Parish votes ‘no’ on reservoir

Published 8:58 am Friday, April 29, 2016

The Washington Parish Council passed a resolution Monday evening at their regular meeting supporting a reservoir project, but rejecting the current efforts to build a reservoir in the parish.

The resolution, which was sent to the governor’s office, the Washington Parish Reservoir Commission and to the area’s elected delegation to Baton Rouge, further rejected attempts to build a reservoir using eminent domain.

The resolution comes after years of local opposition to a reservoir commission proposed reservoir in the Oak Grove area, which critics see as beneficial to only a few, unnecessary and as an offensive land grab by developers.

The resolution did not dissolve the commission—such a move would have to come from the state—but it does put the parish government on the side of the reservoir’s critics. Many residents in the audience Monday expressed relief after the motion passed without objection.

Winford Pittman, who was already on the agenda to speak against the reservoir project, praised the council after their vote.

“After 15 years of coming up here I am glad we have a parish government that has the guts to stand up and support the people,” he said.

Pittman further commended State Sen. Beth Mizell (R-Franklinton) for her efforts to kill the commission through legislative action. Mizell has authored Senate Bill 373 which would kill the commission, though the proposed bill is still pending in committee.

Pittman said he, too, is not against a reservoir in theory.

“I never said I am against one, but I am against it taking people’s homes and properties,” he said.

After Pittman spoke, Bill Jenkins, a member of the commission, who was not on the agenda but who was in the audience, addressed the council.

Jenkins didn’t defend the existing plan so much as the need for a reservoir.

“I believe in clean water and I believe that whether this reservoir happens or not, there is a need for a reservoir,” he said.

Jenkins said the parish is poised to absorb population as people move out of the New Orleans area, and a reservoir could provide clean water and an attractive amenity to attract residents.

“I challenge you to look at the horizon. Look at tall these opportunities that are coming our way. There are some big things that are happening,” he said. “New Orleans is moving this way. It’s like the bay area in san Francisco, where you can’t move any farther one way because of the water.”

Later in the meeting, Amanda Parfait, a resident of Amite, told the council one of her vehicles was badly damaged after a parish road gave way in the March 11 storm. She told the council her vehicle insurance wouldn’t cover the repairs and FEMA wouldn’t compensate her because she has a second vehicle.

However, Parfait explained that she is a single mother of five children and her other vehicle doesn’t have enough room for her children.

“It’s a mess, and I’m still having a hard time getting through this,” said Parfait, who was visibly emotional.

Parfait said she was driving at about 5 a.m. on C. E. Stafford Road, when the ground under the roadway washed out, plunging her vehicle into the water.

Parfait said the water rose up to the windows of the vehicle, and she said one estimate to repair the damage is $1,500, which is more than she can afford.

Parfait said she believes the parish should be responsible for the damages because she did not intentionally drive into the water, and she assumed the road was sound.

“I can understand if I purposely drove through water,” she said. “… (B)ut if I am driving on a road that is supposed to be properly structured … and if the road suddenly collapses on me then that’s not a God-given accident. The road wasn’t structured properly.”

The parish president Richard “Ned” Thomas declined to say publicly whether or not the parish was liable and council chairman Pete Thomas asked to meet in private with the council’s attorney to discuss legal options.

Barbara Hicks Collins, the executive director of the Robert Law Hicks Foundation asked for the parish’s support in an upcoming rehabilitation project of the Robert Law Hicks house. The house is being converted into a civil rights museum and Hicks is seeking federal grants for the project. .

Jalon Pittman Beech once again spoke out against the reservoir, and after that, Al Barron director of the Washington Parish library system, reminded everyone of the May 1 library anniversary celebration. That will be from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Franklinton branch, 825 Free St.

Barron also said the Bogalusa library will be hosting the SBA for the next two weeks beginning on Thursday.

Phillipp Bedwell then spoke out against the reservoir commission leadership and accused chairman Huey Pierce of being uncooperative.

Finally, the parish’s finance director reported that in total the parish was facing bills totaling around $670,000 as a result of the March flood. However, FEMA is covering some of the cost, so the parish will only be out of pocket $230,000 to $250,000.

At the end of the meeting, public works director Leo Lucchesi asked Parfait to get three estimates for vehicle repairs, he said the parish landfill was not overburdened by debris and construction waste following the flooding.

And, he said, parish work on the new animal shelter is “moving along very nicely.”

The next meeting will be May 9 at 6 p.m. at the parish courthouse.