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Ouachita Parish Police Jury officials are planning to scrutinize a list of water and sewer system improvement projects that could be eligible for grant funding through a new state program.

During its regular meeting on Monday, the Police Jury discussed how to prioritize some $23 million in projects in Ouachita Parish for funding through the Water Sector Commission, a new body created through legislation during the recently concluded legislative session.

Since any state funding would require a 25-percent match in funding by the parish, the Police Jury must evaluate each project individually, according to Police Jury Vice President Jack Clampit.

“We have a limited amount of money to spend and we want to spend it in the wisest possible manner,” Clampit said.

Eligible projects include improvements to public water systems and community sewerage systems. To establish the Water Section Commission, the state Legislature appropriated $300 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to dedicate to eligible projects in the Water Sector Program, administered by the state Office of Community Development.

Each project is eligible for up to $5 million.

“All of the water systems and sewer systems appear to qualify,” said parish consulting engineer Kevin Crosby.

Some parish officials were leery of how projects would be ranked and referred to the apparent lack of state funding for Ouachita Parish in the state Watershed Initiative program.

Others, like Clampit, were more hopeful.

“We’re getting $300 million this year, and we’re getting another $300 million next year, so whatever we don’t get this year, we can apply for next year,” Clampit said.

“I wouldn’t count on that,” Crosby said.

Police Jury President Shane Smiley expressed reservations about the parish’s likelihood of securing funding but voiced support for seeking as much grant funding as possible.

“I think you’re right, Mr. Crosby,” Smiley said. “I don’t think we’ll see the state approve that much money for Ouachita Parish, maybe some of them. If we have some good projects, we can put up some money for a match.”

Recommendations will be made to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget, which will give final approval on the projects. Area lawmakers serving on the committee include Reps. Jack McFarland and Francis Thompson as well as Sens. Katrina Jackson and Glen Womack.

“We kept being told it was first come, first serve, but after talking with our legislators, we found out that was not the case,” Clampit said.

Parish officials wondered how projects eligible for funding through the Water Sector Program would affect House Bill 2, otherwise known as the capital outlay bill, since state officials say they may import water and sewer system projects from HB 2 into the Water Sector Program. That could affect some area water and sewer projects as well.

The Police Jury plans to take a vote on which projects to submit in an application to the Water Sector Commission at its Aug. 16 meeting.

On another front, the Police Jury recognized Robert Moore for 10 years of service with the Ouachita Parish Fire Department.

“We certainly appreciate the service of Mr. Moore to the parish and our constituents,” said Police Jury President Shane Smiley.

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