A potential Louisiana Watershed Initiative (LWI) governmental body has some locals concerned over the amount of authority it could possess.
Cinnamon Gooding with McManus Consulting Engineers said the plans “look good on paper” but uncertainty of how items will be implemented is “frustrating.” Gooding spoke about the matter in a Franklin Parish Police Jury public works committee meeting, June 4.
Discussions are currently being made to form regional LWI coalitions made up of public and private citizens to conduct watershed management, assist local entities with watershed planning, policy, project prioritization and data modeling.
Franklin Parish is located in region three along with Caldwell, Catahoula, Claiborne, Concordia, East Carroll, Lincoln, Madison, Morehouse, Ouachita, Richland, Tensas, Union, and West Carroll parishes.
“(Louisiana) has to make a plan going forward to reduce flooding throughout the state,” Gooding said. “They figure if they put a coalition for each region they could help manage operation of maintenance and how you fund operation of maintenance. Its just frustrating because they don’t have all the answers.”
Karen Cupit, Region Three LWI steering committee coordinator and Crowville resident, said each region will put forth a recommendation to go before the Louisiana Office of Community Development. The recommendations will then go before the Legislature for approval in the next session.
“Each district has a coalition and each district’s coalition can operate differently, but they will also be involved with flood risk,” Cupit said. “All coalitions will be governed by legislation that will be approved. We’re having discussions, but every parish will have representation on the coalition.”
In a May Zoom meeting, Cupit explained several possible powers coalitions could possess.
They could have the authority to cooperate or contract with other governmental agencies, finance, fund, plan, establish, acquire, construct, operate or maintain systems and infrastructure.
Coalitions may also have the authority to adopt and enforce development codes.
Coalitions could also have the authority to generate revenue such as issue and sell bonds, borrow money or accept grants, collect fees and levy taxes, a point that concerns Gooding.
“I want to know if the Police Jury will have to go through the coalition for permission to apply for grants?” Gooding said.
According to Cupit, the coalition would look at plans on a regional basis.
“We will look at things regionally,” Cupit said. “Decisions will affect other people. What you do in one town may affect the next town or affect the entire parish. Is it going to affect them positivity or negatively? Got to look at that and that is what the modeling is all about.”
Ouachita Parish Police Jury will facilitate all coalition meetings and will perform administrative functions including fiscally. North Delta Regional Planning & Development District, with offices located in Monroe, will serve region three coalition with technical assistance.
Gooding acknowledged Ouachita Parish had the highest population in region three but stated other parishes in region three had more landmass.
Additionally, Ouachita will have two seats on the coalition while all other parishes will have one, a point Cupit said would not affect decisions.
“Everybody has a vote on the steering committee,” Cupit said. “Ouachita does not have anymore power than anybody else. Ouachita Parish has to think regionally.”
Meanwhile, watershed coalitions could be authorized by a single charter that includes a list of standards and authorities identified by all regions. Each region could able to choose which standard or authority to implement and at what degree within individual coalition bylaws and regional charters.
“We still have a chance to put pressure that they won’t adopt strict standards,” Gooding said. “But, this could take away some Police Jury authority.”
LWI was created in response from 2016 floods that ravaged areas surrounding Baton Rouge and Lafayette.
In the initiative, Louisiana is divided into eight watershed regions, and initial work has focused on meeting with individual regions and introducing watershed concepts.
First round of the grant program was a $100 million project funding opportunity for eligible projects submitted by local and regional public governments.
The first $61 million funded 16 projects. But, the next $40 million will be broken up where each region receives $5 million.
The Turkey Creek project is one of 15 projects selected due to their alignment with long-term resilience objectives listed in LWI and the state’s $1.2 billion Community Development Block Grant Mitigation (CDBG-MIT) Action Plan.
The dam received $10.2 million for retention improvements and critical infrastructure hardening.
The Turkey Creek plan includes modifications replacing the existing spillway with a concrete chute spillway that has integrated gates for lowering the lake water level and hardening the embankment.
Additionally, five watershed projects from region three were selected and now move to the regional selection process. Four of the five projects are in Ouachita Parish. Ash Slough drainage in Franklin Parish was the sole job outside Ouachita.
The drainage improvement project is estimated to cost $3.37 million and calls for rechannelling, reshaping and restoring damaged channels from Turkey Creek to La Hwy 4.
To gather information for coalitions, LWI is currently hosting community-wide meetings throughout Louisiana. Two region three meetings will be held at Jack Hammons Community Center at 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on June 10.
Cupit and Lisa Richardson, who serves as regional floodplain manager will be in attendance.
Cupit and Richardson are both employees of the Ouachita Parish Police Jury.
For more information about LWI region three, please contact Cupit at email@example.com.