Debt may not be forgiven

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 29, 2001

FERRIDAY, La. – The chances of the U.S. Department of Agriculture forgiving a more than $2 million loan on the Town of Ferriday’s current water plant aren’t good, a USDA official said Thursday.

&uot;Chances of that are slim,&uot; Michael Taylor, director of USDA Rural Development’s Louisiana office, said after speaking to the Ferriday Rotary Club. &uot;We don’t have the legislative authority to do that.&uot;

For months now, Ferriday Mayor Glen McGlothin has petitioned federal officials to forgive more than $2 million in debt the town still owes on a Farmers Home Administration – now Rural Development – loan that was used to build the town’s water plant.

That would free up funds the town could use to build an alternative to the troubled plant, which was built in the 1980s. The USDA has approved an additional $1.137 million for the town.

McGlothin was not available for comment Thursday.

Ferriday now gets its water from Old River, where excess manganese turns the water brown and smelly in low-water times. Chemicals used to treat the water cost more than $200,000 a year. In late 1999, the town was placed under a 124-day boil water notice -and for three days, the town had no water at all.

A possible solution is for the town to drill wells at Lake St. John and transport the water through Concordia Waterworks’ lines or buy water directly from Concordia Waterworks.

&uot;Right now, that’s what they’re working toward,&uot; Taylor said.

An agreement between Ferriday and Concordia Waterworks has not yet been reached.

Even if a tentative agreement is reached, new test wells will have to be drilled to make sure the aquifer could handle the demand.

And a clarifying device to be installed soon at the Concordia Waterworks plant must be large enough to produce enough water for both systems.

USDA officials have committed to giving Concordia Waterworks at least $500,000 to install the clarifier system.

In his speech to the Ferriday Rotary Club, of which he was once a member, Taylor outlined several programs through which Rural Development gives and loans money to rural areas.

The office makes loans and grants to small local governments for &uot;any project they can legally do,&uot;&160;Taylor said – from buying police cars to installing sewer and water systems.

The office also makes millions of dollars worth of housing loans each year, he said.

Rural Development has invested $30 million in Concordia Parish and has a $25 million loan portfolio in the area, Taylor said.

But he said that he would like to see the day when Concordia Parish is so prosperous that it does not need the money – and he can see that happening.

&uot;We’ve got our selling points in this area,&uot; said Taylor, a Catahoula Parish native and past Concordia Parish resident. &uot;Our people do want to work, … and we’ve got the Mississippi River. Let’s focus on what our positives are.&uot;

He said that he is pleased to see development taking place on the Vidalia riverfront and noted that Vidalia is studying the feasibility of building a port.