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Reservoirs as economic development all wet, wasteful

Yesterday’s posting looked at the absurdity of claims the state needs more man-made reservoirs for water supply. The other main justification backers of these plans cite for their utility is building lakes is economic development – a fallacious claim if there ever was one.

In a way, it is true – as long as you are one of a handful of people intimately involved in the project, such as state Rep. Francis Thompson, his brother consultant Michael Thompson, and the engineering firm connected to the Thompsons, Denmon Engineering. All together, they have made roughly $7 million off of contracts and real estate sales.

While they have gotten the gold mine by Francis Thompson’s ability to muscle through legislation and funding for the Poverty Point Reservoir, the rest of the state has gotten the shaft. “Economic development” often is the rallying cry when somebody proposes spending public money on any capital item (which is not confined just to the state level of government), but that shoe never fits. Real economic development occurs when government sticks to funding transportation and utilities infrastructure but not much else, because the idea is to have government provide people with the means by which to engage in productive enterprise, not have government do it itself.

Creating a hole in the ground, filling it with water, and selling the land around it brings next to no economic activity, and certainly none that begins to justify the tens of millions of dollars each reservoir would cost. Note the crazy economic development theory behind this: if that’s all that it takes to develop the state economically, then flood the whole state. By Thompson’s logic, flooding brought by hurricanes Katrina and Rita was an economic development boon.

Tragically, this stupidity is shared by more incumbent legislators than just Thompson, indicated by the number of reservoir proposals floating around the state Legislature. It’s an example of pork-barreling and logrolling at its finest – get your fellow legislators to help pump huge taxpayer-funded construction dollars into an area for an unneeded lake and benefit a few people in the process, you do the same for them, and this buys reelection support for everybody involved. Meanwhile, the state is out hundreds of millions of dollars that could have gone for real economic development purposes such as working on the $14 billion roads backlog.

Thus it is a red herring to say that the state capital outlay appropriations process is a check on this wanton behavior – logrolling eliminates that. And the same applies for the fact that the Army Corps of Engineers must approve of any such project – it does so on the basis on environmental concerns, not on judging the policy merit of the idea.

The best checks are the new ones imposed by the state’s Department of Transportation and Development which state future projects must be in areas that rely on one of three major underground water systems — the Sparta, Chicot and Southeast Louisiana (also known as Southern Hills) aquifers. Further, a reservoir can’t be built unless supporters can show it would fill a water-supply need. These need to be strengthened.

And, in a sense, they should be retroactively applied. Gov. Kathleen Blanco and her successor should commit to vetoing out of the budget any money going to any proposal that does not meet these criteria; present projects in the pipeline can be reevaluated to see if they pass muster. Only in this way can Louisiana avoid another costly mistake like the Poverty Point Reservoir that serves only to line the pockets of a few and contributes to keeping Louisiana the poorest state in the Union.


Unknown said...

Come on, Professor. You need to stop attacking Francis Thompson for his shameful, crooked, unethical use of our hard earned tax dollars.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Bravo! It's about time someone tells like it REALLY is. I, too, have info from USGS stating that the major aquifer serving Washington Parish is not at death's door, as our senator says it is. Greed and apathy are making it a hard battle for those of us who will lose ancestral land, dig up our loved ones, and watch our veterans, who bled - even for freedom of the land grabbers , be driven from their homes. (We need a few Vets to picket the capital!) Thank you for promoting truth!! It is a rare thing these days.

Anonymous said...

After reading this I'm a little confused.At a meeting,I recorded
close to an hour of Senator Ben Nevers selling the Idea of the need of a reservoir for water needs. And where I live close to Pine,Franklinton LA. They were putting a well down to pump water out to sell to the public, and make people get rid of there wells.
Think about it people !