Jury proposes tax hike to fund drainage work

Published 12:05 am Tuesday, July 31, 2012

VIDALIA — The Concordia Parish Police Jury may have found the solution to getting the $3.5 million in funding for the Blake River Lake drainage project released, but the jury is looking for public input before a final decision.

Police Jury President Melvin Ferrington proposed a two-mill tax increase at Monday’s meeting to fund future maintenance of the drainage project and a drainage project for Brushy Bayou.

Ferrington said after the meeting that the tax increase could be the solution to getting the funding for Black River Lake released to Concordia Parish. Ferrington and other police jurors said at the meeting they would not support a tax increase without input from the public.

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A public hearing for the proposed tax increase will be Aug. 20.

The Black River Lake Commission, set up several years ago to help manage the Black River drainage area, also known as the Horseshoe Complex, was allocated $1 million in priority 1 funding and $2.5 million in priority 5 funding for drainage structure installation, studies, permits and construction.

The structure would be two 10-foot box drainage tanks, with cutoff gates that would be installed with 3-foot intervals to control water levels in the Black River Lake area.

The funding, however, will not be released until an organization agrees to provide upkeep and maintenance after construction.

A one-mill tax increase for Catahoula Parish was also suggested for a section of property owners inside the Blake River Lake complex in Catahoula Parish that would be affected by the drainage improvements.

If approved by the police jury, the Concordia tax increase would be put on the ballot for November, but the tax increase initiative has to be sent to the Secretary of State’s office prior to ballots being printed.

The goal of the two projects, Ferrington said, is to get more water out of the parish faster and keep it out of Cocodrie Bayou and Black River Lake.

Concordia Parish Drainage Committee member Bill Beasley gave an extensive slideshow presentation of long-term plans of improving drainage in the parish, starting with the Black River Lake drainage structure and Brushy Bayou.

Beasley said in his presentation that a two-mill increase equals $267,000 a year. The increased property tax cost to property owners would be as follows:

-$75,000 home value: no cost

-$100,000 home value: $5

-$200,000 home value: $25

-100 acres of land used for agriculture: approximately $42-$68

-100 acres of timber land: approximately $24- $76

The order for drainage improvements, Beasley said, should be improvements made south to north, with the parish’s main artery, Cocodrie Bayou, followed by Buckner Bayou Diversion Canal first, then feeder streams.

Cocodrie Bayou improvements would include merging Vidalia Canal into Cocodrie Bayou to reduce turbulence and sediment and removing sediment where Vidalia Canal enters Cocodrie Bayou.

A gravity structure installed in Brushy Bayou would run water from Clayton into the Tensas River, Ferrington has said.

Fixing problems in that area would take the majority of the water coming from Lake St. John out of Buckner Bayou and send it north with the use of a gravity flow structure, jurors said at their last meeting.

Ferrington has said implementing the changes would allow the water to flow the way it used to flow before the ring levees were installed.

Beasley said alternate drainage will remove water from the parish quicker and reduce sediment in the main artery. He said removing restriction in the main artery will increase flow to the pumping station, improve recreation by improving water quality and reducing level swings and increase economic opportunities by increasing supply of surface water for irrigation.

Fishermen at the meeting voiced concerns about introducing Black River water into the Black River Lake because of water pollution and trash fish like silver carp.

After a lengthy discussion by audience members, the jury voted to request a member of Wildlife and Fisheries be present at the public hearing to answer questions about concerns of silver carp and a member of the Department of Environmental Quality be present for questions about water quality.

The jury also voted to give the engineer permission to conduct a preliminary feasibility study for the proposed drainage work for Brushy Bayou.

Concordia Parish Police Jury grant writer Donna Remides said at the meeting that she needs more information and photographs from anyone whose homes or businesses suffered flood damage in the parish in the past 10 years to submit to the Department of Transportation and Development.

The information is needed, she said, to complete the pre-application process for a drainage grant. The deadline for the grant is Friday.

Anyone with information or photographs to submit should contact Remides at 318-669-6116 or remides@bellsouth.net.