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Archive for the ‘Water Reservoirs’ Category

For a man who has received more than $20 million in contributions to his various political campaigns, perhaps a half-million or so in questionable contributions shouldn’t raise too many eyebrows. After all, that’s less than 2.5 percent of the total.

Still, for the man who set himself up as the beacon of all that’s pure and pristine, the one who established the “gold standard” of governmental ethics, the one who loves to boast (only in out-of-state speaking engagements, of course) of “the most transparent” administration in the state’s history, anything less than clean campaign money should be unacceptable.

Alas, such is simply not the case.

Even his mother, a state civil service employee, got into the act in open violation of civil service regulations, but more about that later.

We have written at various times of many of the contributions which appear to be directly related to appointments to state boards and commissions. Donald “Boysie” Bollinger was appointed last March to the State Police Commission and Aubrey Temple of Deridder was appointed in July of 2008 to the Coastal Protection and Restoration Financing Corp.

Together, the two men and their businesses and family members have combined to give Jindal’s campaigns at least $95,000 and three of their business associates, Red McCombs ($15,000), Corbin Robertson ($5,000) and James Weaver ($1,000) formed a partnership to purchase water from the Toledo Bend Reservoir on the Louisiana-Texas border for re-sale in Texas. That attempt, at first supported by Jindal, failed when the Sabine River Authority reversed itself and killed the deal at least for the time being.

Temple, meanwhile, was paid $400,000 by the Coushatta Tribe back in 2001 for undisclosed services but he was never able to give an accounting for how the money was used. Also involved with the Coushatta Tribe was Alexandria attorney Jimmy Faircloth, who chipped in another $23,000 to various Jindal campaigns and has since reaped more than $1 million in legal fees for defending the state in various legal proceedings, most of which saw the state end up on the losing end of key court decisions.

Faircloth, while serving as legal counsel for the Coushattas, advised the tribe to sink $30 million in a formerly bankrupt Israeli technology firm call MainNet for whom his brother Brandon was subsequently employed as vice president for sales. The investment, to no one’s surprise except perhaps Faircloth, proved to be a financial bust for the tribe.

This is the same tribe, with Faircloth as legal counsel, that Paid disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff $32 million to help promote and protect their gambling interests but who provided little in return for his fee.

Another Abramoff associate, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, also contributed $5,000 to Jindal. DeLay was convicted of scheming to influence Texas state elections with corporate money but a federal appeals court overturned that conviction last month.

There was the $55,000 in laundered money the Jindal campaign received in 2007. Richard Blossman, Jr., president of Central Progressive Bank of Lacombe in St. Tammany Parish, issued $5,000 “bonuses” to each of 11 board members but instead of giving them the money, 11 contributions of $5,000 each were funneled into the Jindal campaign in the names of the board members—without their knowledge or permission. Regulators subsequently took over the bank and Blossman was sentenced to 33 months in federal prison for bank fraud.

Jindal has refused to return the money.

The State Board of Ethics also said River Birch, Inc., of Jefferson Parish formed six “straw man entities” through which it laundered $40,000 in illegal donations to Jindal.

Again, Jindal kept the money.

The governor accepted $158,500 in contributions from Lee Mallett and a host of his companies in Iowa, LA., and Lacassine and in return, Jindal appointed Mallett to the LSU Board of Supervisors—even though Mallett attended McNeese State University only briefly and received no degree. Jindal also had the Department of Corrections issue a directive to state parole and probation officers to funnel offenders into Mallett’s halfway house in Lacassine.

Jindal appointed Carl Shetler of Lake Charles to the University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors in July of 2008 after Shetler, his family and businesses contributed $42,000 to Jindal. Shetler’s biggest claim to fame came when he managed to get McNeese placed on athletic probation by the NCAA after it was learned that he paid money to McNeese basketball players. Now he helps preside over the very school that he placed in jeopardy. So much for that “gold standard” of governmental ethics.

Jindal also accepted $2,500 from Hospital Corp. of America (HCA) which paid a record settlement of $2 billion to settle the largest Medicare fraud case in U.S. history. The founder and CEO of HCA was Rick Scott, later elected governor of Florida, for whom Jindal campaign extensively.

