CLINTON — After quickly agreeing to spend $3.6 million in federal funds to repair 35 miles of flood-damaged gravel roads, East Feliciana Parish police jurors got into a heated argument Monday about spending parish money on an election-year road overlay project.
Jurors also heard a proposal to use the courthouse and another jury-owned building for filming a 10-episode television series starring Nick Nolte.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is putting up 90% of the money needed to repair 122 parish gravel roads damaged by the August 2016 floods and digging 27 miles of ditches along parish roads.
The parish plans to use additional federal funds awarded through the Community Development Block Grant program for its 10% match.
The jury accepted the low bid of Industrial Enterprises Inc. for $3,654,692 for the repair work. Coastal Bridge Co. submitted a bid of $4.7 million for the work, and the project engineers said Diamond B. Construction Co.'s bid was not considered because its bid documents were incomplete.
The jury will have to pay the contractor from its own funds and seek reimbursement from FEMA, and Emergency Preparedness Director Jody Moreau said the jury has enough money set aside to cover initial payments until the reimbursements begin flowing.
Work should begin in early June.
The jury also has secured three sites for depositing the material excavated from the roadside ditches.
Engineering work is underway on FEMA projects to replace bridges on Carruth Road and John Thomas Lane that were washed out during the flooding, Moreau said.
Jurors later voted 6-3 to do away with a long-standing policy of not paving any gravel roads whenever the jury decides to overlay existing paved roads.
Juror Jason McCray urged jurors to stick to the policy because paving a gravel road is much more expensive than putting an asphalt overlay on a paved road.
"You know that if we open that can of worms, we're going to be flooded," McCray said, referring to residents who will clamor for the jury to pave their gravel roads.
Juror Dwight Hill supported McCray, saying he lives on a gravel road and knew it would likely never be paved when he moved to his home.
Juror Michael Cheatham, whose Clinton district has fewer parish roads, said he has only one gravel road in his district.
Cheatham argued that it is wrong for a juror to tell another what the latter can and can't do with the funds allocated to him.
Cheatham, Louis Kent, Glen Kent, Keith Mills, Chris Hall and Sean Smith voted to include gravel roads in future road projects, while Hill, McCray and Ed Brooks dissented.
Hall, the Finance Committee chairman, said the jury may have about $1.5 million to spend on the project, but the jury has not developed a list of the roads it wants to overlay.
The jury agreed to let the Executive Committee meet with representatives of Paramount Pictures' television company to work out the details for using the courthouse as a key element in the TV series about a judge in a fictional Mississippi town.
The company also wants to build a "diner" in the old furniture store the jury bought for eventual use as offices for the sheriff.
The set would remain in use for all 10 episodes, said Jimmy Woods, who is scouting locations for the series. He said some scenes will be filmed in Plaquemine and at Rosedown Plantation.
Ann Reiley Jones, who was instrumental in securing funds to restore the courthouse, will be invited to participate in the discussions, Louis Kent said.