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|Police jurors press for drainage work|
Parish officials will review a list of several off-road drainage projects to determine which ones qualify for immediate improvements.
The Ouachita Parish Police Jury asked its attorney, public works department and engineers to determine which projects could be funded with $200,000 the parish has appropriated for off-road ditch work.
Police jurors Dorth Blade, Mack Calhoun and Pat Moore say the projects need immediate attention because numerous houses in their districts flood during heavy rain storms.
The police jury has a list of 13 off-road ditch projects that need to be tackled to alleviate flooding problems.
However, the issue of right-of-way availability is a concern for several of the projects. The police jury wants to use $200,000 to make improvements to canals and ditches as quickly as possible. Yet, in of the areas, the police jury does not have right-of-way availability.
Parish engineer Don Harrison said the police jury could be tied up for some time trying to secure the right-of-ways for the projects.
"You could spend years dealing with right-of-ways," he said. "You can't spend public funds on private property, so you would have to spend the funds on a dedicated right-of-way or property owned by the government."
Parish officials will look at the list of 13 off-road ditch projects and determine which ones are dedicated right-of-ways. Those with dedicated right-of-ways will be prioritized based on the immediate need to address flooding problems.
"There are a number of major canals we do have right-of-way for," Harrison said. "We just need to do an inventory and determine which ones we have and to what extent."
"So, if we wanted to clean out Raccoon Bayou south of Richwood Road No. 2 to Petticoat Bayou, we have right-of-way for that, but we don't have right-of-way for Petticoat Bayou," he explained. "So, it's hit and miss. So, if we have right-of-ways, the only big thing we're facing is permitting and funding."
There has not been any dedicated funding for off-road drainage projects in the parish for at least 30 years. The parish has twice asked voters to renew a drainage tax, or property millage, but the proposal failed each time.
In Ouachita Parish, there's no source of funds for work on off-road ditches other than the police jury's general fund.
The Ouachita Parish Public Works Department is funded by a one-cent sales tax, which is dedicated to road construction and maintenance. However, the Attorney General says the public works department can only use revenues generated by the one-cent sales tax for roadside ditch maintenance. It cannot be used for any off-road drainage issues.
Harrison has said the majority of drainage issues within the parish are due to off-road drainage problems.
"Our objective is what we don't get done this year, we'll try to look at it and get them done next year," said Moore, who represents an area in eastern Ouachita Parish.
Whether other drainage projects are tackled, though, depends on if the parish has funding to dedicate to more off-road drainage projects.
There could be an additional source of funding, Harrison said, since the Louisiana Recovery Authority has said Ouachita Parish will get $3.7 million in disaster recovery funds.
"This can be used for drainage projects," Harrison said. "We don't know the timeline on this yet, but we know it's coming and it potentially could be used for these types of projects if that's what the jury wanted to use it for."
Moore responded, "I'd love to wait for that, but I think we need to go ahead and make a decision tonight."
Calhoun agreed, adding, "Let's get the ball rolling because there's some things we can do … we can save some homes that flood."