Speaking of Florida and records, Fort Lauderdale attorney Scott Rothstein was disbarred and sentenced to prison for running the largest ($1.4 billion) Ponzi scheme in the state’s history but not before he, his wife, his law firm and three of his corporations contributed $30,000 at a 2008 Jindal fundraiser hosted by Rothstein.

Most news media found the $10,000 contributed by Rothstein and his law firm but missed his wife’s and the corporation contributions that totaled an additional $20,000. Jindal announced that he would refund the money to a victims’ fund but instead, gave the $30,000 to the Baton Rouge Food Bank.

Jindal also took $10,000 from Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) and later gave ACS employee Jan Cassidy, sister-in-law of Congressman Bill Cassidy, a state job with the Division of Administration. ACS, meanwhile, has come under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for certain accounting practices.

Then there was the $11,000 Jindal accepted from the medical trust fund of the Louisiana Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (LHBPA), whose board president, Sean Alfortish, was sentenced to 46 months in prison for conspiring to rig the elections of the association and then helping himself to money controlled by the association.

The association also was accused of paying $347,000 from its medical and pension trust funds to three law firms without a contract or evidence of work performed. A state audit said LHBPA improperly raided more than $1 million from its medical trust account while funneling money into political lobbying and travel to the Cayman Islands, Aruba, Costa Rica and Los Cabos, Mexico.

The association, created by the Louisiana Legislature in 1993, is considered a non-profit public body and as such, is prohibited from contributing to political campaigns.

Saving the best for last

All these were sufficiently questionable to tarnish the “Mr. Clean” image Jindal has attempted to burnish throughout his administration but the most blatant display of arrogance and complete disdain for campaign laws has to be three individual contributions in 2003 that totaled a mere $5,000—from Jindal’s mother.

So what’s wrong with a relative contributing to his campaign? Several family members, after all, gave to the campaign as do family members of many other candidates.

Well, nothing…except that his mother, Raj Jindal, is a classified state employee, according to Civil Service records, an IT Director 3 with the Louisiana Workforce Commission, formerly the State Department of Labor. She earns $118,000 per year and has been working for the state for 38 years, certainly long enough to know the prohibition against state classified employees being active in political campaigns. State employees, after all, are routinely sent periodic reminders of civil service regulations governing political activity.

Records provided by the State Ethics Commission campaign finance reports indicate that Raj Jindal contributed $3,000 on April 23, 2003, to son Bobby. Nine days later, on May 2, she contributed another $500 and on June 17, she chipped in an additional $1,500, bringing her total contributions to the $5,000 maximum allowable by law—for non-civil service employees.

Article X, Part I, Paragraph 9 of the Louisiana State Constitution says:

“Section 9.(A) Party Membership; Elections. No member of a civil service commission and no officer or employee in the classified service shall participate or engage in political activity; be a candidate for nomination or election to public office except to seek election as the classified state employee serving on the State Civil Service Commission; or be a member of any national, state, or local committee of a political party or faction; make or solicit contributions for any political party, faction, or candidate (emphasis ours); or take active part in the management of the affairs of a political party, faction, candidate, or any political campaign, except to exercise his right as a citizen to express his opinion privately, to serve as a commissioner or official watcher at the polls, and to cast his vote as he desires.

“(B) Contributions. No person shall solicit contributions for political purposes from any classified employee or official (emphasis ours) or use or attempt to use his position in the state or city service to punish or coerce the political action of a classified employee.”

One veteran political observer said that unless Jindal solicited the contribution, all liability lies with the governor’s mother for the rules violation.

But Jindal is a big boy, as evidenced by his advice earlier this year to his fellow Republicans to put on their “big boy pants.” He has to accept the responsibility for allowing his mother to flaunt state civil service rules not once, not twice, but three times. And yes, she also should be held accountable for her violation of rules that apply to every other state civil service employee.

Now the only question remaining is what will the Civil Service Commission do about the governor’s mother violating state campaign regulations governing political activity by Civil Service employees?

Our best advice is: don’t hold your breath waiting for disciplinary action.

The rules obviously do not apply to this governor.

