Bill keeps reservoir district, nixes eminent domain 

Published 7:06 am Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The bill that would have killed the Washington Parish Reservoir District will no longer do that.

On Monday, the pending legislation was amended to keep the district alive but prohibit it from ever acquiring land through eminent domain, along with a few other changes.

Eminent domain is a process wherein a governmental body forces landowners to give up their property for some greater public good. The landowner is compensated, although he or she has no choice in the sale.

State Sen. Beth Mizell’s bill passed the Senate and it advanced to the House Committee on Transportation, Highways, and Public Works, of which State Rep. Malinda White is a member.

White explained that she discussed the legislation with Mizell over the weekend.

“Senator Mizell and I worked together all weekend to bring an amendment to the current law that she was appealing with a compromise that drew no oppositions,” she said. “The amendment includes language in the current law to state the following: ‘to provide for the board of commissioners; to provide for restrictions on the acquisition of land; to require public bid; to provide for open meetings.’”

Mizell said she is happy with the amendment.

“I believe that everyone involved in this discussion feels comfortable with my bill as it stands now,” she said.

The reservoir district’s commissioners had been eyeing the Oak Grove community and since 2004, residents of that area had been staunchly opposed to giving up their land — especially by force — for a reservoir.

Jalon Pittman Beech was among those critics and she said she’s happy with the compromise Monday.

“I’m very happy with it,” she said. “Of course I would have love to see the reservoir district completely go away, mainly because of what we have been through over the years, but I did fully expect some compromise and the compromise did suit us.”

White went on to explain she couldn’t give a definitive yes or no to Mizell’s bill in the weeks leading up to the amendment, because she wanted to learn more about the bill and the reservoir district.

“I held out on my position to seek the will of all the citizens and not just a few,” she said. “While I understood the hurt and pain of those under the cloud of uncertainty with their land, I believe that a compromise would best serve us all.”

According to the amended bill, the district would have to acquire land through willing sale. Beech and others have complained that the reservoir district’s commissioners were ignoring homeowners and the will of area residents.

“Some people don’t take stock in a mobile home unless it’s your mobile home and that’s all you have,” she said.

In addition to removing the threat of eminent domain, the bill also requires the commission to post their meetings 72 hours in advance on the parish government’s website and it urges the governor to appoint new commissioners. The current commissioners’ terms have ended, though no new appointments have yet been put forward by the parish council.

Nevertheless, even with the threat of eminent domain gone and in the face of a new commission, Beech said she didn’t expect anyone in Oak Grove would be willing to sell land.

“In the Oak Grove community, that’s just a poor choice on the reservoir commission’s part; that was also bad judgment from the engineering firm as well,” she said.

Beech said she’s not opposed to a reservoir somewhere else in the parish.

“Sure,” she said. “As long as it doesn’t hurt people and put other people at risk.”

Beech said she believes the bill will pass and become law, without further complications or changes.