Poverty Point Reservoir

In Hurricane ravaged Louisiana, drowning in water and political corruption, money flows to build 14 new Reservoirs. Gov. Kathleen Blanco supports waste of Billions with 150 natural and 30 man-made existing lakes. Self-serving Politicians using Eminent Domain and tax money to build reservoirs are realizing personal gain.

Louisiana is in the residential Real Estate business. Legislator Developer Rep. Francis C. Thompson has Lakefront lots for sale at Poverty Point Reservoir and State Park located in Richland Parish 3 miles north of Delhi off La. 17.

The 2,700-acre reservoir, located in the Mississippi River alluvial flood plain has southern and northern dams extending from Bayou Macon to the Macon Ridge, an east levee, a tainter gated outfall structure, and a perimeter roadway.

Lacking natural flowing streams, the reservoir required diversion of the existing Cypress Bayou, closure dam in Cypress Bayou, diversion channel from Cypress Bayou to Macon Bayou, and a new bridge on LA Hwy 17.

Poverty Point Reservoir, Lacking natural flowing streams uses six pumps to supply water to the lake. Two large 36'' inch diameter pumps supply water from Bayou Macon, a ditch bayou flowing from Lake Chicot in Arkansas.

Poverty Point still uses four large bore 16" inch Mississippi Aluvial Aquifer water wells as a source of water for the lake.

Poverty point is clouded in a controversy of Political wrong doing, and possible illegal activities. Politicians using Eminent Domain and tax money are profiting. Eminent Domain was used, and 26 pieces of property taken to build the lake.

Thanks to residents of Delhi, La for pictures below, and details about possible wrong doing of Cypress timber cut and hauled at night after property was obtained by the state. Other possible wrong doing reported is rock intended for the lake used on private property, and rock taken from Madison Port used on private lots for seawalls.

Poverty Point Reservoir, created 1992 by Rep. Francis C. Thompson with brother Michael Thompson as consultant, built by Denmon Engineering has cost taxpayers over $40 Million Dollars with $3.5 million approved for 2005.
Federal money obtained by Sen. Mary Landrieu adds another $1 million for 2005.

Will the Millions of Dollars continue to flow like water year after year forever?
Poverty point is receiving $3.5 million for 2006 with $500,000 in cash from the state General Fund. Thompson's Reservoir Development Fund, House Bill No. 1129 of 2006 secured another $980,000 in cash for the Golf Course.

Rep. Thompson's Legislation is creating Reservoirs in Richland, Ouachita, Allen, Caldwell, Morehouse, and he has promoted them in Washington and other Parishes with $41,975,000 approved for 12 in 2004, and $55.2 million in 2005.
Thompson's brother is consultant on 7 of 8 lakes receiving $39,490,000 for 2006 .

In 2001, Rep. Francis C. Thompson created House-Bill 1136 allowing sale of land taken by Eminent Domain to a Third-Party.
Thompson and his next-door neighbor are now selling Lakefront-lots.

Legislator Developer Rep. Francis Thompson’s Cypress Cove at Poverty Point-LLC is selling Lake front lots.
Picture below shows Thompson's 12-acre dogleg Peninsula with rock lined seawall lots for sale.

Thompson's pier and boathouse with use of Cypress, and same color roofing tin as State Lodges and Cabins.
Francis is currently building a $300,000 home on one of his lakefront lots. (Below: View from other side of Peninsula)
Thompson's friend purchasing one of his lots is William R. Coenen, Jr. also in real estate as Coenen Properties-LLC, legal council for the Reservoir Commission, and District Attorney for Richland Parish.

Michael L. Thompson
in real estate, former Delhi Mayor now Consultant receives $100,000 a year per lake for Allen, Washington, Morehouse, Caldwell, LaSalle, and has proposed Reservoirs in Ouachita, Jackson and Lincoln parishes.

Thompson was Director of Poverty Point Reservoir, and a former business partner of the lake builder Parish Engineer Terry D. Denmon of Denmon Engineering. Thompson is now director of the Golf Course.

Gov. Blanco's transition team member, Mike Thompson’s Commerce Industry Board position is questionable.
Nepotism, Cronyism, conflicts of interest, and ethics violations seem to exist.

Michael L. Thompson's Consultant office located at 5222 Highway 17 Delhi, LA is built out of Cypress, and across the highway from the lake, and his brother Clyde Thompson's Lakefront house.

The first rock-covered driveway in the foreground is the driveway to Mike's home.
Aerial view of lots, and private road taxpayers paid for. Taxpayers paid $1.2 million for Poverty Point Island Lots development with a $2.2 million keyed gate entry private road sold for $621,200 dollars to Thompson's neighbor.

Those developers who began the project as a private enterprise worked out an arrangement with the Office of State Parks to retain land within the park for private residential development. Private residents use an electronic card to gain access to their property at any time of the day or night. "It was a big step for the parks department to get involved in something like this," Taylor said. (Billy Gibson LOUISIANA COUNTRY May 2004) Louisiana is in the residential Real Estate business.

Thompson's neighbor Frank E. Maxwell Jr. is selling lots as Settlers Point under Poverty Point Development Company-LLC. The partners have also established Settler's Point Homeowners Association-INC.
Maxwell is director of Ouachita Independent Bank; available for lot financing, and his co-partner Shelton T. Parker, Jr., and Lawrence W. Pickett are also directors of Commercial Capital Bank.

Official bank for the Poverty Point Reservoir District, Guaranty Bank directors are Frank E. Maxwell, III, co-partner of Settlers Point, and William R. Coenen, Jr., legal council for the Reservoir district.

Delhi Residents say, "Thompson possibly angry with Maxwell because Denmon Engineering was not used for additional development installed the Keycard entry gate, and raises questions of possible kickbacks".

Is Denmon Engineering, always the selected contractor, a possible violation of open bidding law due to HCR60 by Francis Thompson in 2003 saying D.O.T.D. may select who they want?
Rep. Thompson, and Denmon both serve on Aquaculture Advisory Council.

Denmon, Vice Chairman of Wildlife-Fisheries may be a conflict of interest, and his lake-site selections may destroy Scenic streams, Wildlife, and Endangered species he is supposed to protect. Denmon receives $800,000 for site selection report.