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By John Sachs
Complainers must always be ready to offer solutions. This I will do in today’s follow-up to last week’s commentary complaining about abuses to our Sparta aquifer by paper mills and shale gas well fracturing (aka fracking) companies.

First of all, we must immediately pass and implement strong laws that prohibit any actions that imperil the health of our aquifers. Such legislation includes federal laws, which will ensure the protection of aquifers that cross state lines. Clean water is a priority that demands the strongest legislation and regulation. An immediate order to cease and desist harmful practices must be exercised and must remain in effect until corrective action is taken.

We currently have strong legislation regarding surface rights. If someone tries to encroach on your land, you can get an immediate cease and desist order. Why not have similarly tough laws regarding the water under our property? We have such laws regarding rights to mineral deposits under our land, especially oil and gas. Imagine that! However, no such laws exist regarding fresh water, the most precious of all subsurface commodities, without which life will cease to exist.

As soon as we have strong and comprehensive laws protecting aquifers, then courts can order that harmful practices cease immediately. I recommend that the following passage become the primary law, federal or state, regarding aquifer protection:

A Law: Any action, practice, or procedure which does, might possibly, or so much as gives the appearance or suggestion that it may possibly cause damage to an aquifer must immediately cease and desist, and may resume only when it is proven to the court’s satisfaction that such actions, practices, or procedures are not harmful to the aquifer.

Now here’s the critical part. The law must be written so that an indisputable burden of proof rests with the presumed guilty party and NOT with the party making the accusation. My proposed law above accomplishes this. As it is now, the paper mills and shale fracking companies can tie the whole process up in knots for years while they continue their abusive practices. How you ask? By requiring the folks complaining about abusive practices to prove indisputably that they are correct and that the paper mills and fracking companies are wrong.

I realize that this appears to run counter to the “Innocent until Proven Guilty” principle. However, such is not the case where irreversible damage can occur to an irreplaceable natural resource critical to sustaining life. Where that possibility exists, the law must err on the side of caution. There are numerous legal precedents supporting this principle.

The failure to take timely protective measures often results in the accuser incurring additional damages because of continued harmful actions by the accused. The accused, in our case the paper mills and fracking companies, continue to damage the Sparta aquifer while everyone else (the accusers) stand around almost helplessly discussing what should be done about the problem.

The paper mills are playing “delaying games” with those trying to resolve and remedy our declining aquifer problem — which is the result of the mills extracting more water than the aquifer can sustain. The mills prevail because we do not have strong laws that require them to cease their extraction of excessive amounts of water at the first hint that they are damaging the aquifer. Laws putting the burden of proof on the accused would move remedial actions along at warp speed.

The accused will play the “delaying game” by saying that they need proof that the amount they are extracting is damaging the aquifer. Such proof takes at least a year of research, report writing, discussion, and follow-up.

Then the accused asks for assistance in the design and development of an alternative source of water. Another year passes.

Then the accused argues that the EPA, DEQ, Corps of Engineers, or FDA must first approve any proposed alternative water extraction, use and disposal proposals. Another two to three years passes.

Then the accused proposes to implement a method that they know won’t be approved by regulators, well aware that this tactic will allow them to begin court proceedings. More years pass. In the meantime, the accused continue to remove water from the aquifer – quite content to play the “delaying game.”

By this time ten to fifteen years have passed. The aquifer has been destroyed, the mill has closed, and people living in the region are left to suffer the cost and inconvenience from the loss of their clean, pure, reliable, aquifer water – a situation once so easily avoidable if only timely, corrective action had been taken.

Finally, if the mill caught on fire and the water was needed to put it out, how long do you think it would take the West Monroe paper mill manager to determine that there were no environmental or other problems requiring answers before he authorized dropping pumps and hoses into the Ouachita River? Something tells me “delaying games” wouldn’t be a part of that decision process.

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By John Sachs

Hypothetically speaking, what would you think if you read the following newspaper article?

Ruston, LA – The Mineral Ridge Development Commission announced that an agreement had been inked with HydroFrac, Inc., a Delaware corporation.

