Jalon Beech spoke to the council regarding the proposed reservoir in Washington Parish. She said it was heartwarming to have other people speak out against the reservoir at the last meeting. When people learn the real facts, they are sickened by it. The majority of the people are against what the state and parish officials wish to do to the Oak Grove Community.
Residents of the community will be displaced off of their private property, so that the rich retirees can have nice homes around the lake. People water ski and fish over the burial places of our loved ones and this is not acceptable. Those who profit from this will not be my family, neighbors or the average citizen of this parish. Judging from past failed projects, the proposed reservoir will bring more poverty and disappointment. I maintain that the proposed reservoir in Washington Parish is not needed and is a waste of taxpayers’ money.
I suggest that the council study some successful models of counties and parishes across the nation who have brought successful constructive businesses that will provide real jobs. At the turn of the century, Washington Parish was booming with businesses and factories with the largest canning factory in the world, and our educational system was better than St. Tammany’s. Something happened to make our parish decline. We need to find answers to fix it but the reservoir is not the going to be the magic cure. Month after month, your constituents come before you asking for your support in stopping this reservoir and you do not offer one word of support and I would like to know why.
In response to Ms. Beech, Chairman Sharp said that there is a commission set up that is overseeing the reservoir project not the parish council. Genevieve Brannon asked didn’t you set up the commission? Chairman Sharp replied, “No, the governor did.” Ms. Brannon said, “Are you sure? I have something here that says the Parish Council recommended the members of the commission.” Chairman Sharp said, “We submitted names to the governor.”
Genevieve Smith Brannon,
President of the Washington Citizens for Conservation, spoke to the council to voice some concerns regarding the old Oak Grove community and the use of eminent domain for economic development.
She said the conservation group was deeply trouble by the SB278 egislation sponsored by Senator Ben Nevers and HB518 sponsored by Rep. Harold Ritchie making Washington Parish a reservoir district.
The bill have created a powerful Reservoir Commission of members recommended by our parish council and this commission has the power to expropriate people’s property and land in the name of economic development anywhere in the parish for reservoir or recreational lake projects.
We are concerned that there is not local accountability by this commission to the people of this parish.
My family goes back many generations in this parish. There are many old family homesteads throughout the parish that have nurtured and supported generations. This is our heritage, our history and the real backbone of our parish and rural culture.
The old Oak Grove community is living history and it makes less sense to flood it into oblivion than it does to flood Mile Branch. We all recognize that dramatic demographic changes are looming on the horizon for Washington Parish and most of us welcome that growth.
Five years ago, we called upon you to begin the task of planning and land use management, with guidelines for growth and an open dialogue with the citizens living here. Washington Parish can grow and prosper and that growth does not have to cost one group of people to benefit another.
If a private investor in Washington Parish wants to build a gated community or recreational lake, let him raise the capital, and let him pay fair market price for the land. That’s the old-fashioned way of doing business.
We oppose the forced taking of people’s property in the name of eminent domain for economic development to build an unnecessary reservoir in Washington Parish. We oppose legislation that creates commission or board that are not directly accountable to the very people whose lives and property they affect or influence. We oppose the forced taking of all private property, small businesses, family farms and houses of worship for so-called economic development and private economic gain.
Finally, the latest Supreme Court ruling regarding eminent domain puts the burden of responsibility back directly on the shoulders of the individual states. There are ten states currently forbid the use of eminent domain for economic development.
Lets start a grass roots effort at home to change or amend our state constitution to protect our property rights. As our elected representatives in parish government, we ask that you resolve to protect the property owners of Washington Parish form the abuses of eminent domain the name of economic development.
We also ask you support efforts to change or amend our state constitution to protect property owners from eminent domain abuses for economic development or private gain.
Mr.Pittman said he was dead set against the reservoir. The parish has contributed about $50,000 to the reservoir commission. Mr. Pittman showed the council a stick he found on his daddy’s property that was put there without his daddy’s permission. I pulled it up and called the parish to see if the parish was doing something because I respect the parish.
I found the little fellow who stuck that on my dad’s property and I asked where he was from and he said Ferriday, LA and he said the sticks were for surveying. I looked in the telephone book and found two surveyors in Washington Parish and I don’t know why they could not have been chosen. I thought with economic development, if you brought money into the parish, it was suppose to stay in the parish. I want you to explain to me how this money going out of the parish is helping us.
Mr. Pittman said he had always had respect for the council and had never raised his voice at anyone in anger or disrespect as we witnessed Mr. Taylor do at the last meeting. I understand this is not the first time this has happened. People, who vote and pay their taxes, pay your salaries and do not deserve to be treated and talked to like they are dogs. They are your bosses.
You are not the boss, we are. They deserve to be respected even if their opinion is different from yours. This behavior is unacceptable and unprofessional. I have always stood and listen to you and considered what you said to me. I have been told to watch what I say to you, so I guess the first amendment does not apply to me.
I have watched many people come and ask you for help. But when the people from Oak Grove asks for your help, you turn a deaf ear, as you are doing now, looking down and just waiting for me to through. Because it looks like you have more interest in a place to wet a hook, than the residents of the Oak Grove community, you are causing questions to be raised about what all of you have been promised and what are you going to get out of this reservoir.
Mr. Pittman said he loved his old home place just as much as he loved any one of his kids or family members and he would fight the council tooth and nail to keep it. My dad has come up here and begged you to help him and you stare at him like he is just an old country hick. I used my head the other day, instead of having that 25 year old kid arrested for not knowing where he was at, I let that kid go, but I cannot promise you I am going to do it twice.
