Alternate reservoir sites suggested

Published 5:31 am Saturday, May 27, 2017

The latest incarnation of the Washington Parish Reservoir Commission met for the second time on Wednesday, and this time more than one person spoke in opposition to the reservoir that is currently slated for the Oak Grove community.

The meeting started with commission president Bill Jenkins adjusting the agenda to move two items to the next meeting, which is unscheduled, but which Jenkins later said should take place in about a month. The items were hiring a CPA to serve the commission and an executive session.

Then the commission was given an update on the current status of the project by attorney Keith Turner of Watkins and Eager, who said he arranged to meet with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to determine “a path to move forward,” to fully understand the purpose of the project’s Environmental Impact Statement, and to learn what supplemental information was needed.

“We have begun developing that supplemental information,” he said.

On Turner’s recommendation, the commission approved a contract with Mike Goff, of Headwaters Incorporated, as the environmental contractor.

Turner said that Goff has a lot of experience with the Vicksburg COE and is familiar with the reservoir project.

Phillipp Bedwell then rose to express his concerns. He questioned if anybody knew Headwaters’ hourly rates.

“My concern is if you’re going to be spending taxpayer money, wouldn’t it be beneficial to open it up for bid,” he asked. “The other issue is who is going to control this company’s work? You’re entering into a contract and have no idea on the rate.”

At that point Turner said that his firm recommended Goff because it is “most cost effective to have a firm that already understands the project.”

Commissioner James Beatty then asked treasurer Bob Bateman if he had reviewed the firms in contention. Bateman nodded an affirmative.

In response to commissioner questions, Turner said that the full EIS decides the size of the reservoir, but “the goal is to have the least environmental impact,” that all factors, including socioeconomic ones, would be considered, and that the public would have three different opportunities to weigh in on the project.

Jalon Pittman Beets, who is in line to inherit property that would be flooded by the reservoir as it is now planned, started off the public participation portion of the meeting.

“There is an amendment,” she said. “If we’re not willing to sell, how are you going get our property? Do your homework.”

Bedwell then said, “There is no way they’re going to sell the land in Oak Grove. Why have you been wasting taxpayers’ money for 14 years?”

But Oak Grove property owner Winford Pittman was more positive.

“I think some stuff has been accomplished today,” he said. “I’m proud of what y’all accomplished so far. I think we may have some reasonable men now.”

Pittman then went on to offer two alternative sites for the reservoir. One is in the Bogue Chitto State Park, where he said 1,000 acres of state land could be used. The other is on the east side of the parish, at Ben’s Creek.

Pittman addressed the state park site first.

“We believe this may be a more economically sound investment then taking citizens’ homes and property in the Oak Grove area,” he said. “You would not have the monetary investment, such as paying for appraisers, paying the property owners, or the court costs.

“At this location, the park and the reservoir could complement each other economically.”

Pittman provided a detailed description of what could be done at that site.

“The state park reservoir is family oriented,” he said. “The reservoir on the east side of the parish at Ben’s Creek is also oriented for the family, but is more pointed toward the children, with a Pontchartrain Beach theme.”