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.


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