RUSTON - A large manmade lake in Lincoln Parish could turn the area into a robust retirement community with improved recreation and property values. Most importantly, it could create an alternate water source as the Sparta Aquifer continues to deplete each year.
Local legislators offered this vision Wednesday while inviting governmental consultant Michael Thompson of Delhi to present the methods for securing funds, undergoing the permitting process and building the actual reservoir.
Thompson is a former Delhi mayor and a member of Gov. Kathleen Blanco's transition team who now runs a consulting firm specializing in reservoir development. He and his brother, state Rep. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, were instrumental in making Poverty Point Reservoir a reality.
State Sen. Bob Kostelka, R-Monroe, described a more than 3,000-acre lake as the answer to the parish's problems.
"Lincoln Parish is sitting on a gold mine as a great retirement community with the advent of Squire Creek (Country Club) and a reservoir to help develop sites for homes and alleviate the problems with the aquifer draining so rapidly," Kostelka said. "It'll increase property values hundredfold and complement economic development.
"If it's handled right and the people say they want it, it could be a great boon for the area."
Kostelka, along with state Reps. Hollis Downs, R-Ruston, and Rick Gallot, D-Grambling, organized the presentation for a who's who of parish and municipal leaders, as well as for the general public, to lobby for the costly project.
Downs said Ruston Mayor Dan Hollingsworth and Lincoln Parish Police Jury President Mickey Mays were among those offering preliminary support for the project, which is important since at least $100,000 will be needed in seed money that would likely come from sources such as the jury and Ruston Board of Aldermen.
Downs said Lincoln Parish is surrounded by manmade lakes like Caney Lake, Lake Claiborne and Lake D'Arbonne, but does not have one of its own to attract new residents and businesses.
A video presentation of Poverty Point Reservoir said the $26 million project has an $8 million annual economic development impact, created 250 permanent jobs, produces 100 million gallons of water per month and increased surrounding property values from a minimum of $500 an acre to at least $40,000 for six-tenths of an acre.
Thompson said it would be a long process to gain state funds but having three dedicated bipartisan legislators and a governor with a history of supporting reservoir projects would make the project's completion a matter of time, and not a matter of "if."
He admitted securing funds would be difficult, but the track record shows these projects are eventually completed once they get started and the community remains dedicated.
"These projects take a lot of time, but are worth every dime the state spends on them," Thompson said. "If you don't start today, when are you going to ever start?"
If the parish supports the project, Thompson said the legislators would begin the necessary enabling legislation to essentially get in line for state approval and funds after the spring legislative session. He said a lake commission would then be appointed to hire a consultant, possibly himself. Next, preliminary sites could be selected once an engineer is hired and in-depth engineering feasibility studies could begin.
Thompson stressed that a consulting administrator would be required to sort through the tedious permitting process with the state, Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Fish and Wildlife, which all make approval difficult due to stringent environmental standards.
He said the permitting, site selection and design processes would cost about $750,000, with construction in the several millions. On average, Thompson said he charges between $75,000 and $80,000 annually.