Clyde Nolan Thompson 2 story Lakefront home built of Cypress is located at 5227 Highway 17 Delhi, LA.
Clyde is director of the Madison Port, and retired teacher, but lists occupation as farmer on Campaign contributions.

Could Clyde be receiving financial aid or grants as a farmer since his brother Francis is on Agriculture Committee?
Delhi Residents say private boat ramps are prohibited at Poverty Point, but Clyde and Reservoir Commission member James Strong seem to enjoy special privileges and excluded from this rule. Clyde's rock-covered driveway is on the left.

The old Poverty Point Reservoir Commission office, taken by Eminent Domain was transfered to Office of State Parks.
Residents say, Mr. Joe Amacker's home was condemed because his carport would possibly flood, and
Reservoir Commission member (Jimmy) James T. Strong took the property for money he had loaned him.
Jan 14, 2004 transfered to State Parks along with Marina, Cabins, and Gatehouse.

The New Poverty Point Reservoir Commission office is located at 5819 Highway 17 Delhi, LA 71232.
Kathy Cleveland was, or is, the Secretary for the Reservoir Commission with pamphlets of lots for sale in her office.
The Lake was filled with water in 2001. She has been there since the beginning in 1992.
On Oct 20, 2005, Richland Parish Sheriff Charles McDonald says 53-Year-old Kathy Cleveland of EPPS is charged with two counts of Felony and 16 counts of Forgery in connection with the Alleged embezzlement of $150,000 in Reservoir District Funds. After she was booked into the Richland Parish Detention Center, Cleaveland was released on bond of $187,500. McDonald said Investigators had determined the thefts had occured over a five-year-period, dating back to 2000.

She is believed to be the key to exposing political wrong doing in the controversial Poverty Point lake project. District attorney Billy Cohen has recused himself from the case since he is also legal counsel to the Poverty Point District.
The matter was referred to Attorney General Charles Foti who has launched a pilot program to encourage treatment instead of jail for persons caught embezzling because of a gambling habit. . . could it be that Cathy Kleveland has embezzling money because of a gambling habit?

Business is Booming at Poverty Point.


The Joke of Louisiana Political Profiteering

By Christopher Tidmore

As she opened the regular legislative session, Governor Blanco went off the official text--released to the press and originally published here on Bayoubuzz.com.
When discussing the state purchase of land in North Louisiana, Blanco added, "Before you jump to a conclusion, let me assure you Francis Thompson does not own the land."

That line, as columnist Charlie Davis has observed, "brought down the house". It did so with good reason. Rep. Francis Thompson has created a multimillion dollar business regarding state purchases of rural land--and converting that land into artificial lakes. From profiting on property sales on land that the State Representative owns and converting into new lakes to collecting large consulting fees for the construction of the artificial reservoirs, his family has financially benefited off this state program.

For example as the Monroe News Star pointed out, Rep. Thompson's brother Michael receives a consulting fee of $100,000 per year per lake for the construction of the artificial reservoirs in rural areas--paid for by the state.

According to news sources, Mike Thompson is the Reservoir governmental consultant for Allen, Washington, Morehouse, Caldwell, and LaSalle parishes, and proposed Reservoir projects in western Ouachita, Jackson, and Lincoln parishes. Thanks mainly to the intervention of his legislator brother, the state approved $41,975,000 approved for 12 new reservoirs in 2004.

Moreover, Francis Thompson seems to be helping his brother and close political ally Terry Denmon of Denmon Engineering by creating Reservoirs in Richland, Ouachita, Allen, Caldwell, Morehouse, promoting them in Washington, and other Parishes.

Currently, there are thirty lakes, fourteen of them artificial, supported in the legislature by Thompson, as economic development projects. They certainly have helped the Thompson family.

As the News Star and talkshow host Moon Griffon have pointed out, the most famous Poverty Point Reservoir, created in 1992 by Rep. Francis Thompson, was built by political ally Terry Denmon with Michael Thompson as project Director, and now as the well paid director of the Golf Course. The keyed gate entry began by Legislator Developers as private enterprise has cost taxpayers $40 Million approved for 2005.

An Audit in 2002, reported by the newspaper, shows Taxpayers paid $1.2 million to develop the island lots at Poverty Point Reservoir sold for $621,200 dollars to Thompson´s neighbor. Audit also shows Taxpayers paid $2.2 Million for keyed gate entry private road to the lots, and $.3 million for an office protection system or burglar alarm. Legislator Developer Thompson's CYPRESS COVE AT POVERTY POINT-LLC, and his next-door neighbor are realizing personal gain selling Lakefront lots.

(Interestingly, Rep. Thompson passed House Bill 1136 in 2001 allowing sale of land taken by Eminent Domain to Third Party without first offering to sell back to original owner, a matter in part under debate in this current session.)

Desire to protect his profitable side venture may have led Thompson to a quid pro quo with Francis Heitmeier over the maneuvers to kill the unified Levee Board, in fact.

In the closing days of the Special Session, Senator Francis Heitmeier attempted countless parliamentary procedures to amend, undermine, and even kill Senator Walter Boasso's unified regional levee board. While a two board solution did emerge, thanks in large part to the West Bank Democrat, attempts to undermine the required appointment of qualified engineers and hydrologists to the panels was not as successful.

Heitmeier's hostility to the single levee board surprised few in the media. Members of the Senator's own family received multi-million dollar contracts from the Orleans Levee District, not to mention the largess enjoyed Heitmeier's friends and political allies.

Less well observed was the alliance of Heitmeier's friend in the House, Rep. Francis Thompson, in every corresponding parliamentary maneuver to kill the single board. The North Louisiana legislator had seemingly little to gain from the change in Levee construction oversight.

However, Thompson was almost as vigilant as Heitmeier at times. Insiders, who asked not to be named, tell Bayoubuzz.com that the reason was simple. They say the North Louisianan owed the West Bank Orleanian for the latter's aid in building artificial lakes across rural Louisiana

Alliance alleges wrongdoing

Members say politics play role in proposed Allen Parish reservoir project


MITTIE — The Community Preservation Alliance says it been playing "connect-the-dots" for months in its investigating sweetheart deals designed to benefit a group of the state’s most politically connected.

"We are the ones that will ultimately foot the bill for this. This is not just a local issue," said alliance member George Perkins. "I think we have ample documentation to raise some questions."

