next year, money spent on a reservoir would be wasted. Those who spoke to the parish council seemed to agree.

Jalon Pittman Beech, a longtime opponent of the project, said she and others attended a hearing in Baton Rouge regarding the future of the reservoir.

“At that meeting we were told to come back to our parish council because you have the key,” Beech said.

She added that Huey Pierce, who is the chairman of the reservoir board, isn’t listening to residents.

“I am not going to let him be the designer of our destiny,” she said. “He’s not going to get our cemeteries.”

The parish council’s lawyer, Wayne Kuhn, then asked who told Beech and the others that the council had “the key” in the fate of the reservoir.

Beech said Sen. Fred Mills, R-New Iberia, told them that state lawmakers would like to see a resolution from the council government or a city government either supporting or opposing proposed local legislation. The council didn’t make a move to vote on anything Monday, but several board members agreed to some degree with Beech.

“I do not support the reservoir as it is planned now,” Councilman Michael Fussell said. “I am like you, it needs to be downsized. But first of all we need some people on that commission who will listen, because it’s our money.”

Councilman Chris Workman said he’s not opposed to a reservoir, but the current plan seems unworkable.

“I am not opposed to necessarily a reservoir in theory, but in its current form it’s just been a disaster,” he said.

The parish council may soon replace some of the members on the commission, as citizen Philip Bedwell informed the council that virtually all the members of the reservoir commission are serving on expired terms.

By state law, they may continue to serve if no one else has been tapped to replace them. Last year, council members put some names forward, but Bedwell said Ben Nevers, who is the chief of staff for Gov. John Bel Edwards, said that whatever names were put before former-Gov. Bobby Jindal have been lost.

“It came to light that, according to Mr. Ben Nevers, there are no nominations in the governor’s office,” Bedwell said, adding that nobody knew what had happened to the nominations.

In other matters, another member of the public, Darryl Peterson, asked the council about the status of Highway 431, which he said is still closed following the March 11 floods.

“All they’ve done is barricaded it and put up road-closed signs, but there’s been no work done,” he said.

Fussell said it has taken longer to fix than other roads because the work has to be bid out due to the high cost to repair extensive damages.

Near the close of the meeting, Donna Graham, the director of parish finance, reported that across the parish debris from the flooding was almost all picked up.

“We’re all caught up with it, and we’re pretty much done, except for folks who have not gotten their stuff to the curb yet,” Graham said.

She added that homeowners who still need parish crews to haul away debris should call the parish offices and request the service. She added that federal emergency funds will pay for most of the parish’s additional costs relating to pickup.

Graham then reported that Florida Parish’s Human Services Authority, which provides mental health and addictive disorder treatment for residents, will use space in Franklinton’s Health Unit offices each Thursday when the offices aren’t open and they will also open two temporary offices in the Bogalusa Health Unit offices until their permanent office is repaired following the March flooding.

Kuhn said none of this will cost Washington Parish anything.

Al Barron, the director of the parish library system, invited everyone to an anniversary celebration on Sunday, May 1. The event, scheduled from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., is to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Friends of the Library group and the 70th anniversary of the library system.

Finally, members of the council expressed their condolences to council chairman Pete Thomas, whose grandfather died.

“On behalf of the rest of my family, I really, really appreciate it,” he said. “My grandmother really appreciated the plant that y’all sent for my grandfather.”