GREENSBURG — St. Helena Parish resident Jeremy Cornette, his wife, Christy, and others showed up Tuesday to ask the Police Jury what they've been doing to let people know about the revival of the Darlington Reservoir project over the past year or so.
But the answers were in short supply as enough jurors failed to show up to hold a meeting, including a juror who recently suggested the dam idea wouldn't generate much opposition in his district.
With renewed interest in the huge dam proposal from downstream parishes after the August 2016 flood, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has taken another look at a concept first raised in the 1980s after another devastating flood in the Baton Rouge region.
In a recently finished study, the Corps recommended the dam across the Amite River over several other ideas after three public input meetings in the spring, though none were held in St. Helena Parish.
The $1.3 billion project would require that more than 26,000 acres in East Feliciana and St. Helena parishes be bought out or have flood easements placed on them. Known as a "dry dam," the future structure would close temporarily and flood that land in times of heavy rain to protect downstream communities like Baton Rouge and Denham Springs. Water would be slowly released after the worst had passed.
Cornette, 40, who lives north of La. 10 between the Chipola and Coleman Town, said jurors have done little to inform parish residents about what may be coming to St. Helena and was caught off guard by media reports about the completion of the Corps' draft feasibility study. It recommends the dam along with another $1 billion in home elevations or buyouts.
"The reason I'm truly here is to find why my people, my elected officials, are not informing us of what is going on," Cornette told a handful of residents opposed to the project.
Stirring his concern and those of others are the recent comments of Police Juror Jule Charles Wascom. He told The Advocate in a recent interview that many residents had bought land in the area in hopes of one day being bought out and didn't believe it would cause much opposition.
Lisa and Hunter Tynes, who have 100 acres off La. 448 and believe they may face a possible buyout or easement that could restrict future habitation on their land, were in Greensburg with Cornette to tell Wascom they didn't agree with his assessment of public sentiment.
"I mean, this is our home. Where are we supposed to relocate to? What, we're going to go buy a lot in Watson, so we can flood? Oh, no, we won't because they're going to have the dam to keep it from flooding, supposedly," Lisa Tynes said, sarcastically.
Tynes and others asked why they should be asked to sacrifice land that their families have held for generations and that have rural qualities that would be hard to find elsewhere, all for the benefit of people downstream who bought homes in flood-prone areas that have been overbuilt.
"Bad decisions on those people's part should not change my way of life, my parents' way of life, my wife's, my children's or anything like that," Cornette said.
The project has gotten support from some Livingston Parish officials and legislators, though questions remain about funding, which hampered the project two decades ago. The study is in a required comment period. The Corps plans two public input meetings next week, including one in Clinton.
Wascom wasn't present Tuesday. Some jurors suggested he may have been recovering from recent health issues.
Lisa Tynes suggested Wascom was ducking them and wasn't representing their interests, though they live in his district. A call and text to Wascom's cellphone weren't returned Tuesday night.
Only two of six jurors showed up Tuesday. More than 25 people waited in the jury chambers for about 10 minutes until the meeting was called off.
Juror Jeremy Williams did show up and told Cornette later that he had only recently learned the Darlington project was restarting.
"How long have y'all known about the dam," Cornette asked Williams.
"Mmm. I first heard about it about a week and a half, two weeks ago," Williams said.
"So whenever I started making phone calls," Cornette responded.
Williams didn't disagree.