Calhoun area residents peppered Ouachita Parish officials with a number of questions last week, expressing their dissatisfaction with law enforcement’s response time to incidents of crime as well as the future of the former Calhoun Research Station property.
Lisa Waterman and Carol Brown organized the June 25 event at Calhoun Middle School.
According to Waterman, the town hall was called because of questions raised in a Facebook post about the former Calhoun Research Station property as well as concerns about crime, poor Internet coverage as well as long wait times at railroad crossings and student pick-up lines at Calhoun schools.
Calhoun is not a municipality but part of unincorporated Ouachita Parish. The Calhoun area falls within the parish districts represented by police jurors Jack Clampit (District B) and Scotty Robinson (District A).
Robinson was not present for the meeting, though Clampit was. Clampit explained Robinson was away in Washington D.C. lobbying for certain parish projects. Robinson’s absence and his trip to D.C. drew cries of disapproval.
“I’ve never seen that man,” yelled someone from the crowd.
A number of questions from Calhoun area residents were directed at the five representatives from the Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Office.
“We get asked to come write tickets, but then when we come out here and write tickets, we get pushback,” said sheriff’s Maj. Mike Moore, who supervises the Sheriff’s Office patrol division.
A woman present for the meeting said she perceived an increase in crime, citing a recent break-in of her vehicle as well as the tragic experience of being a victim to an assault in her home.
After the attack, sheriff’s deputies were not quick in reaching her, she said.
“It was 17 minutes,” she said. “That tells me they were in Monroe or West Monroe. They were no where local.”
She implored the Sheriff’s Office to place a Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Office substation in Calhoun to improve deputies’ response times. Her request drew loud applause from the few hundred people gathered for the town hall meeting.
Moore said a substation would not improve response times, because deputies would be quicker to respond if they were in their units already. If deputies have to leave a building to get in their patrol units, the response time would lag, according to Moore.
As of now, the average response time in the parish was eight minutes, he said.
The challenges facing law enforcement included operating an additional patrol in Sterlington because of the diminished police force there as well as complaints from other communities, like Frenchman’s Bend, about insufficient patrols. The parish also was struck by “waves of crime,” he said.
“We’re always behind the eight ball,” Moore said.
Research property’s future
For most of the town hall meeting, Clampit stood at the podium in Calhoun Middle’s cafeteria to field questions about ambulance response times and the future of the old Calhoun Research Station property.
The Calhoun Research Station, founded in the late 1890s as the Louisiana Experimental Station, was formerly an extension of the LSU AgCenter, but was closed. The property belongs to the Police Jury, which is developing the some 400-acre site as a certified economic development property in the hopes of attracting economic development to western Ouachita Parish.
According to Clampit, the best outcome for the research station property would entail the arrival of a technology firm or other business bringing new jobs to the area.
“Jobs is what we’re starving for,” Clampit said. “No smokestacks. Nothing with noise pollution or air pollution.”
“We will not accept a subdivision or Section 8 housing,” he added.
As of now, the future of western Ouachita Parish was promising, according to Clampit. Last year, 40 percent of all building permits issued in Ouachita Parish were for construction projects in District B. The parish district with the second highest number of building permits issued was District A (25 percent of all building permits last year).
“The greatest growth in the parish is in District B,” Clampit said.
Clampit said the old research station property was currently being appraised.
“No sale price has been set yet,” he said.
When a number of people at the town hall meeting claimed the old research station property belonged to the people of Calhoun, Clampit offered a correction. The property belonged to Ouachita Parish, not Calhoun. That meant any future decision involving the property would be made in the best interest of Ouachita Parish, not Calhoun alone.
It also meant that if the old research station property was sold, the money from the transaction would go back to the Ouachita Parish Police Jury’s general fund and would not be set aside for expenditures exclusively benefitting Calhoun residents.
Clampit’s correction was received with loud grumbling.
Calhoun Elementary pick-up changes
Meanwhile, Ouachita Parish School Board member Scotty Waggoner, who represents the school district including Calhoun, addressed the complaints of some parents that student pick-up lines at Calhoun Elementary School took too long.
Waggoner said the car line-up or student pick-up lines at Calhoun Elementary would likely be changed to alleviate traffic problems. One solution was to enforce student pick-up between a certain window. If a parent came to pick up a child before the pick-up window began, the parent could be sent to the back of the line, he said.
The school is expected to alert parents to upcoming changes to the student pick-up routine.
On another front, parish officials encouraged local residents to call the Sheriff’s Office or the Police Jury to complain about long wait times for trains at railroad crossings.
Complaints that trains blocked the crossings for longer than 20 minutes were being investigated.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this article stated the Louisiana Experimental Station was founded in 1980. It was founded in 1890. Additionally, the school facing the most traffic issues was Calhoun Elementary, not Calhoun Middle. The Ouachita Citizen regrets the errors.