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."

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