Parish leaders blow up over drainage

Published 12:03 am Thursday, July 9, 2015

VIDALIA — The Concordia Parish Economic Development board meeting ended Wednesday with the president of the parish police jury storming out and saying he intended to resign the economic development board.

The blowup started after an otherwise quiet meeting when CPED Chairman Richard Young asked Police Jury President Melvin Ferrington what the parish might be able to do to improve drainage around the Black River Lake area.

Ferrington said part of the issue can be traced to areas under the control of the Black River Lake Commission, which he said has not been meeting.

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But after an at-times heated exchange about what the police jury could do to encourage the commission — which was constituted by the legislature but to which the jury appoints two members — to meet, the talk veered into a general debate about whose responsibility drainage is in the parish.

When Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland asked Ferrington if the police jury was willing to help improve drainage inside city limits, Ferrington said the jury would help if municipalities would enter into a cooperative agreement with the parish.

“We will furnish the equipment, but you will have to pay for fuel and labor,” Ferrington said.

Copeland countered that the city already pays the parish $400,000 annually for its drainage program.

“You are going to want to charge us to come back into the City of Vidalia after we have paid you $400,000, don’t you think that is double taxation?” he said.

When Ferrington said he did not think it was double taxation, Copeland said the parish’s other mayors have expressed their opinions about the matter before.

“We are charged a drainage tax coming out of the City of Vidalia, and (when) I asked what we get out of it, you said salaries is what you use it for,” Copeland said to Ferrington. “You want to charge us after charging us 400,000.”

The discussion also included talk of other projects at which the city and parish governments have been at apparent odds.

When Copeland said the city built and maintains Concordia Extension and D.A. Biglane Road even though they are outside the city limits, Ferrington said the D.A. Biglane project was something the jury didn’t know about when the city got its construction funded by the State of Louisiana years ago.

“You built a road down through a cotton field and we didn’t know one thing about what y’all were doing, and as soon as trucks started going over it and started tearing it up, y’all wanted the parish to come in and spend $2 to $3 million to fix it,” Ferrington said.

Copeland asked where Ferrington got the $2 million figure, to which he replied, “That’s what it costs to fix a road, $1 million a mile.”

Copeland likewise mentioned a time he tried to discuss drainage at a meeting with police jury members but was told to leave, which Ferrington characterized as “raising all sorts of hell.”

When Copeland said, “You’ve got drainage issues and I want to show them to you,” Ferrington responded, “You are grandstanding.”

Before leaving the meeting, Ferrington told Young he won’t be attending the CPED board meetings anymore.

“You will get a letter that I have resigned off this board for various reasons,” he said.

After Ferrington left, the remaining board members voted to adjourn the meeting without further discussion.