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Published on 1/5/2006 in The Times (Shreveport, LA)
The Times(Shreveport, LA)
January 5, 2006
Author: Vickie Welborn
Article Text: By Vickie Welborn firstname.lastname@example.org
With the quick and uneventful order of U.S. District Court Judge S. Maurice Hicks Jr., a six-month-old lawsuit that originally sought to challenge the constitutionality of a 2004 law regulating the level of Toledo Bend Reservoir ended Wednesday afternoon in a Shreveport courtroom.
While the legal battle is over for now, the controversy will wage on. It will be at the least two years and at the most nine years before significant discussions can get under way to alter the decades-old power sales agreement that has the greatest impact to the water level of the south's largest man-made reservoir.
And lake property owners such as Donald Driscoll of Hemphill, Texas, who also co-chairs the citizen-led Toledo Bend Bi-State Alliance, are not happy about that.
"The fact that we cannot utilize our investment and access to the lake has depressed our property values somewhat ... as far as anyone who wants to purchase property on the lake," Driscoll said outside the federal courthouse after Wednesday's hearing. "The (lake level) law was the result of the outcry of the people ... and I feel the people's wishes are being cut short by negotiating such a settlement."
In the settlement, agreed to by all parties in a consent decree signed by Hicks, the Sabine River Authority of Louisiana will not enforce Act 295 of the 2003 Legislature. The law, which was effective in May 2004, requires hydroelectric power generation to cease on Toledo Bend once it reaches 168 feet mean sea level.
Recreational users and lakeside property owners have argued for decades that once the lake falls below that level, which it often does during the peak summer and fall months, it becomes less desirable as a recreational outlet.
But two power companies, Entergy and Cleco Power LLC, have long-standing contracts that require the SRA to provide it with hydroelectric power from May to September, often dropping the lake below 168 feet. Entergy and Cleco filed suit against the SRA in late July days before the lake hit the target depth.
Toledo Bend is doubly hurting this year because the combination of continued power generation and a Mother Nature-induced drought has kept the reservoir to extremely low levels. It reached a record low of 162.55 on Dec. 14, but stood at 162.66 Wednesday.
If there was any "win" factor to the lawsuit settlement it would be the fact that any future contract talks, amendments or modifications will have to first make sure they follow Hicks' consent decree and secondly follow the lake level law, SRA Executive Director Jim Pratt said.
"The law still stands. The law was not challenged as far as its constitutionality," Pratt said. "I hope that when it comes to the point of relicensing or reissuing a new contract that we don't guarantee power generation during the summer months."
The SRA and its counterparts in Texas must give notice in 2008 to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission of their intent to relicense Toledo Bend before the 2013 expiration date. The power sales contract with the electric companies does not expire until 2018, but notice to change the contract must be given in 2015.
In 1969, when the first power sales contract was written, the impact of power generation on the lake was not an issue. In the past dozen or so years, however, Toledo Bend has been a mecca for retirees, drawing thousands to its shores in simple camp houses and pricey second homes.
A citizens group made up mostly of those retired lakeside residents formed five years ago and made lake level stabilization its rallying cry. Act 295 resulted from the tireless attention.
Larry Kelly is a south Sabine Parish resident who championed the lake level issue for years as chairman of the Toledo Bend Bi-State Alliance and also by serving on the SRA board.
He is disappointed in the lawsuit settlement since he still believes the SRA could have won the issue in an aggressive court battle. He conceded, however, that the fight would have been costly, further depleting funds the SRA doesn't have.
"In 2008 we, and by that I mean the people, will have to start making known our opposition to the license as written. We will become interveners in the license process and the people above and below the dam will get involved in this thing. We will fight it."
By the numbers
182,000 feet: rough surface area of Toledo Bend.
172 feet: top of the power pool.
162.2 feet: maximum drawdown level.
162.55 feet: record low level reached Dec. 14.
162.66 feet: level measured Wednesday.
168 feet: level set by law as maximum drawdown.
Copyright (c) The Times. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission
of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc.
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