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Commission hears concerns on reservoir project

Capitol news bureau

Jalon Pittman Beech is worried that a Washington Parish reservoir project will wash away the log cabin her great-grandfather built in the 1800s.

Beech brought her concerns to the state Bond Commission on Friday, handing members a 20-page leaflet detailing her family's Oak Grove roots and the history of the project. Officials listened politely and thumbed through the handout before returning to the meeting agenda without comment.

The issue came up because the commission had to reauthorize the spending for ongoing state projects that carried over into the fiscal year that began July 1. The reservoir is on the list.

The bond commission approved the funding reauthorization.

Beech and her father, Nevels Pittman, are opposed to the state's reliance on eminent domain in building the $20 million reservoir.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] The power is usually applied to taking property for roads and drainage. In the past few years, the Legislature's also given reservoir authorities and economic development districts the right to expropriate private property.

Beech questioned whether the reservoir is being built as a water source or to pave the way for expensive, waterfront homes.

"It would be irresponsible to fundRESERVoir

projects that won't benefit the average tax-paying citizen," she said.

Beech said the reservoir is threatening her family homestead and 11 area cemeteries.

She said she hopes it's not being built simply to give people a place to "water-ski, fish and play golf."

Charles E. Mizell with the Washington Parish Reservoir Commission said the purpose of the project is to create a drinking water source.

The water isn't needed now but may be needed in the future, he said.

"I never thought we'd pay a buck and a half for a bottle of water," Mizell said. "People with a vision began bottling water."

The reservoir stands to displace two cemeteries and five homes, with the cemeteries either being raised or relocated, he said.

Mizell said the project has supporters and detractors. He said he has friends on both sides of the fence.

Engineers are working on a ground survey to provide more information on the impacts of the project.

In a broader sense, the reservoir could be an economic development engine for the area, Mizell said.

Mizell said rural communities are often opposed to change.

"We don't want to change the quality of life here in Washington Parish," he said. "We just want to elevate it."

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