HydroFrac intends to drill a Sparta Aquifer water well in Lincoln Parish. The company will then pump 20 million gallons of water daily to supply the Haynesville Shale fracturing programs in Desoto, Caddo, and Bossier parishes utilizing retrofitted existing gas transmission pipelines.

Seven construction jobs and one permanent part-time maintenance job will result from this operation. To entice HydroFrac to locate in the Mineral Ridge area, 4 acres of industrial park land were donated, and a ten-year property tax and parish and school sales tax exemption on revenue generated from sales of water was granted. Projected ten- year cost to Lincoln Parish approximates $325 million.

Questions posed to HydroFrac with their responses follow:

1. Q: 20 million gallons of water taken from the Sparta Aquifer daily are more than we are told the aquifer can sustain. Current overuse primarily by paper mills in West Monroe and Hodge are already endangering the level and purity of the aquifer. Won’t your operation just add to the problem?

A: 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water. That equates to trillions of gallons of water. To imply that 20 million gallons would somehow put in jeopardy the earth’s supply of water is, frankly, foolish.

2. Q: You didn’t address my question. Please be more specific.

A: We have discussed our operations with Governor Jindal. He assures us that he is committed to providing a business-friendly environment, especially in light of our creating jobs in Louisiana. Governor Jindal personally contacted the State Water Resources Commission on our behalf and received assurances that the quantities of Sparta Aquifer water that we propose to extract will receive expedited approval.

3. Q: Again, you haven’t addressed my question, but I will move on. If, as experts on the subject have stated, your 20 million gallon per day extraction leads to salt water intrusion and the ultimate death of the Sparta Aquifer as the fresh water supply for a region populated by almost 1 million people, and their homes, farms, businesses, schools, churches and everything else dependent upon fresh water, what happens then?

A: This has already been discussed. The earth has adequate surface water to meet the demands you have noted. We don’t share your alarm concerning the Sparta Aquifer. The aquifer can recharge itself. with a few unseasonably wet years. You have Lakes D’Arbonne, Claiborne, and Caney and the Ouachita River to draw from in the interim. That water is pure and clean and probably should have been your primary source of fresh water all along. That leaves the pure aquifer water available to the paper mills to make cardboard boxes and beer cases.

4. Q: Why can’t the shale gas formations be fractured using the abundance of available salt water? That leaves the purest water for human consumption. As everyone knows, without abundant fresh water a society cannot exist. It absolutely, indisputably dies. Without a society, there is no need for gas. Water clearly comes before anything. To forget this fact is to drive the last nail in society’s coffin. Can’t you see this?

A: It is this very attitude that puts America’s safety and freedom from threats of foreign terrorism at risk. Constraints placed on the free enterprise system are what led to the disruptions on Wall Street, to less-than- ideal petroleum company profitability, to escalating health care costs, to high unemployment, and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fortunately we have business-friendly Congressional representatives for this area who see past these alarmist, anti-business statements of concern They understand the value of a strong Congressional/private enterprise partnership.

Does this seem farfetched to you? It shouldn’t. This is what is happening to us. We have representatives, most of whom are well-intended, making pacts with greedy, insensitive, out-of-state headquartered corporations as described above. A few corporate top executives, probably living in Connecticut, won’t authorize spending the money to efficiently utilize and protect clean water, the earth’s most precious resource. Why? Because it MIGHT temporarily reduce their annual bonuses.

In the long run, it would pay great dividends to them and certainly to us whose very existence depends on the sustainability of the Sparta Aquifer. Proof of this is in El Dorado where good corporate citizens Lion Oil and Great Lakes Chemical built a steam cogeneration system over 10 years ago that increased profitability and saved approximately 3 million gallons per day of Sparta Aquifer water. That act alone fixed El Dorado’s water shortage problems.

Let’s welcome good corporate citizens, but banish bad ones. You know the difference. Insist that our representatives and responsible officials act NOW in the best interests of the vast majority, not the selfish interests of a select few.

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At the risk of sounding racist, Gov. Bobby Jindal has to be considered as a true Indian giver. More accurately, an Indian giver with no leadership qualities.

There. I’ve said it. Someone had to.

