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|Police jurors under fire over drainage, flooding|
Flooding concerns dominated most of the Ouachita Parish Police Jury meeting Monday as several local residents pleaded with parish officials to take measures to prevent future flooding.
Residents asked that ditches be cleaned out and several argued that flood gates throughout the parish were closed during heavy rains last week.
Several times police jury president Walt Caldwell was forced to call the meeting to order as residents stood and raised their voices during the meeting.
Parish attorney Jay Mitchell said he heard a rumor flood gates were closed during last week's rains so he contacted the Tensas Basin Levee District. The levee district is responsible for maintaining and operating flood gates in Ouachita. Mitchell was told that no flood gates were closed during last week's rains.
Rebecca Harrison, who lives on Debra Lane outside the city limits of West Monroe, said her two small children awoke to a flooded room and were terrified. She said her family probably had up to two feet of water in their yard.
Harrison also said about 12 houses on her street flooded, and most of the homeowners are elderly residents who live on fixed incomes.
"We don't have flood insurance because we don't live in a flood zone," she said.
Vera Hill, who lives on Buckhorn Bend Road, said her area suffers from poor drainage. She believes one reason the drainage is poor is because of a beaver dam near her home.
She also said ditches in her front yard are not dug out properly. Trash and debris, some of it from illegal dumping, are scattered throughout ditches, making drainage worse, Hill said.
"Outside of my house is like a river," Hill said. "We should not have to worry about drainage problems."
"My house is a wreck now and all this could have been avoided," Hill continued. "This is my house and I want to live there. I want something done."
Public works director John Tom Murray said his department was aware of a beaver dam near Hill's home. He said work is being performed to correct the problem.
The ditches in Hill's neighborhood are off-road drainage ditches. The police jury would have to find funding from some source to improve drainage in that area, Murray said.
Mitchell explained that the public works department is funded by a one-cent sales tax, which is dedicated to road construction and maintenance.
"The Attorney General has offered an opinion that includes roadside ditches, but it does not include off-road ditches," Mitchell explained. "So, in Ouachita Parish, there's no source of funds for work on off-road ditches other than the police jury general fund. So, before public works can work on off-road ditches, they have to have the authority that they'll be reimbursed from the general fund or by some other source."
Police juror Pat Moore said the parish is involved in efforts to address illegal dumping throughout the parish, which affects drainage issues since garbage and debris often are dumped in parish ditches.
"We will try to do everything in our power to keep this from happening again," Moore said. "We'll see what we can do."
Police juror Charles Jackson added, "This was not a pleasant weekend, and it's clear there were a lot of issues across the parish."
Police juror Mack Calhoun said so far 16 homeowners in his district have reported flooding, some with at least four inches of water inside their homes.
Jackson urged anyone who had flood damage or drainage damage to call the parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness at 322-2641.
Homeland security director Butch Beckham is currently tallying damage estimates to determine if the parish is eligible for federal assistance.