Among those politically connected that the alliance alleges of wrongdoing are Michael L. Thompson, a consultant for the proposed Allen Parish reservoir; and his legislator brother, state Rep. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi.

In 1990, state Rep. Thompson pushed for legislation to create the Poverty Point Reservoir District. In 1992, his brother was hired as consultant on the project, which was estimated to have cost $27 million, though that sum is being disputed by those who opposed the reservoir.

Michael Thompson, who owns an administrative governmental consulting firm in Delhi, has worked with several reservoir projects across the state other than Poverty Point. The other reservoir projects include Caldwell and Washington parishes.

Thompson denies using his brother’s political connections to benefit his lake projects. He said he was sought out to help develop reservoirs due to his experience.

"I was asked by the Police Jury and elected officials to come to Allen to do the lake because I had experience at it,’’ Thompson said last week. ‘‘They came to me for the same reasons the rest of them do — because of the experience.’’

Alliance members’ allegations aren’t new to Thompson, however. He’s been reading the claims on newspaper message boards posted by individuals who also allege wrongdoing, he said.

‘‘I’m not the issue, the issue is where the project goes,’’ Thompson said. ‘‘Hopefully, we will select a site that’s good for everybody in the parish."

Alliance members believe the reservoir is benefiting Thompson and Terry Denmon, project engineer.

The Allen Parish Reservoir Commission is obligated to pay Denmon $794,035 for engineering, auditing, administrative consulting and technical assistance related to professional services.

The commission also agreed to pay Thompson $75,000 a year for his services. He’ll be paid for the duration of the Allen project, along with others he’s helping develop.

Alliance members believe the money can be better spent in a state that finishes last in everything but political corruption.

"I can’t understand why the government would commit millions of dollars to this issue when those millions of dollars could be better spent," said alliance president Charles Horton.

"You give this parish the money you’ve committed to Thompson and Denmon this last year and let us solve some of the problems that face us today."

Alliance members also question conflicts of interest with Denmon and Rep. Thompson.

Both serve on the Aquaculture Advisory Council of Louisiana, and Denmon sits on the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission for the state.

Denmon’s position on the commission is worrisome to the alliance because that panel would have an influence if Ten and Six Mile creeks are removed from the scenic river system to accommodate the proposed lake.

"I am amazed that the governor would have a commissioner who directly impacts this," Horton said. "Denmon can’t tell me he’s never talked about his projects to other commissioners. That would be a question I would pose to the legislative auditor."

Besides the Allen project, Denmon and Michael Thompson work together on lake projects.

The two were also co-owners of Bayou Cajun Foods in 1994, according to records obtained through the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office.

Those same records show that Bayou Cajun Foods is no longer in business.

Thompson has or continues to be affiliated with several other entities, including the Water Resource Group, Louisiana Purchase Land and Title Company, Richland Land Company, Delhi Industrial Group and South Delta Resource Company.

He said he doesn’t see political connections as alliance members do.

"This is not about me or Terry Denmon or conflicts of interest. I know of no conflicts of interest," he said.

Alliance member Margie Turner is one of several members who has asked Thompson who supplied the money for the reservoirs statewide. She said the only answer she’s received is that the money is from Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development funds.

"If it comes from DOTD funds, where were they put in there from?" she asked.

Turner believes the lake decision would have been made much sooner if the residents of Ten and Six Mile had remained quiet.

"Until we started raising a ruckus about Ten Mile, it was Ten Mile," Turner said.

Some in the alliance first learned of the reservoir through newspaper articles. The Allen Parish Reservoir District only recently began publishing its minutes at the alliance’s urging.

"We couldn’t get information that was affecting our community. No matter where we went, we weren’t finding information until we got our dander up and hackles raised," Perkins said.

He said he believes that "higher-ups" felt the Allen Parish reservoir would be an easy project to make easy profits at the sacrifice of residents.

"I really believe in my heart of all hearts they thought that they’d come in here and push this down our throats because they think we’re nothing but a bunch of hicks out here," he said.

Turner agreed.

"I’ll believe that until my dying day," she said.

Army corps to make recommendation on reservoir site

Residents living on proposed site, lawmakers want project abandoned

Sep 8, 2004 Metro-State Page 11

MITTIE — Residents of two rural Allen Parish communities will have to wait until later this month to learn the fate of their homes.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will make its final recommendation in two or three weeks on the site of the proposed Allen Parish Reservoir, said state Sen. Don Hines, D-Bunkie.

Hines and state Rep. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, wrote the reservoir legislation in April 2002. The bill was sponsored by state Rep. Herman Ray Hill, D-Dry Creek.

Hines, the Senate president, said that when he was elected in 1993, Allen Parish residents favored a reservoir, but that no one considered the displacement of homes — a certainty if the Six Mile and Ten Mile communities are selected as the site.

Mill Creek, located in the center of the West Bay Game Preserve, is the only site where homes would not be compromised.

Hines and Hill are urging the Allen Parish Reservoir Commission not to approve a site that will claim scenic rivers or homes. The two lawmakers plan to meet with the commission chairman, Phil Beard, on Thursday to voice their concerns on the proposed sites.

‘‘I think if they (Corps of Engineers) recommend anything other than Mill Creek, we should abandon the project even though we’ve spent quite a bit of money doing environmental impact studies,’’ Hines said Friday.

Hines’ words come as a relief to members of the Community Preservation Alliance — a group of residents opposed to the lake’s placement in the two communities.

For months, residents have cast a watchful eye on the issue, researching legislation, political affiliations and reservoir projects across the state to learn how the idea of a reservoir in their back yards was birthed.

In their quest to know more, alliance members believe they’ve found potential wrongdoing — ranging from suspicious legislation to inappropriate political connections — linked to the development of state reservoir projects.

They hope the information will prompt Gov. Kathleen Blanco to call for an investigation into the alleged political corruption.

The alliance believes reservoirs are being built statewide at the expense of taxpayers, and are not economic development vehicles or means for safeguarding the future of the state’s water supply as some claim.

Members believe the projects financially benefit a few of the state’s politically connected residents.

‘‘I think it’s worthy of an internal (state) investigation within the state,’’ said alliance president Charles Horton.

The history

After legislation was approved to create the Allen Parish Reservoir District, Gov. Mike Foster appointed five lake commissioners: Buddy Farris of Oakdale, Roland Hollins of Mittie, Gary Pelican of Kinder, Billy Reeves of Reeves and Phil Beard of Oberlin, chairman.