Gov. “I’m not taking and federal stimulus money” Jindal back in September finally acquiesced and made formal application for $147 million in education funding. That was the amount for which Louisiana was deemed eligible from the $26 billion federal stimulus bill that was passed by Congress in August.

State Superintendent of Education Paul—“I didn’t know it was improper to use a state vehicle for dozens of personal trips to Chicago”—Pastorek said the state was making the application for the money because there were “no policy strings attached.”

“No strings” notwithstanding, federal guidelines required that the money go directly to the local school districts and that the money be used to pay salaries and benefits for teachers, school administrators and other staff.

The local school district officials were ecstatic. In some parishes it had already been determined that the local districts could no longer afford to pay substitute teachers when regular teachers were out sick and that the regular teachers would have to pay them out of their own salaries. Suddenly it seemed there was relief for the local officials who worked the infusion of cash into their operating budgets.

Then, just as suddenly, Jindal last week pulled the rug from under the local districts. More precisely, he pulled the money.

He created his own strings, it seems, choosing to commandeer the money to plug the $106 million hole in the administration’s budget and to offset cuts to higher education, an area he has already gutted with earlier cuts. In fact, one might suspect that the political backlash against his higher ed cuts were such that in grasping for an answer, he fell upon the brilliant idea of jerking the $147 from public education. Problem solved or leadership void?

Jindal’s latest misstep lays bare the sad fact that he really has no plan for pulling Louisiana out of the current fiscal morass. He is every bit as lost in facing this crisis as Gov. Kathleen Blanco was in dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. But give Gov. Blanco her due: her crisis was not self-inflicted, but was a natural disaster with which nearly anyone would have been ill-equipped to deal.

Jindal, on the other hand, had to see this coming. We were warned that the legislature should not be spending one-time money from the hurricane recovery funds in the manner it was. No one listened; not the legislature and certainly not the governor who was loath to use the line item veto at his disposal.

And now, in the middle of a fiscal crisis and with an even bigger one looming next year, what does Jindal do? He scoots off to dozens of states to campaign on behalf of Republican candidates for governor, Congress, and the U.S. Senate, leaving home-schooled subordinates to grapple with the budget deficit. For those not especially good at history, Richard Nixon did the same thing in preparation for his successful 1968 run at the president’s office, except he did it as a private citizen. He lost to John F. Kennedy in 1960 and then somehow managed to lose the California governor’s election to Pat Brown, prompting his famous line, “You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around any longer.”

Instead, Nixon, not as a sitting governor ignoring responsibilities to his state, began working on behalf of Republican candidates, amassing in the process, a hatful of chits that he was able to redeem in 1968. That’s exactly what Jindal seems to be doing. He was absent so often during the state’s worsening financial crisis, that the president of the LSU student body fired off a letter to a New Hampshire newspaper asking the governor to return home.

Jindal insists he has the job he wants. If that’s true, he should stay home and do that job. Instead of staying home once the November elections were over, however, he now embarks to a tour to tout his book, Leadership and Crisis. That begs the question, “what leadership?” Jindal “presided over Louisiana’s healthcare system at age 24, headed the University of Louisiana system at 27, became a U.S. congressman at 33, and was elected governor of Louisiana at 36,” according to the Amazon.com promotion of his book. Do we see a trend here? The two systems that he headed under former Gov. Mike Foster, higher education and health care, are the two agencies that he appears determined to dismantle.

Again, the question: “what leadership?”

Jindal had his chance. He blew it. He could have slashed away at the Capital Outlay Bill in the session that ended last summer, but he didn’t. He could easily have cut nearly half-a-billion in wasteful spending from the bill, but he didn’t. He could bring himself to cut only $9.4 million. And now he has backed himself into a corner.

Where was the leadership, Gov. Jindal?

Instead of spending millions of dollars purchasing golf courses, the governor could have said no. But he didn’t.

Where was the leadership?

In ordering deeper cuts recently, Jindal told department heads the state needed more leadership and less whining. Immediately after making that brash statement, the state’s leader in abstensia left for Pittsburgh, PA, to campaign for yet another Republican candidate.

Where was the leadership?

