Entrance Road to Fort Polk sees more daily traffic than just about anywhere in Vernon Parish, and the City of Leesville is trying to make that stretch of land part of the city.
Mayor Rick Allen held a public meeting Monday night to answer questions and hear concerns regarding the annexation of Entrance Road.
"Fort Polk Entrance Road has been overlooked for far too long," he said. "It needs to be developed. There is some good property there, but the main thing is that it is the leading Army base in the world, in my opinion, and I've been to almost all of them. Entrance Road should look like it's going into a state-of-the-art facility, so these businesses can prosper on Fort Polk Entrance Road.
"We have the second largest employer in the state, second only to the state, right here in our backyard. It needs to look like it. These businesses that are out there are rock solid. They've been out there for a long time."
Becoming part of the city means businesses along Entrance Road will be connected to the city's sewer and water, resolving an issue that several business owners have with being in that location.
"I have been doing business on Entrance Road for 35 years, and our biggest problem this whole time has been not having sewer," local business owner James Mckee said. "We've had so many businesses not be able to come in or close down because of sewer problems. I think it will be a big help to Entrance Road.
"We want Entrance Road to grow, and if we don't get sewer out there, it will never grow."
Being part of the city has its drawbacks, however, with property taxes increasing, but Director of Planning and Development Grant Bush says that savings it will gain from being hooked up to the water will offset that cost.
Property values will go up under city codes, and insurance rates will decrease for business owners. Bush said that being in the city allows for more police protection with one officer per 149 people, compared to one officer to 525 people that the Parish offers.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards has already committed $500,000 in Priority 2 Capital Outlay with the remaining funds in Priority 5 Capital Outlay to begin the project. Edwards is also committed funding street lights from the main gate to the Highway 171.
It's not just Entrance Road the city wants to annex, however, but also land running along the Fort Polk fence. Since Entrance Road does not touch any part of the city limits, the land – Highway 467 to the north side of Entrance Road – running along the west side of the military installation will connect the two.
Citizens expressed their concerns about being in the city limits due to hunting and burning not being allowed in the city.
However, Allen says burn permits will be a one-time, lifetime, free-of-cost process for property owners along the fence. Also, hunting permits in the city limits have been issued in the past due feral hogs and can be done again for this stretch of land.
"We're not trying to change your way of life," Allen said. "We're not trying to do that. If a snake comes up on you, and you choose to shoot it, we're good with that. Your neighbors that you have now are used to you firing firearms on your property are not going to call the City of Leesville to say that you're discharging your firearms."
For the annexation process to take place, over 50 percent of the landowners must return a letter approving it.
From there, the city will move forward in voting on the annex and will figure out a route and costs for the new sewer line.
"This is what is best for the Parish," Allen said. "This is what is best for the city. This is what is best for the whole community. People say that I want growth, and I want shopping and restaurants and I don't want my kids to have to leave when the graduate. I want them to come back when they leave college. There is only one way to do that, folks. We have to grow. When people pull us up online, it says 'Leesville: Population 6,000. We sent out 27 restaurant packages and got back 24 of those declined because of population numbers."