Farris and Hollins are Allen Parish police jurors, Reeves is a former police juror and Beard is Oberlin mayor.

Commissioners were given the authority to select a lake site, contingent on environmental opinions from the Corps of Engineers.

Michael Thompson, former Delhi mayor and a member of Blanco’s transition team, was hired as project consultant. He’s the brother of state Rep. Francis Thompson, who wrote several reservoir-related legislative measures, including Allen Parish’s.

Denmon Engineering of Monroe was selected as the project’s engineering firm. The company has also worked on the Poverty Point Reservoir, Bayou DeChene Reservoir in Caldwell Parish, Castor Creek Reservoir in Rapides Parish and the West Ouachita Reservoir in Ouachita Parish.

For months, the commission has been waiting on the opinion from the corps to make the final announcement.

The alliance hopes its communities are not selected. But if the decision goes against them, they are prepared.

‘‘We are going to try to do it like professionals and then when it gets unprofessional, we’re going to drop the hammer,’’ said member Bob Simmons.

Legislative oddities

Questions about the reservoir project’s legislative history are being raised by the alliance, which believes the opinions and livelihood of voters and taxpayers were never considered.

In the original Allen Parish legislation, a section provides for the expropriation of land. Taxes can also be levied for the project after the lake is built.

The lake district can acquire by ‘‘purchase, donation, expropriation, or otherwise every type and species of property, including servitudes and rights-of-use necessary to its purpose, and may lease, build, operate and maintain any works or machinery designed to accomplish the purposes of the district.’’

Alliance member James Moore thinks this is tantamount to stealing.

‘‘Expropriation means to take without asking,’’ he said. ‘‘It is more or less stealing.’’

Horton agrees. He said government has always used expropriation in the building of roadways, but in a case where scenic waterways — Six and Ten Mile creeks — would be destroyed, along with homes and lives, he doesn’t see the logic.

‘‘This would not be out of necessity, it would be for pleasure,’’ Horton said. ‘‘It makes absolutely no sense to me.’’

Other legislation that the group finds troubling has little to do with Allen Parish, however. Concerns have been raised over provisions made for Richland Parish’s Poverty Point, a project for which Michael Thompson also consults.

The Poverty Point project began in 1992 and is now touted as a model lake.

Legislation passed in 2001, sponsored by state Rep. Thompson, makes it possible to sell land taken by eminent domain to a third party without offering it back to the original owner.

Moore felt so strongly about these issues that he recently wrote Blanco formally questioning the legislation.

‘‘The misuse of eminent domain and expropriation, and the large amounts of money available for economic development, hundreds of millions of dollars per lake, may be leading to wrongdoing,’’ he wrote.

‘‘The state of Louisiana seems to be in the real estate business and able to offer great deals on lakefront property complete with golf courses, recreation areas and keyed gate entry lakefront homes.’’

The alliance also questions the connection between Michael Thompson and his legislator brother, who was involved in reservoir lawmaking.

Thompson denies that he has used his brother’s position to benefit himself.

‘‘That’s like saying, because your brother is a doctor, you get free prescriptions," Thompson said last week. "There’s not much of a basis for that."

Questions remain

Alliance members say they are thankful legislators worked to get the Six and Ten Mile streams listed on the scenic river system years ago — which has given some protection to the sites.

But they question why engineering studies were ever performed on the creeks since they are protected waterways.

‘‘Why are we spending the state’s money doing studies and surveys on two locations where they can’t build anyway, other than the fact that we are lining some people’s pockets?" Horton said.

Alliance members’ aims are to raise public awareness on the issue and get answers to questions they say have been ignored.

They are relying on local legislators to work with the commission to resolve the issues. Also, members don’t believe that Hines and Hill were given the full scope of the project when it was first introduced.

‘‘Initially, if I was a politician and you told me you were going to spend $25 to $40 million dollars in my parish, I would have been gung-ho for it. I don’t fault them for that,’’ Horton said.

Alliance members say they won’t rest easy until they know exactly where their communities stand.

‘‘I’d much would rather be at home watching LSU," Simmons said.

‘‘I’d rather be doing anything than fighting this, but I’m willing to sacrifice and work hard to see that our mission is accomplished.’’

Reservoirs: Money flows; water doesn't

May 29, 2005 By Mike Hasten mhasten@gannett.com and Jordan Blum jblum@thenewsstar.com

BATON ROUGE -- Louisiana is investing heavily in the creation of artificial lakes deemed necessary by some to solve water shortages.

Others question whether the lakes are being built more for water or commercial development and who would profit from the state's expenditures.

State lawmakers are debating legislation to create five reservoirs patterned after the 2,700-acre state-funded Poverty Point Reservoir built in Richland Parish.

If approved, Louisiana would have 14 such projects on the books. Most have received state funding over the past 10 years.

So far, only one -- Poverty Point Reservoir -- is complete. The 13 others, despite funding appropriated and spent, hold no water.

The man at the epicenter of the booming business of state-financed lake construction is state Rep. Francis Thompson. The Delhi Democrat pushed the legislation that created Poverty Point Reservoir. And he helped secure almost $40 million in state funding for the project, plus another $1 million in federal funding.

His son is on the lake commission. His brother Mike landed the lucrative job of director of Poverty Point Reservoir and other lake districts. And Terry Denman, Mike Thompson's former business partner, did the engineering and construction work on Poverty Point Reservoir. Mike Thompson and Denman also are involved in other lake districts.

Francis Thompson, as owner of a 12-acre peninsula and abutting land on Poverty Point Reservoir, also takes on the title of developer. Thompson said he paid about $10,000 per acre for the land. Lakefront lots, each less than an acre, are marketed for $27,000 to $50,000. Thompson would not specify how much his lots sold for.

The primary push for reservoir construction is in north Louisiana, where the Sparta Aquifer is low. It provides water to all or parts of 16 parishes, including Bienville, Bossier, Caddo, Claiborne, Lincoln, Natchitoches, Sabine and Webster. Wells in some areas have gone dry. And water quality in some areas is poor.

But some of the proposed lakes are to be built in areas of the state with no water crisis.

Poverty Point is not in the Sparta Aquifer area, but the need for drinking water in northeast Louisiana was a primary argument for building the reservoir.

