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Washington Parish Council holds April 12 meeting

At the beginning of each Washington Parish Council meeting, prior to calling the meeting to order, Council Chairman McMasters announces the Zoom identification number and password, and the telephone number where the public can participate in the meeting. The phone number to access a live council meeting is 253-215-8782.

After opening formalities, several ordinances were introduced. The first two are to allow the conveyance of property owned by the Parish Government. The next two are for the application and administration of the Louisiana Community Block Grant for the Bogue Lusa Water Works District and Coronavirus HVAC improvements respectfully. Then, there are two that are for property acquisition for the Parish Government. A public hearing will be held before the next scheduled council meeting at 5:45 p.m. on Monday, April 26, on these ordinances.

Next were several resolutions of appointment. The first was appointments of Judy Howard and John McCrary to the Fire District No. 5 Board of Directors. Then Kewanda August was appointed to the Library Board, and Kenneth Gill was appointed to the Mt. Hermon Water District. John Rochester III was appointed to Gas Utility District No. 2.

A resolution to accept the LA DOTD Road Transfer Program was tabled after Councilman Fornea wanted to discuss the financial impact and have some questions answered. Typically, the Road Transfer Program is where the state will agree to bring designated parish roads up to state standards and, in return, the parish agrees to take on the same mileage of state highway, thereby increasing parish road responsibility in the future. Currently, the Washington Parish Government maintains close to 1,000 miles of parish roads. As a comparison, St. Tammany Parish has around 250 miles of parish-maintained roads.

In public participation, Darwin Sharp, Wilson Lagraize, Nick Smith, and Jennifer Bounds expressed dissatisfaction of the solar farm located at the LSU Southeast Research Station.

Sharp, a former parish councilman, was concerned about alleged drainage issues on Kat Kaw Road that were because of dirt work done for the solar farm, and asked the council to look into making regulations for solar farms. Lagraize, a partner in the annual audit firm for the Parish Government, indicated that he thought the solar farm was an eye sore, and would like to see discriminant zoning of industrial property close to residential property with vegetation buffer requirements. Smith noted his concerns about private property, where he has cattle located, being converted to a solar farm, and objected to industrial tax exemptions given by the state. Bounds also supported the idea of vegetation buffers and beautification impositions to solar farms.

Al Barren, Washington Parish Library Director, congratulated August’s appointment to the Library Board, and said that the Parish Government should work on creating some type of zoning development within the parish.

LSU and Agricultural and Mechanical College is a subsidiary of the sovereign state of Louisiana and is governed by a Board of Regents, while the Southeast Research Station is a subordinate of the LSU System. LSU has a federal designation as a Land, Sea, and Space Grant University that is in no way obligated to parish jurisdiction, regulations, land use restrictions or local property taxation. The LSU Southeast Research Station is under the jurisdiction of the LSU AgCenter and has primarily served as a dairy science research facility. With massive cut backs in AgCenter funding and the significant contraction of the local dairy industry, LSU subsidizes its efforts through funding received by the solar farm operation.

Though state property is not subjected to property taxes, officials at the Parish Government have indicated that around $524,000 has been put in parish coffers through the permit fees paid to the parish by the solar farm so far. The solar farm also may serve as an example of how land, that was once used for dairying, could be transformed into a more innovative, environmentally friendly, and lucrative venture for local land owners, who do pay property taxes — struggling to fill the void left by the dairy industry instead of resorting to even more ancient methods to utilize their resources.

Currently, there is a short-term moratorium placed on the permitting of solar farms in Washington Parish by the Parish Council, to allow the council and the Parish Planning Commission to investigate whether further restrictions and/or regulations on rural private property is warranted.

In the Parish President’s Report, it was announced that the parish COVID-19 positivity rate was at 3.7 percent, and 18.6 percent of the region’s population has been vaccinated. Transportation Manager Donnell Merritt reported the following for the month of March:

  • Drainage work on 14 roads covering 26 miles.
  • Delivered 17 tons of cold mix on eight roads, covering 14 miles.
  • Delivered 190 tons of hot mix on 18 roads, covering 34 miles.
  • Installed 49 culverts.
  • Graded 64 roads, covering 118 miles.
  • Hauled 604 yards of gravel on 12 roads, covering 28 miles.
  • Mowed 41 roads, covering 82 miles.
  • Picked up 711 bags of trash on 46 roads.
  • Installed 19 road name signs.
  • Installed 35 other signs.
  • Maintained 12 parish locations.
  • Location 1 & 2 crews worked 15 days picking up trash, totaling 641 bags off 47 roads.
  • Asphalt Crew laid 1,075 tons of asphalt in Bogue Chitto State Park.
  • The total bags of trash picked up was 1,352 bags, off 93 roads.

This article was written by Perry Talley, for The Daily News.