One Last Hurdle For Bill To Kill Reservoir Commission

By BY JOHNNIE DANIEL,

State Senator Beth Mizell of Franklinton appeared before the state House of Representatives Transportation, Highways, and Public Works committee last Monday for discussion on Senate Bill 201 (SB201). Authored by Mizell, SB201 would repeal the law that established the Washington Parish Reservoir District. The bill would also transfer the remaining property and excess funds to the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism in support to the Bogue Chitto State Park. In her opening comments, the senator stated that she came before the committee in 2016 with a bill that was intended to repeal the reservoir district and ended up with "something that put the reservoir on life support."

"We took eminent domain away and since then the legislative auditor did a great job of going through and telling a story of the funds and the likelihood, or not likelihood, of the reservoir happening. This is a project that had possibilities, but has been a nightmare for the people sitting behind me," said the senator, while pointing to a group of Washington Parish residents that have family-owned property within the reservoir footprint.

"These people can't sell their property because of the idea of a reservoir flooding their property. They have homeland that has been there for generations that they dearly love that has been under the threat of becoming waterlogged for the last 16 years. This bill will rectify that and that's why I'm here today," said Mizell. "On the other side, this commission has spent $2.2 million for a box of paper and we've got nothing to show for it. It offends me on a lot of levels. It's something that has been a frustration for a very needy parish to have expended that kind of money on something that had no good outcomes."

Mizell said money remaining with the Reservoir Commission will be used specifically at the Bogue Chitto State Park. Approximately $712,000 will be transferred to the state park from the Reservoir Commission's remaining funds.

"Washington Parish will get an expansion of recreation and it will offer the people of Washington Parish some good outcome from the funds that were intended for the reservoir."

"This has been a long time coming," said State Rep. Malinda White of Bogalusa, who is a member of the committee. "There's been a lot of anxiety in our community over this for many years. It's been hanging in the balance and is something that needs to be put to rest and we have a great solution by removing it from this commission and moving it to the state park. "In essence, we're still going to attract tourism. There's lots of fishing and all these things at the state park. There is no one from our parish that is rejecting this now. They've come to the realization that this (reservoir) is not going to happen and right now there's no money to even make it happen," stated White.

SB201 also received support from Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser whose department oversees recreation and tourism in Louisiana. In a letter from his office, he voiced his support of the funds currently held by the reservoir commission going to the Bogue Chitto State Park to expand recreation there.

The bill has been approved by the Senate Finance Committee, and was passed on the Senate floor before being passed by the Committee on Transportation, Highways and Public Works. The bill now moves to the House floor which could be the final step if passed with no amendments. Once passed into law, the repeal of the Reservoir Commission becomes effective September 1, 2019. The transfer of funds to the state park will require a signature from the governor to complete the process.