"When we built Poverty Point, we built it for water," Francis Thompson said. "We have a pump to extract water, but we're not selling it right now. Will it ever be used for drinking water? I hope so."

Reservoir critic James Moore of Allen Parish, where a proposed lake threatened to take his property, said what he's seen at Poverty Point and heard in reservoir planning meetings indicates water is just an excuse being used to secure permits and state funding for reservoirs so some people can make money.

"They're not being built for water; they're built for money. They're taking people's homes to resell as new homes and golf courses."

Moore has documented most of his claims online at www.angelfire.com/gundam/reservoir. And he questions why so many lakes are being proposed.

"The water level in a lot of our aquifers has come down over the years, not just the Sparta," Thompson said, so reservoirs are needed to relieve some of the strain on aquifers. "It takes a long time to come down, but it takes even longer to recharge them. It's not like recharging a battery."

In 1977, Thompson gained approval of legislation calling for a study of building a reservoir in northeast Louisiana. Later, he authored legislation to create a board with powers to expropriate property and use state, local and federal funds to build a lake. State funding followed.

Thompson's legislation, which he says he borrowed from other states where reservoirs have been built, has been used as a model for similar projects and is being used this year as lawmakers seek reservoirs in Lincoln, Morehouse, Allen and Washington parishes.

Providing drinking water is a major factor in whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will issue permits for reservoir construction, Mike Thompson said.

Although parishes that develop lakes enjoy economic development, the permit application has to show a "justified" need, he told Lincoln Parish officials in a meeting during which they considered applying for a lake. "In this case, it would be water. You have a significant problem with the Sparta, which makes it easier to develop a reservoir. Economic development would be a by-product.

"I'll file all the capital outlay requests," Mike Thompson told Lincoln officials. "This is a political process as well as an economic process. And I have experience in both."

Mike Thompson also once was director of a state-funded rural development program.

"In all honesty, we're riding the coattails of the need for water," Choudrant Mayor Bill Sanderson said in an interview following that meeting. "But the biggest impact is economic development. We have to be realistic about that."

Beth Guines, regulatory branch chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg, Miss., said the Corps takes a close look at projects before issuing permits. If it's a reservoir in an area without a critical water shortage, applicants must show that there's no alternative water source and that it's the least environmentally damaging location.

"We need to know the purpose of the project, whether it's for recreation or water supply. We want the details."

Guines' office looks at public interest factors, wildlife safety, the amount of land that would be taken from wildlife and people and other factors. If wetlands or streams are harmed, mitigation would be required.

Reps. Hollis Downs, R-Ruston, and Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, used the beleaguered Sparta Aquifer in their legislative arguments for constructing reservoirs in their districts. Both bills are awaiting final passage by the Senate, having already been approved by the House of Representatives and a Senate committee.

Rep. Mike Powell, R-Shreveport, asked about the cost of the project. Downs said it is "subject to a guess" but estimated $25 million. He also said it would not interfere with a proposal to pipe drinking water from Lake D'Arbonne in Union Parish and would partner with that project because "not one thing is going to solve the problem."

Powell said he's concerned about how much the state is spending on lake projects "when we have so many other needs. Where is this on our priority scale?"

The $39.7 million in new reservoir projects and more than $20 million in improvements to existing reservoirs in the capital outlay bill, the state's prioritized construction plan, have top-level funding. For most, planning, engineering and construction funds are ranked Priority 1 and 2 in a five-step plan. Priority 1 is immediate funding and Priority 2 is within six months.

A reservoir for neither Lincoln nor Jackson is in the bill.

Actual funding, though, depends on the Division of Administration and the state Bond Commission, which must approve the revenue bond-sponsored construction projects.

In their Senate Transportation Committee testimony, Downs and Fannin repeated the need for water.

"In our part of the state, our aquifer, the Sparta Aquifer, is under duress," Downs told the committee prior to it approving the bill and setting up final consideration by the Senate.

While parish officials support the projects, not everyone sees it as the best way to obtain water or a sure thing that a permit will be approved.

United States Geological Survey supervisory hydrologist Ben McGee has said he's unsure Lincoln could secure a permit for a reservoir for drinking water. "In my mind, justifying a lake in Lincoln Parish would have to come from the economic development area -- recreation, tourism and retirement -- not water.

"We already have a captured resource in Lake D'Arbonne," he said. "I think before we consider building new lakes, we should look at utilizing existing ones. With a lake, the major justification would fall on economic development."

Pumping water from Lake D'Arbonne would be much less expensive and quicker than building a lake, he said, and both would need a treatment plant to make the water fit to drink.

Fannin said a reservoir could ease a large Jackson paper mill's draw on the aquifer in his district. But officials with the Smurfit-Stone paper mill question the project.

Thompsons cash in on lake

Lawmaker, brother profit in developing state-financed reservoir
BATON ROUGE — State Rep. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, said he saw long before Poverty Point Reservoir was filled that there was money to be made from water.

"In the 1970s, I recognized that water was going to be a commodity," he said. "That was when people first started talking about bottling water." Back then, he was making money as vice president of Terry Bass Boats, one of the most popular fishing boats of its day.

Now he sees yet another way.

"I know the value of a lake," Thompson said. From visiting numerous reservoirs in the hills of Arkansas and Missouri that have major developments around them, he developed the idea of a reservoir in his own district in Madison and Richland parishes.

"I decided this was the best thing I could do for my area," more than roads or other projects usually sought by rural legislators, he said. "We could spend a lot of money trying to attract an industry that might pick up and leave, but a lake is not going anywhere."

The 2,700-acre Poverty Point Reservoir is open for business — residential housing business, that is — outside of Thompson's hometown of Delhi in Richland Parish. He wishes the reservoir were twice that size.

He plans to start construction next month on his own lakeside home, built on a lake peninsula he owns.

Thompson authored legislation in 1977 to study the prospect of a lake in northeastern Louisiana. But it was several years before funds were provided to start buying property. He since authored legislation allowing lake commissions to expropriate property, and if landowners didn't want to sell, they could go to court.

"Fortunately, we did not have to go to court on any of our properties," he said, recalling the beginnings of the reservoir. "Properties were pretty cheap during those days. We purchased properties at very reasonable rates.

"This land was worth less than $1,000 an acre," he said, describing it as poor farmland amid woods and an area that held water when it rained. "And now we've got all these improvements. We've got more development there now than what the lake cost."

