Alliance alleges wrongdoing

Members say politics play role in proposed Allen Parish reservoir project

BY ELONA WESTON AMERICAN PRESS

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.

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