Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Reservoir consultant accused of improperly enriching himself

Allen Parish group to state: Terminate reservoir projects

BATON ROUGE — Opponents of state-funded reservoir projects are pushing lawmakers to get Louisiana out of the lakebuilding business following last week’s indictment of lake consultant Michael Thompson.

James Moore of Grant, a member of the Community Preservation Alliance, Allen Parish’s reservoir opposition group, sent letters to state lawmakers on Monday asking them to pass a resolution that would stop reservoir spending.

CPA members want Thompson to resign as consultant on reservoir projects in Allen, Washington, Morehouse, Ouachita, Caldwell and LaSalle parishes.

Thompson, 58, is accused of improperly enriching himself when he was chief of the Poverty Point Reservoir District in Richland Parish, in northeast Louisiana, from 1997 to 2002.

He is a former mayor of Delhi and the brother of state Rep. Francis Thompson, DDelhi. The proposed 3,700-acre Allen reservoir and others are modeled after Poverty Point Reservoir.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco, through press secretary Marie Centanni, commented to the American Press about the charges Thompson faces.

“Every citizen is innocent until proven guilty, and this is a matter for the courts to decide. In the meantime, Mr. Thompson has taken a voluntary leave of absence from the Commerce and Industry Board,” Centanni wrote.

Blanco has backed the statewide projects, saying they enhance economic development.

The CPA has maintained that even before Thompson’s indictment he and other lake officials made sweetheart deals and misused legislative connections to line their pockets.

“Should DOTD continue to pay Thompson $100,000 a year per lake for a half-dozen reservoirs? Thompson should resign as director of all current reservoirs,” reads Moore’s letter. “Since Thompson has been indicted by the FBI for illegally taking Louisiana taxpayers’ money, what will the state of Louisiana also do about this matter?”

In 2004, Thompson and others proposed that a lake be built in the Six and Ten Mile communities — a project that would have claimed many homes. A second site, Mill Creek in western Allen Parish, was ultimately favored since it affects no homeowners. Still, CPA aggressively opposes it.

Moore operates a Web site devoted to the CPA’s claims against Thompson, Francis Thompson and lake engineer Terry Denmon, among others.

Michael Thompson and Francis Thompson have denied any wrongdoing.

Last week, through his attorney, Michael Thompson issued a statement saying he is “absolutely innocent” of the charges against him. He will be arraigned in Monroe on June 29 in federal court. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison or a $250,000 fine or both.

Francis Thompson, whose House district includes Poverty Point Reservoir, is a member of the Louisiana Political Museum’s Hall of Fame and one of the Legislature’s longest-serving members. He was elected in 1974.

He was instrumental in creating the reservoir and park and has steered tens of millions of state dollars into the reservoir and surrounding projects.

In 2002, Francis Thompson, along with Sen. Don Hines, DBunkie, and Rep. Herman Ray Hill, D-Dry Creek, sponsored legislation for the Allen Parish Reservoir.

Allen Parish Reservoir Committee member Buddy Farris reported in April that the permitting process for the reservoir was inching forward after being delayed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Farris and four others — Phil Beard, Matthew R. Hollins, Gary Pelican and Billy Reeves — make up the committee. Beard serves as chairman.

This legislative session, $800,000 has been allocated in House Bill 2 as Priority 1 general obligation bonds for the Allen project for land acquisition, rights of way, utilities, equipment and construction.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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