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Outlook dim for reservoir project: Corps confirms

project was blocked, will review new application

BY CAIN BURDEAU
Associated Press
Published/Last Modified on Monday, July 13, 2009 9:38 AM CDT

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- The Army Corps of Engineers has blocked the construction of a reservoir in the rural timber and pasture country of Washington Parish after the project ran into opposition from residents whose land would have been flooded.

On Friday, the Army Corps said it would not issue a wetlands permit for the reservoir, which the state had hoped to build by damming the Bogue Lusa Creek.

Plans called for building a 3,400-acre reservoir capable of providing 51,000 gallons of water a day and flooding land occupied by about 30 homes, three cemeteries and a church. The reservoir, though, is far from dead.

"This is not the end of the project at all," said Huey Long Pierce, the chairman of the Washington Parish Reservoir Commission. "We're not going away."

Pierce said the commission has resubmitted an application for a wetlands permit to the Army Corps.

Mike McNair, the corps' regulatory branch chief in Vicksburg, Miss., said the permit process was scrapped because the project had undergone major changes since the reservoir commission first applied for a permit in 2005.

Initially, the commission said the reservoir would be for Washington residents, McNair said, but "the scope changed to industrial water supply for future industry."

He said another change was the commission's intention to supply water to other parts of Louisiana.

Another issue is whether there is a need for the reservoir. Data from the U.S. Geological Survey shows that the area's aquifer is in good shape.

Pierce, the reservoir commission chairman, said the Army Corps misinterpreted the original application.

"Our purpose and need has been identical from the beginning," Pierce said, "to furnish potable water. Potable water includes irrigation, economic development, recreation, a lot of things."

He added: "We're losing 1 foot to 2 foot a year in our aquifer. That is our long-term drinking water source."

Also, he said Bogue Lusa Creek is "drying up more and more by the day."

The reservoir project has run into stiff opposition from residents who would be affected, most of them from the small community of Oak Grove.

"The water is so plentiful here that there is no need for it," said Bogue Lusa resident Jalon Beech, a 47-year-old medical claims analyst who was raised in Oak Grove.

The reservoir, she said, "would benefit only a few, like real estate developers ... They don't even consider what they may destroy — the homes, the wildlife, the timber."

Beech and her relatives have a lot to lose if the reservoir is built: Her family's roots in Oak Grove go back to the 1830s, and the family still owns about 70 acres.

"The log home that my great-great-grandfather built is still there," she said. "It would be about 60 feet underwater."

McNair said the Army Corps would take a look at the commission's second permit application.

"We're a neutral party, neither for it nor against it," McNair said about the proposed reservoir project.

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