Drainage study may help parish get grants

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 2, 1999

FERRIDAY, La. — With recent dry weather, the part of the Criton Canal that skirts Morris Ray Arthur’s 4,600-acre farm is a 15-foot-deep dry trench — but give it time.

&uot;You should see it after the spring rains,&uot;&160;Arthur said, peering into a canal filled with tall grasses, creeping vines and even trees. &uot;More than 1,000 acres from these farms goes under water with a 4-inch rain.&uot;

That’s why Arthur and about 15 other area landowners went to the Concordia Parish Police Jury Nov. 22 to try to get the canal cleaned out.

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This spring, the police jury should get at least $40,000 in state money to help buy a drag line — the jury has not been able to buy one in years — to clean out such canals, said Charlie Blaney, the jury’s public works chairman. Chemicals should also be sprayed in the canal in the spring to control plant growth, he added.

But to get a lasting solution to their drainage problems, Concordia Parish’s citizens will have to complain a lot more — and work as a team for years to find solutions.

A parishwide Drainage Committee resurrected two years ago by the police jury can only suggest small drainage improvement projects to the jury, said committee Chairman Lee Bean.

That is because such projects must be approved by the jury, which doesn’t have the money to make large drainage improvements.

Property taxes set aside for drainage bring in thousands of dollars a year — an estimated $700,000 for 2000 alone. But Blaney said that money is used up on needed equipment and smaller drainage projects.

So to make parishwide drainage improvements in Concordia Parish, a flat area almost totally surrounded by rivers, jurors have said they will need state or federal assistance.

And Concordia Parish may be eligible for a federally funded natural resources study that would include drainage solutions. Parishes armed with concrete information from such studies are more likely to get government grants to fix such problems.

But the parish will be approved for the study only if enough citizens show interest in such problems by attending a meeting on the subject in late February, said Kevin Bridgewater of the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Ferriday.

The study process works like this:&160;Citizens are invited to public meetings to air their concerns regarding natural resources problems in Concordia Parish.

Those could range from drainage problems and problems with water quality to an increase in fire ants and problems with roads and buildings’ shifting foundations.

If Louisiana’s state conservationist sees from the meetings that enough people are concerned about such problems, he will approve starting a study compiling those problems as well as possible solutions.

A local committee of experts and concerned citizens would be formed to help brainstorm solutions and compile the study. The state would take care of the costs of producing the document and would assign advisors to guide the team.

The problem is that, while about 40 people showed up at one such meeting in Monterey, only a handful of people showed up at Vidalia and Ferriday meetings held in September and October.

&uot;That shows a lack of interest, and if the conservationist sees that, then (the NRCS) may decide to hold off on the study for a while,&uot; Bridgewater said.

So the NRCS will hold another meeting in late February, and Bridgewater is encouraging as many citizens as possible to attend and air their concerns on all natural resources problems, not just drainage.

The time, date and place of the meeting has not yet been set, Bridgewater said.

&uot;If the federal government is going to sink $1 million into a study like this, they want to know that drainage isn’t the only thing that is going to be addressed,&uot; he said.

But citizens cannot stop there and expect to be successful. Instead, the NRCS will be looking for volunteers who are willing to spend as much time as it takes — probably for the next one-and-a-half years — to help compile the study.

If the group loses interest at any point during the process, the federal government could yank its assistance.

So Bridgewater plans to speak at meetings of local governmental bodies — including the police jury, at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 13 — to encourage people to attend the February meeting.

Arthur said he, among others who farm in the Criton Canal area, will definitely be at the jury meeting.

&uot;The NRCS is only able to do one or two studies in Louisiana a year, and we look at which area has the most local participation,&uot;&160;Bridgewater said.

&uot;They’d hate to put public money into an area that doesn’t want it.&uot;