Thompson estimated the reservoir's cost at $27 million when completed. But records show the Department of Transportation and Development spent more than $34 million since the beginning and another $1.5 million is proposed in the 2005-06 state spending bill. Records show a total of $36.6 million is already set aside for the project.

The lake has a series of high-ground fingers that extend into the water. Some occurred naturally, but others were built up before the lake was filled. Each has been developed for building houses.

A 2002 audit signed by Poverty Point Lake Director Mike Thompson, Francis Thompson's brother, shows the state paid $1.2 million to build some "island lots." The same audit shows the lake commission sold them for $621,000.

Francis Thompson owns one of the peninsulas and is selling lots for home construction as Cypress Cove at Poverty Point LLC. He said he paid about $10,000 an acre — "the appraised value" — for the 12-acre peninsula and abutting land area and paid to extend a road and utilities to the lots.

Each residential lakefront lot, less than an acre, sells for between $27,000 and $50,000 at the reservoir, he said.

Thompson's "island" property is divided into 15 lots. Among his neighbors is District Attorney William R. Coenen Jr., he said.

"I've sold to my friends," he explained.

Thompson not only is selling to his friends, but he also bought from a friend.

"You could have bought the property," he said. "It was a public sale" by a corporation. "There's some more out there you could buy."

Arkansas state Rep. Joseph "Jodie" Mahony, an El Dorado, Ark., attorney and state representative and long-time friend of Thompson, handled the sale for himself and some cousins who made up the corporation.

Mahony said his grandfather, along with Charles H. Murphy Jr., founder of Murphy Oil Co., many years ago purchased the property where the lake rests. The elder Mahony established a farm on his portion. Rep. Mahony and his cousins took over the southern part of the property, which is now lake and lakefront land on the eastern bank.

Richland Parish Assessor's Office records show Thompson owns a 40-acre tract along or near the lake, as well as 8.8 acres under Cypress Cove at Poverty Point LLC.

The Cypress Cove land is assessed at "use value" and is on the books as woods and agricultural land. It's taxed at a worth of $5,000, far less than its current price tag.

The larger tract was acquired through a land exchange and both properties were reported to be worth $30,000, the assessor's records show. It also is assessed at the "use value" as farmland and woods.

While paying for Poverty Point, the state also has been pumping money into numerous other reservoir projects that have been on the books for years but are not built.

Asked whether the state can afford to build as many reservoirs as are proposed, Thompson said, "It's a poor state that can't re-invest in itself. Should lakes be it? I think I would trust the wisdom of the Legislature.

"Anything that will develop this state economically, it's a good deal. How many is too many? I can't say."

Critics claim state reckless in rush to build reservoirs

Critics of the many reservoir projects proposed around the state are not afraid to speak out. But so far, their cries have been unheeded.

"Louisiana is rapidly becoming the land of 1,000 lakes 10 to 20 years from now," Leslie March, a member of the Sierra Club, cautioned lawmakers while they debated another in a series of reservoir bills.

"The Legislature appears to be determined to pass these projects and to jump on the bandwagon to use up the state's resources to pay for them," she said.

James Moore of Pitkin, whose highly publicized opposition to a proposed site for an Allen Parish reservoir forced developers to look elsewhere, says lawmakers are wasting money on lakes "in a legislative session plagued with budget problems and talk of raising taxes."

He blasts as "a travesty" the "un-Christian taking of homes and churches and desecration of cemeteries just to make developers wealthy." He says someone needs to realize that the state is paying millions of dollars to build these lakes, but private individuals are profiting from state expenditures.

Several pieces of legislation to create lakes are rolling through the Legislature, but only one has hit a blockade.

A proposed reservoir in Washington Parish ran into trouble because it would submerge or require moving eight cemeteries, three churches, numerous houses and an Indian burial mound. Members of the House Transportation and Public Works Committee frowned on that idea, sending the bill's author, Rep. Harold Ritchey, D-Bogalusa, to look for an alternate site.

"Homes and churches shouldn't be taken or cemeteries desecrated for money," Moore said.

Moore also questions whether any of the reservoirs would ever be water-supply sources.

"People who build fancy lakeside houses aren't going to put up with dropping water levels" that would occur when there was a draw on the reservoir for water use, he said. "Just look at Toledo Bend" and how Louisiana residents are fighting Texas' plans to draw water from the reservoir.

Moore's primary targets of criticism, leveled through his Web site (www.angelfire.com/gundam/reservoir), are State Rep. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi; his brother, lake developer Mike Thompson; and Monroe engineer Terry Denmon, whose firm built Poverty Point Reservoir and is contracted to do site surveys and construction of other lakes.

Moore calls Mike Thompson "that traveling lake salesman" because he has made pitches for lake development in Lincoln, Jackson, Ouachita, Caldwell, Allen and Washington parishes. He questions the ties between the Thompsons and Denmon and why they seem to always be involved together.

Another problem, he said, is that when a parish government decides it might want a lake after the Thompsons promote the idea, they usually hire Mike Thompson as the lake director at a salary of between $70,000 and $85,000 a year. Since it usually takes 10 to 12 years to get a lake built, "by the time it's over, he's made $1 million."

Mike Thompson responds, "This state can't move forward because people shoot low and stay negative. They're trying to connect round pegs with square holes.

"Terry Denmon likes working with me because I take care of business," he said. "I like Terry because he's built them before and knows what he's doing. People work with others who get the job done, but we don't do every project together."

Denmon Engineering's Web site displays photos and descriptions of its work on Poverty Point and its preliminary work on the proposed 34,000-acre Castor Creek Reservoir in Caldwell and Winn parishes, a Bayou DeChene Reservoir in Caldwell Parish and the West Ouachita Reservoir.

The Web site says the company's Castor Creek development "will be comprehensive, including the planning, design and construction of the dam, control structures, access roads, required relocations, recreation facilities and other appurtenances normally associated with such a complex project."

"It is planned that the reservoir will be used to provide drinking water for a large area in central Louisiana and provide significant fishing and other recreational opportunities. The lake is anticipated to have approximately 250 miles of shoreline and expected to be the center stone for a major development that is to include parks, golf courses, marinas and other developments," the Web site (www.denmon.com/dams_reservoirs.htm) says.

