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Lake-building frenzy threatens waste, corruption

When the Monroe News-Star ran a series of articles highlighting the questionable wisdom of building more lakes and reservoirs in Louisiana, where it appeared several individuals stood to make huge financial gains out of the practice, one might have thought that, at least for this legislative session, lake fever might have cooled. Indeed, shortly thereafter, HB 518, which would have expanded the state’s power over land in Washington Parish for the purposes of building a lake, got buried in committee.

But never count out the resourcefulness of Louisiana legislators. Instead, a slightly-stripped down version of the bill (co-authored by Rep. Harold Ritchie, author of HB 518) by Sen. Ben Nevers, SB 278, flew through the Senate (twice) without a dissenting vote and drew just three nays in the House. Gov. Kathleen Blanco signed it into law before the end of the fiscal year.

Plenty of noxious features remained in it:

  • Any special expropriation powers were stripped, but that now is irrelevant given a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling which essentially allows taking of private property for any reason
  • Prior owners of land unused, who previously could get their land back at its fair market value, now only can get it back at the original expropriation price
  • Local taxes cannot be levied for the district that would create and run the lake, but it still can get money from the state to create it (and it continues to do so)
  • The board to run it would be appointed by local and state officials, a board with the power to award contracts worth tens of millions of dollars

    Given the incestuous relationships that appear among the principals who have created past lakes across the state and wish to continue to do so, the loose provisions in the act make it ripe for corrupt uses. As troubling is the penchant for the people involved to continue to give evasive or inaccurate information when queried about these projects.

    So, for example, Nevers says he will not profit financially from the proposed lake. However, he is an owner of and involved in several corporations which could stand to make big gains from any lake building or operation activities. His business partner Charles Mizell, who sits on the Washington Parish Reservoir Commission, in one forum claims provision of drinking water is the main purpose of the lake, yet this contradicts the enabling legislation.

    But the lake express continues to roll on. HB 123 passed to create a similar situation in Lincoln Parish, while SB 47 expanded the powers of a similar arrangement in Morehouse Parish. And the State Bond Commission reauthorized funding for Washington Parish’s.

    Why doesn’t the state slow down on this? The Sierra Club, which admittedly is usually wrong on the issues, is right on this one to request a moratorium on reservoir building until the matter is further studied. Why not assess the economic, environmental, and cultural impact, as a whole of this frenzy before money may get frivolously spent and lasting damage done (it’s kind of hard to un-build a lake)?

    And institute more-stringent standards regarding connections between state lawmakers, their appointees, and relatives who stand to gain from it all. While legislation is desirable here, it may not even take that. For example, Nevers and Mizell could pledge, right now, that as long as they remain in government service that they or any business in which they or their immediate relatives have an interest will not do business with any activity connected to these lakes.

    To ignore these items of common sense again leaves Louisiana wide open to the twin plagues of wasted resources and corrupt activities.
  • 1 comment:

    Anonymous said...

    Dear Jeff,

    Once upon a time, Citizens of the United States enjoyed private property rights.
    The Supreme Court decision Kelo v. City of New London ended these liberties.
    Liberties guaranteed by our Constitution are finally being taken away.

    In Louisiana, Legislation preceding this Supreme Court decision allows
    private property to be taken and transferred to another owner.
    Louisiana calls this Expropriation, which means to take without asking.
    Legislators are even proposing the taking of Cemetery property.

    House Bill 1136 in 2001 by Rep. Francis C. Thompson allows sale of land taken
    by Eminent Domain to Third Party without first offering to sell back to original

    Legislation affecting property at Reservoirs, Lakes, and near any River, Creek,
    or Bayou taken for Reservoir construction.

    Legislator Developer Thompson is realizing personal gain selling lakefront lots.
    He has legislation creating many reservoirs, and his brother is $100,000 a year
    per Lake consultant.

    Self-serving Legislator Developers are creating 14 more Reservoirs statewide.
    Lakes proposed for Economic Development by selling Lakefront lots,
    and increased tax base.

    Reservoirs will take churches, homes of old and poor, desecrate cemeteries,
    destroy wildlife and endangered species, and collect mercury-polluted water.

    Should the old and poor suffer to build wealthy lake retirement communities?
    Should taxpayers spend $40 to $50 million a lake to make developers wealthy?

    Legislators need to reconsider the Unchristian taking of homes, Churches,
    desecration of Cemeteries, and stop coveting thy neighbor's house.

    These great Real Estate deals are currently being brought to you by our
    Economic Development Policy, and use of our Taxpayer's money.
    Come and live in Louisiana, where your Property Rights are respected?


    Publisher: Community Preservation Alliance Websites.

    Community Preservation Alliance