Item No 6 – Sam Fauntleroy – Bogue Chitto State Park update - Architect for the project presented to the Council the status of the state park project. Located approximately four miles south of Franklinton off of Highway 25, detailed plans were shown and a detailed explanation of each area was given. Eighteen hundred acres of property, formerly known as Fricke Cave, has many beautiful scenic overlooks, streams, as well as lakes formed from the years of mining gravel, will be converted to a park without over developing. They will only cut what timber is absolutely necessary. The master plan has been approved and the funding is available. There will be a park hub where all information about the park is available and where all trails will go off of. Rental cabins, RV sites, group camps, primitive camping and day use will be offered.
Many of the sites will be located on the 32 acres of lakes, on the
canoeable streams or the Bogue Chitto River. Bike, walking and equestrian
trails will be offered and will be user friendly. Small, non gasoline
engine boats can be brought in. In addition, there will be interpretive
areas, an amphitheater, and children’s play areas with comfort stations. The
Corp of Engineers is reviewing the plans at this time. The construction process
has not been firmly made. Infrastructure may be done first and then
buildings/sites. That decision will be made as time progresses, but the
park should be completed within two years.
Councilman Sharp commented that the State Park and Reservoir are things we need in our parish. Councilman Wheat said approximately thirty minutes away the main industry is building. We will soon be experiencing more growing pains and the parish will experience changes. More changes will need to be made. We are doing the best we can and a lot of things have been done. Councilman Sharp continued that land use management issue is something that will be coming to our parish soon. Councilman Wheat stated one thing our parish does have that is a positive is natural resources.
Jalon Pittman Beech spoke to the council again asking for their support for the displacement of homes, people and cemeteries for a reservoir. She commented there will be ten lakes or so on the west side of the parish in the state park and she did not see any need for one in the middle of the parish. She stated, in her opinion, if the Reservoir Commission had chosen the Ben’s Creek area for the reservoir fewer people would have been displaced. She again asked the council for their support.
Kenneth Clayton addressed the council and stated he was from the Lee’s Creek area of the parish. He has been in favor and voted for various taxes – for the roads, school, fire etc, but he does not support the reservoir and forcing people to move from their homes and places in the Oak Grove Community.
Murphy Pittman spoke to the council and reminded them he too is against the reservoir, but he was asking the council for their support of a different nature tonight. He described the oldest log home in the parish located outside of Mile Branch. Belonging to the Moore family and owned by his father at this time. People come to sit on the porch and feel a connection. They feel drawn to this place. They hear and tell tall tales and big fish stories also – It is a place of rustic beauty and historical heritage. He shared the genealogical line. Because of the heritage and history of the place he asked the council to recognize this as a historical landmark. Councilman Sharp stated the parish does not have that authority but referred him to the Varnado Museum and they could provide information about getting the home on the National Historic Register.
Mr. Nevels Pittman addressed the council saying he is also known as “Pete” – his homestead will be one of the first ones gone if the reservoir is constructed. In his opinion he feels there will not be enough jobs generated from the reservoir project to merit taking of people’s property in the Oak Grove Community. Also, the construction of this reservoir will close many of the main road ways creating a problem and longer commute for those people traveling from Bogalusa to Franklinton and for those traveling from Pine/Thomas to Covington. Many of those people cut through on the Lee Road at this time. In addition, for some people to go down the road to church or the store may mean a longer way around. You helped the Poole’s Bluff area stay open. I am asking for your support against the reservoir.
Item No. 9 – Parish President’s Report
**President Taylor reported that to say we have not supported the people in the Oak Grove Community in their stand against the reservoir is not quite accurate. The Parish requested of our legislators some changes in the language of the law. In the session just recently ended, legislation was changed to take property for water only – not any other property – that would remain as free enterprise. The terms of the Reservoir Commissioners was also changed. We did express what we were unhappy with and our Senator and Representatives listened. If it comes to a local tax we are opposed to that.
**President Taylor reminded the council of the Community Development Grant and we need to begin to focus on that. Historically we have done roads and/or water. There is a group north of Franklinton that is interested in doing a community center; however this is not the time to proceed with that. It was verbally agreed to proceed with one on roads and one on water and to begin with both.
Jalon Pittman Beech addressed the council –
she described the assets and natural beauty of each part of the parish including the beautiful Bogue Lusa Creek – Because of the availability of potable water she does not see a need for a reservoir. In addition, she stated she had spoken with Representative Harold Ritchie and it was of his opinion the economic development the reservoir would bring to the parish would be the construction of beautiful homes around the lake.
She stated she feels it is disrespectful to both the living and dead to construct a reservoir over the Oak Grove community. She said this act is not acceptable to her and others and asked the parish council to withdraw it’s support of the reservoir and to give their support to saving the Oak Grove community.
Jimmy “Jim” Stokes addressed the council explaining he also is opposed to the taking of land and homes for a reservoir. On May 24th he met with the Reservoir Commission as a public participant and voiced his opposition. He understands there is a million and one half dollars to be made available to the reservoir commission during the fiscal year 2005-2006 and to be funneled through the Washington Parish Council.
He presented to the council a petition with signatures opposing a reservoir that takes the land and homes from people. He further explained that Mike Thompson , Consultant to the Reservoir Commission, said at Poverty Point the cemeteries were covered by the water deep enough that they couldn’t get to the graves and the tombstones were raised. Mr. Stokes explained this is very unspiritual and would not be acceptable.