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
03-06-2005




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

BY LOU MAJOR JR.

THE DAILY NEWS

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.