Providing a water supply is well down the list of actual uses, Moore said, pointing to how although Poverty Point was built as a reservoir to aid the drinking water shortage in northeastern Louisiana, not a drop has been drawn for that purpose.

Moore also points out that both Denmon and Francis Thompson serve on the Aquaculture Advisory Council of Louisiana and Denmon is also on the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission, which he says puts Denmon in position to recommend which areas are on the scenic river list where reservoirs cannot be built.

He also questions why Brant Thompson, Rep. Thompson's son, served on the Poverty Point Commission that oversaw construction of the lake.

"Do we really need these reservoirs, or is it a scam to keep politically connected folks on the payroll," Moore asks.

Mike Thompson said none of those positions are out of the ordinary, and the Legislature must vote any changes to the scenic river list, so Denmon cannot make such decisions.

Randy Denmon, a project engineer in his father's Monroe-based Denmon Engineering, said the company is selected for so many projects because "when we built the first one over at Poverty Point, we became the only one with any expertise."

Even some proponents of reservoirs cast doubts on whether the state needs as many as are proposed.

"All projects will probably not work," said Rep. Hollis Downs, D-Ruston, who is pushing for a Lincoln Parish reservoir. "In Hot Springs, Ark., with a lake around every corner and all manmade, they play off one another like McDonald's and Burger King being across from one another."

The Senate Transportation and Public Works Committee ignored the Sierra Club's request for a moratorium on lake projects until a study of the statewide effects could be conducted.

March described reservoir decisions as "discrete deals done in the background in the name of economic development and recreation. There is no public input built into the present reservoir commissions."

Other Sierra Club objections are that reservoir construction has the potential of drastically altering the natural ebb and flow of streams, often with potential for significant adverse impact on downstream values, and damming would inundate or adversely affect streams within the Louisiana Natural and Scenic River System.

Also of concern, says Sierra Club representative Darryl Malek-Wiley, is that archeological and historical sites, as well as valuable forests and farmland would be lost at taxpayer expense.

"That sucking sound you hear," he said, "is the sound of money going out of Baton Rouge."

By any means necessary?

Chuck Cannon, chuck@rustonleader.com

I’ve got a problem.

It has to do with an issue that some of our local politicians — men whom I respect and believe want what’s best for this area — support.

The issue is a reservoir for Lincoln Parish.
On the surface, a nice recreational lake for our parish seems like a good idea. We are in the heart of Sportsman’s Paradise, and one need only look at Lakes D’Arbonne, Claiborne and Caney to see that a recreational lake would probably bring some people to the parish that might not otherwise visit.

But when you start weighing the cost of such a venture — and the way one advisor recommends we go about getting its approval — some very serious questions arise.
To get approval for such a lake, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must give its blessing. Lake planner Mike Thompson, brother of State Rep. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, suggested we tell the Corps of Engineers that the lake — or reservoir — would be used to relieve pressure on the Sparta Aquifer. If this was indeed the case, then a reservoir for the parish would be a no-brainer.

But consider this — during a planning meeting a few months ago when the idea of a reservoir was first being bandied about, Thompson told a gathering of engineers, political leaders and potential investors that there were no watersheds within Lincoln Parish that could hold enough water to make a significant impact on the Sparta. He said a reservoir would be an economic development project, but that the Corps would probably not give approval unless we said it was for producing potable water.

In other words, Thompson recommended that we lie to the Corps of Engineers — or at the very least, stretch the truth to an unrecognizable shape.
Perhaps I’m naive, but this does not sound like the way our parish should conduct business. Once you’ve gone down that path, it gets easier and easier to make the trip.

I guess I can understand Thompson’s zeal in building a reservoir in Lincoln Parish — he stands to make a bundle “advising” us on what we should do. With his political connections in Baton Rouge, he seemed sure that he could grease the skids and get the necessary permits to make a reservoir happen, much like he did with the Poverty Point Reservoir.

But there is a problem with that body of water located to our east. At this time, there is no potable water being used from Poverty Point Reservoir. There is also no water flowing over its spillway. In fact, there are four wells drawing water from the Sparta to fill the reservoir. This hardly seems like a venture that is working to save our precious resource.

In addition to the question of if a reservoir would actually help the Sparta, there is the funding needed to build such a project. Thompson said the funding could be acquired from state capital outlay funds. What he did not say is that if money is allocated for a reservoir in Lincoln Parish, then funds originally dedicated for other projects in the parish would be cut. The state only has a certain amount of capital outlay funds to divvy up — if some of those funds are dedicated to a reservoir, it only stands to reason that other projects — projects that could mean infrastructure that would foster economic development — will lose their funding, or be further delayed.

We have three wonderful recreational lakes within 20 miles of Ruston. Before we build another one, let’s make sure it is really needed. And if it turns out that it is needed, then let’s go about it the right way. We don’t need to build a lake by telling a fish tale to the Corps of Engineers.

Chuck Cannon is editor of The Ruston Daily Leader. Write him with comments or story ideas at chuck@rustonleader.com.

Mike Thompson defends new job as reservoir guru

DELHI — Mike Thompson became mayor of Delhi in 1978 while preliminary plans for what would become Poverty Point Reservoir were taking shape.

Later, he served on the state's water resource commission and then worked as director for rural development under former Gov. Buddy Roemer. With that valuable public service behind him, Thompson said he intended to head back into private industry. But a "fourth career" began taking shape instead when he was hired as lake director for the then-proposed Poverty Point Reservoir, a position he said he secured because of his public service background and interest in Delhi.

The success of Poverty Point Reservoir — accomplished in part with enabling legislation from his brother, state Rep. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi — led to other politicians and legislators contacting him for advice and assistance.

This new career has helped affect a spate of reservoir projects in the state. There are now 15 such projects in the works, although Mike Thompson said he is not involved in all of them.

Besides Poverty Point, he is being or has been paid for consulting work with proposed reservoirs in Allen, Caldwell, LaSalle, Morehouse and Washington parishes.

Mike Thompson also has proposed reservoir projects in western Ouachita, Lincoln and Jackson parishes. Although not paid yet, he said he is open to signing on as director of those projects. Consulting fees vary, based on his involvement in projects. He most recently said he would be paid about $80,000 if he were hired in Lincoln Parish.