Just in case you may have missed it, Governor, here again is a partial list of inappropriate appropriations that, had they been vetoed on one of the days that you were in the state, the financial mess in which we now find ourselves might have been averted.

That would be real leadership.

So, please read these during your next flight to some other state to promote your leadership book:

• $800,000 for land acquisition for the proposed Allen Parish Reservoir;
• $1.4 million for the proposed Bayou Dechene Reservoir in Caldwell Parish;
• $2.6 million for the Washington Parish Reservoir Commission Feasibility study;
• $17.2 million for Bayou Segnette Festival Park land acquisition and sports complex improvements;
• $28 million for modifications to the Performing Arts Center in Jefferson Parish;
• $2 million for construction of a playground Basketball Gym in Orleans Parish;
• $1.8 million for construction of the Little Theatre of Shreveport;
• $2.6 million for a new Westbank YMCA in Algiers;
• $2 million for the New Orleans Music Hall of Fame;
• $6 million for construction of a new courthouse in Baton Rouge;
• $2.8 million for the Dryades YMCA in New Orleans;
• $5.4 million for the Red River Waterway Commission;
• $7.7 million for the renovation of the Acadiana Center for the Arts in Lafayette;
• $2.5 million for improvements to the Coteau Water System in St. Martin and Iberia parishes;
• $2.4 million for the Union Parish Law Enforcement District;
• $1.8 million for construction for the Robinson Film Center in Caddo Parish;
• $12 million for construction of a convention center complex in Shreveport;
• $3.8 million for a new tennis center in Orleans Parish;
• $4.7 million for construction of the Louisiana Artist Guild Arts Incubator in New Orleans;
• $26.5 million for expansion and construction of the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

Millions more were spent on construction projects that included recreational facilities, councils on aging, courthouses, sheriffs’ offices, jails, drainage projects, work on parish and municipal road and street construction projects, community centers, and water systems.

As if that were not enough, when legislators found extra money lying around, as they always seem to do during each legislative session, the House quickly pushed HB 76 through, appropriating an additional $33 million in local pork projects. Some of those expenditures:

• $150,000 for the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame in Winnfield;
• $500,000 for the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities;
• $500,000 to “organizations which assist small towns and rural areas with their water and wastewater systems;”
• $250,000 for construction of an animal shelter in St. Charles Parish;
• $1 million to the Lafayette Parish Consolidated Government for infrastructure construction.

Where was the leadership?

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State Sen. Francis Thompson is not only the family employment champion among state lawmakers (a news report from the 1980s claimed that he had more relatives on the state payroll than any other member of the legislature) but he also appears perfectly capable of siphoning off millions of dollars in state revenue for pet projects. Those projects primarily include ground water reservoirs in more than a dozen parishes costing taxpayers more than $163 million since 1997.

In a state teeming with hundreds of lakes and reservoirs while reeling from dwindling tax revenues, Sen. Thompson has managed to convince fellow legislators and three governors of the necessity of constructing even more. With the passage of each piece of legislation to appropriate funds for a new reservoir Thompson’s brother, former Delhi mayor Mike Thompson, secured a $100,000 per year consulting contract from the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD). That’s $100,000 per year per reservoir project.

Mike Thompson earlier this year was sentenced to 18 months after having been found guilty of one count of using district employees to work on his home in Delhi and charging the Poverty Point Reservoir District for the labor in violation of the Hobbs Act. The Hobbs Act was enacted by Congress in 1951 to combat racketeering in labor-management disputes but is often invoked in cases involving public corruption. He could have been sentenced to up to 20 years in prison and prosecutors did argue for a sentence of 41-50 months. He was scheduled to report to prison on Monday of this week.

Francis Thompson’s older brother, Clyde Thompson, currently employed as executive director of the Madison Parish Port Commission at $49,207 per year, once served as second in command to DOTD Secretary Paul Hardy during the administration of former Gov. Dave Treen.

Monroe engineer Terry Denmon just as consistently was awarded engineering contracts for each of the reservoir projects undertaken. His contracts ranged from $200,000 to more than $700,000. Like Francis, Mike, and Clyde Thompson, Denmon is a graduate of Louisiana Tech University in Ruston and as recently as 2007 was chairman of the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission.

