Thursday, August 31, 2006

Scared to move to Washington Parish

I've been reading about the efforts of the Washington Parish Reservoir Commission for the last year or more and finally feel I must write this letter. I just cannot remain silent any more. After having a dream of owning my own land for the last 25 years, I was finally able to save up enough money to have sufficient down payment to secure a loan and buy a parcel of land in Washington Parish in 2003. My intention was to work and improve the land, plant trees, build a retirement home there, get back to nature, etc.

I subscribe to the Era Leader in an attempt to integrate myself into the community before I move there and also to stay abreast of current events in Washington Parish. Even though I don't currently live in Washington Parish, I spend considerable amounts of money there on gasoline, supplies, contract labor, equipment rental, etc. I know my "to be" neighbors and find them friendly and good, decent folks.

I currently work in New Orleans for a major international oil company and look forward to a less stressful life when I am able to quit commuting. The issues relating to the Washington Parish Reservoir Commission and the methods that are being used to make decisions regarding the appropriation of land from property owners scares me.

I am also scared and concerned because I hate to continue investing money in property that may be taken from me because of what I see as greed and self-serving interests that don't seem to care about the issues being raised by families that have lived on the land for generations. Based on my limited knowledge, most of these families seem to be fairly poor or without political connections, but have a passion for the land. I can identify with this passion for the land and have worked long and hard to be able to finally get my own, even though it's only a small parcel.

The commission doesn't seem to care about families that will have to move or about loved ones dug up from graves that they chose to be buried in. What is the real issue behind what this commission wants to do? Do I really want to move into such a community? If so, what might happen to me and my land?

I belong to a hunting club in Washington Parish that was forced to sell land for a State Park that is to be built along the Bogue Chitto River in Washington Parish. Thousands of acres of wetlands that flood every year were purchased in the name of Economic Development and the dollars that the State Park would bring.

How many more of these projects are out there in the wings waiting to appropriate more land. When will we see these dollars and will they be more than the dollars we would have had otherwise? Are these dollars worth sacrificing our neighbors for?

Whose land will it be next and who will be benefiting from it? Now I see there is an effort to pass another bill called SB 639 which will create an economic development district with another "commission" empowered like the Reservoir Commission was. Do you have any idea of whose land will be next?

Are you ok with it as long as it isn't yours? What if it's your neighbors or your son or daughter's? What if it's your Mom or Dad or Grandparent's or Aunt or Uncle's?

Will you be proud to have stood in silence while this is allowed to happen? I am very disappointed there has not been more outrage expressed by the citizens in Washington Parish on this issue.

How can you sit by and let this happen? Will you act this same way when they come to take my land? What about when they take your neighbor's land or you or your relatives land? I understand and support appropriation of land when necessary for a school or housing for the poor or a hospital, etc. and no other suitable land can be found. These are certainly valid needs in some cases. The problem is, this is not for a school or for housing for the poor and other suitable land can be found and other landowners might be more willing to sell. Why not go that route? I don't know the folks in Oak Grove or the other small communities that will be affected and I also do not know Mr. Toye Taylor or his Reservoir Commission members.

What I do know as a Christian is that we are our brother's keeper and there is a God above that must be frowning right now. Why do I not see more outcries from fellow Christians who currently live in Washington Parish? Most of the letter's I see are from people who stand to lose the land they've held for generations or who stand to lose the graveyards their relatives are still buried in. I'm 53 years old and thinking "where do I want to be buried when I die?" Now I have to weigh that decision with the fact that in Washington Parish, just because you choose to be buried somewhere doesn't mean you'll stay buried there.

Washington Parish is full of Christians. I like that and I like the serenity and nature which is one of the reasons I chose to buy land and retire there. What I don't like is what you are allowing to take place. Why are you letting a handful of individuals take land from your neighbors in the name of progress when you know there are alternatives? If it was your land, would you be satisfied with the lack of support from your neighbors?

I read the advertisements in the papers by the Reservoir Commission and laugh. A water shortage they say. Let's be serious, I say. How many wells do you have that are drying up? Let's face it folks, you only have to go down less than 200' to hit good, quality drinking water in Washington Parish. The real number is probably 110' but I'm going to give the 200' number to be conservative. Think about it. Which way does all the surface water drain in the USA? The answer, for the most part, is North to South. That's why the Mississippi River caries so much water. It doesn't originate in Louisiana. The soil is very similar.

When we drill wells in the oilfield, we look for rock that has permeability because that allows the oil and gas to "travel" through the "rock" to the wellbore so we can transport it to the surface. What's the most permeable "rock" out there? It's sandstone or something you and I call "Sand". Is there much sandy soil in Washington Parish? Why, yes, there is. That's one reason why we don't have a water shortage in Washington Parish. We have water traveling via gravity from up North through sandy soil and we drill water wells into this sandy soil in Washington Parish. We typically have problems with our water wells when we have screen failures, pump failures, etc., not because we're running out of water.

Some of you probably know of "live" or artesian wells that don't even require the use of pumps. Even if we were running out of water, why on God's Green Earth would we build a Reservoir that sits on top of land that is so close to the Choctaw disposal pits? If we want water for that area, a smarter solution would be to drill 2-3 water wells north of that disposal site and pipe the clean water to the locations desired.

When I share the concepts of "running out of water" with my Geoscientists, Geologists, etc. at work, they laugh and want to know who came up with this "story". They assume it's from people who have a vested economic interest rather than on science. I tend to agree with them, but even if I didn't, I would ask "Why there"? Why take land that people don't want to sell? Washington Parish is a big Parish. How about moving the reservoir to an area that is willing to sell? Laying pipeline from that point would be easy and also would stimulate the Washington Parish economy with pipe laying jobs, right of way fees, sales of pipe and valves, etc.

While I'm on the subject, who will benefit from the proposed project? Who owns the adjacent lands that might become "Lakefront"? Who owns the companies that will be doing the construction work and selling the supplies that will be used? Why aren't these funds being used to build housing for the disadvantaged or to help pay medical bills for the elderly and the poor or give your schoolteachers and public works people more pay? Are the schools in Washington Parish without needs? Is there no value in addressing those issues?

Who decided a Reservoir is more important than these opportunities? Answer these questions and you might get a little closer to the real issue, which is why some of our neighbors aren't crying foul about this effort. It may not be because they have a vested interest in the dollars the project may generate; it may be because the issue doesn't affect them personally or perhaps they are busy with work and school and life.

It's good to be busy, to have property, to make money, to have a business that prospers, to create jobs, etc. It's just a question of if it's good to do all those things on the backs of those who don't have the resources to fight back or who don't have the political connections or who happened to grow up in a certain community.

Is it ok to do these things even if it tramples on the backs and rights of our neighbors and the poor?
There is a God above and there will be a judgment for us all one day.

Kim Barbin Mandeville, LA.

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