"I never intended to help build multiple lakes," Mike Thompson said. "It's no different than hiring engineers, but there's always someone who has to drive the train and, unfortunately, that puts me out front."

Indeed, his "out front" status has attracted criticism from environmental organizations, community groups and some politicians who label him as a traveling lake salesman using political and family connections to make money and waste state funds.

James Moore, a leader of the Community Preservation Alliance in Allen Parish, even started a Web site attacking what he calls Mike Thompson's alleged "nepotism and cronyism," such as his connections with his brother and the involvement of Monroe-based Denmon Engineering in many of the projects. President Terry Denmon and Mike Thompson were business partners for a brief period of time.

The Sierra Club and Louisiana Wildlife Federation are also opposing all reservoir projects because of alleged environmental and wildlife harm.

Bill Jones, a former state senator from Ruston, is openly attacking the reservoirs as well. He argues they are taking away valuable time and money from focusing on legitimate solutions to the state's water problems, such as utilizing existing surface water and recycling discharged water — known as gray water — for industrial use.

The Sparta Aquifer, for instance, is declining by 2 feet per year while 70 million gallons of water are pumped each day. The aquifer's recharge capacity is 52 million gallons daily.

"I think they're well-intended, but they're prompted by the fact we're seeing a strain on the Sparta," Jones said. "Oftentimes, good intentions can lead to adverse consequences, and I think that's what we're seeing. I think it's clear (the reservoirs) don't offer good potable water options."

Mike Thompson denies all the criticism and said he is not worried about the "people with political agendas."

There is no evidence of illegalities, he said, and Mike Thompson did not even purchase Poverty Point property, unlike Rep. Thompson, for fear of creating an unfavorable public perception.

He considers it a "back-handed compliment" when politicians say that working with him is the only way to get a lake built.

"It's easy for people to take political stances and criticize these projects," Mike Thompson said. "But let them turn the water on one day and not have it, or flush the toilet, or tell industry there's no more water."

Reservoir projects are not perfect and do not solve every problem, but only lakes can benefit water need, economic development and recreation, he said.

"Obviously, they can't take care of all the aquifer problems," he said. "But they do subsidize the problems, and it's done quicker.

"Obviously, everyone can't have one, but the projects starting now are all in areas where dire water needs have been established," he said.

Site work



FRANKLINTON — Several sites along a number of Washington Parish streams could create lakes of various sizes if they were dammed at the right spot, the Washington Parish Reservoir Commission was told at a meeting earlier this week.

The commission wasn't told exactly where those sites are, though.

The main item on the agenda for the commission's second monthly meeting was a presentation by State Rep. Francis Thompson, who was instrumental in the development of a reservoir in his part of the state.

But before he arrived, Tony Beaubouef of the federal Natural Resources Conservation office in Franklinton told the group that he has already started some preliminary "what if" — what if a dam was placed at a certain place on a certain stream — to see if Washington Parish has some viable reservoir sites.

The answer is yes, Beauboeuf said. He has found a number of locations where a dam would create a reservoir of 300 to 2,000 acres of surface water.

But in sharing that information, Beauboeuf had two caviats: he is not ready to give the locations because he is still preparing maps and site descriptions, and the "what-if" locations would still require full studies for possible environmental impact, economic and demographic implications, flood and erosion control possibilities, and cost.

By unanimous consent, the commission authorized chairman Huey Pierce and the commission's executive board to meet with Beauboeuf in the near future to review the "what-if" locations Beaubeouf has identified to see if any of them warrant further study by the commission.

In the meantime, Rep. Thompson spent nearly two hours telling the commission, in effect: "Do it."

Thompson calls his district in the far northeastern corner of the state "one of the poorest areas in the nation." He said he has seen industries — and their jobs — come and go, and he decided to find something that would spur development in his area north of Tallulah "that would not go away."

Now, after nearly two decades of planning and nearly a decade of actual work, the Poverty Point Reservoir is nearly filled and will "open" as a state park later this year.

Thompson said Washington Parish is on the right track in establishing a reservoir commission to study the reservoir idea for the parish and to help move the project along.

And he said development of a reservoir would be easier in Washington Parish than it has been in East Carroll Parish. While East Carroll is flat and required years of digging and earth relocation, Washington Parish has rolling hills and streams which could fill the valleys in-between.

"It excites me to see the amount of natural waterways you have in this area," Thompson said. "I want to come back next year and see the site (that you have selected)."

Thompson said that while a reservoir can certainly be built for erosion or flood control, if that is the type of funding that is available, a major benefit will be recreational and economic development. The Poverty Point Reservoir already has a marina and home sites under development and an adjacent golf course and motor home park are in the works.

Similar things can happen in Washington Parish, Thompson said, "but it's not going to fly in here and form itself."

Thompson also warned the commissioners and public officials who were present that they should be prepared for some opposition - and it may or may not come from people whose property might be affected by construction of a reservoir. While many people may be happy to end up with property near a lake, the development of the reservoir could require the "taking" of property from some landowners. But at Poverty Point every affected landowner accepted the negotiated value "plus other considerations" for their property and none had to be seized.

"It was kind of joke when I started talking about it," Thompson said, and he acknowledged that there is still some criticism of the project. "But, he added, "the project has turned into something much bigger than anybody at home could have imagined."

The lake will create 250 permanent lake-related jobs and generate $8 million a year in the local economy, after a total investment of about $27 million dollars.

Washington Parish's project does not have to be that costly, Thompson said, depending on the size and scope pf the development, but he urged the commissioners and elected officials to "do something as big as you can... you need to visualize the best it can be."

And it needs to be done soon, Thompson warned. He said he thinks the Louisiana Legislature may be willing to fund several more reservoirs to help economic and recreational development in the state, but there could be competition for the money that will be allocated to build them. Enabling legislation has already been filed for study and creation of a reservoir in Allen Parish in southwest Louisiana, and several other parishes in addition to Washington Parish are also beginning to look at reservoirs.

The legislative resolution that created the Washington Parish Reservoir Commission is not at broad as the Allen Parish proposal, but it could be expanded in a future session of the Legislature to put Washington Parish ahead of the other parishes that are beginning to study reservoir projects.

"I think those that don't jump on it will miss the boat," Thompson said. "I think three or four will be built in the state."

Thompson was accompanied to the meeting by State Rep. Ben Nevers and State Sen. Jerry Thomas.