None of the reservoir projects has proved as expensive to the state and profitable—and troublesome—to the Thompsons and Denmon as the centerpiece of all of Francis Thompson’s reservoirs, Poverty Point Reservoir in Richland and Madison parishes. That project alone has cost the state more than all the others combined in priority 1, or first-year, funding. From 1997 through the 2010 regular legislative session that adjourned on June 21, Poverty Point has cost state taxpayers at least $81,855,000. That compares to $81,257,000 for all the other reservoir projects combined.

Not that the Bayou Dechene Reservoir project in Caldwell Parish isn’t in the running. The cost of that proposed lake to date is $40,650,000 in priority 1 funding—and counting.

Even as the state budget was swimming in a sea of red ink that forced major cutbacks to higher education and health care this year, the legislature plowed ahead, appropriating nearly $8.1 million in funding for Thompson’s reservoir projects in 2010. That amount included $3,152,000 for Poverty Point and $4,940,000 for four other reservoir projects in Allen ($800,000), Caldwell ($1,415,000), Washington ($2,625,000), and LaSalle ($100,000).

Those figures can be misleading because if bonds approved are not sold or funding appropriated for a project are not spent, the project must obtain renewed approval the following year. Bayou Dechene, for example, has received approval of identical amounts of $1,415,000 in each of the last seven years, including 2010.

What is not misleading, however, is how the Thompsons, through the efforts of Francis, have ensconced themselves in profitable recreational lakefront property development largely at the expense of taxpayer dollars. Francis Thompson even convinced the state in 2006 to take control of the 439-acre Black Bear Golf Course which is part of the Poverty Point Reservoir development and to install Mike Thompson as administrative director of the golf course.

But more significantly, was the plan to develop an elaborate retirement community at Poverty Point Reservoir. After purchasing the land and constructing elevated berms on which the state constructed roads and cul de sacs that would extend outward as island lots into the still-to-be-built lake, Thompson, then serving in the House, pushed through HB 1136 in the 2001 session which called for the state to purchase 2,586 acres that would become the Poverty Point Reservoir, excluding of course mineral rights and the berms that would make up the residential island lots on which Francis and Mike Thompson planned to develop a retirement community. That sale was consummated in early 2003 when the state paid the Poverty Point Reservoir District more than $2 million. The state, according to a 2002 state audit, also paid $1.2 million to develop the island lots, one of which was sold to a neighbor of Francis Thompson for $621,200. The state also paid $2.2 million for a keyed-gate entry private road to the lots and another $300,000 for an office burglar alarm system.

Then, during the 2002 legislative session, then-Rep. Francis Thompson struck again with what he probably felt would be the major coup. HB 84 of that session called for the exemption of a “developer of a qualified retirement community” from having to pay state or local ad valorem (property) taxes. The measure passed Senate by a 33-0 vote and the House with only seven dissents. Thompson might have been expected to abstain from voting on a measure that stood to benefit him financially—but he didn’t. Instead, he was among the 93 members voting in favor of the bill that eventually became Act 57 when signed by then-Gov. Mike Foster. Likewise, Thompson was one of 99 House members who in 2001 voted in favor of HB 1136, Thompson’s bill to sell Poverty Point Reservoir to the state for $2 million.

The only fly in the ointment was that the measure would have to go before the voters as a constitutional amendment in the Nov. 5, 2002 statewide election. It turned out to be a major problem when voters rejected the proposed amendment.

Thompson, upon being term-limited in the House, was elected Senator in 2007 to succeed similarly term-limited Charles Jones. Undeterred over the failure of the 2002 proposed constitutional amendment, he tried again, this time with SB 584, a bill identical in language to the 2002 House bill. This time, opponents were better prepared. The Legislative Fiscal Office provided estimates that the bill, if successful, would cost local and state governments as much as $600,000 per year in lost revenue.

Perhaps Francis Thompson, in voting in favor of HB 84 back in 2002, a bill that had the potential of enriching himself by as much as $600,000 per year was not joking when in his farewell address to the Louisiana House in 2007, he admonished fellow House members to “never allow ethics to get in the way of a good bill.”

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