“We are in the sewer business; we’re not gonna get out of it”

District 6 Councilman Randy Clouatre

Utilities Committee Chairman Randy Clouatre succinctly summarized Tuesday’s meeting at Gonzales’ Courthouse:

“We are in the sewer business; we’re not gonna get out of it.”

Three-and-a-half years after Louisiana’s DEQ approved a $60,000,000 low-interest (.9%) loan and Ascension Parish is still trying to figure out how to put that money to work.  In fact, Clouatre and his colleagues are “doing everything we can to keep that” loan which DEQ might withdraw if Ascension fails to come up with a plan, any plan, to bring parish-owned wastewater treatment to its east bank.

Un-ratified Consigliere, er, Chief Administrative Officer Ken Dawson pinch-scammed for absentee parish president, Kenny Matassa, at Utilities which is just as well.  Sewer treatment is confusing enough without Matassa’s nonsensical mutterings.

L-R: Former Parish President Tommy Martinez, Glen Shaheen and David Einsel of GSA Engineers, and Councilman Doc Satterlee after August 27, 2015 Utilities meeting where an RFP was recommended to solicit proposals for east-bank sewer.

Dawson introduced GSA Consulting Engineers’ David Einsel who suggested performing $2 million worth of “rehabilitation” on existing sewer treatment assets in Darrow as “a way to facilitate the closing of the loan.”  GSA formed Ascension Environmental, the lone respondent to a 2015 Request for Proposals in the parish’s latest foray into east bank sewer after it was concluded (early in 2014) a public-private partnership (P3) was the only means of attaining the goal.  It was stillborn when major players within Ascension Environmental, Ascension Wastewater Treatment primarily (but CSRS, Inc. too), pulled out almost immediately.

Einsel was back before Utilities to describe the plan to secure DEQ’s $60 million which was offered in December…of 2013.  Back then a GSA concocted plan, Modified P-1-6, was going to be the path to east bank sewer.  It envisions hooking up all the residents along two major state highways (42/73) to parish sewer lines; and the Council adopted an ordinance in the interim to force those residents to do so.  There was a flaw.

Too few residents to force into Ascension’s customer base to service the DEQ debt.  It was former Utilities Director Bob Horner who delivered the bad news a few months after DEQ offered up the loan.  According to David Einsel the parish is going back to Modified P-1-6 but only to satisfy a DEQ requirement that some plan, any plan, be presented in order to pull down the loan.  Einsel freely admitted that it won’t work and will be “modified” in the future with DEQ’s knowledge and approval.

What’s next?  Nobody knows.

Among President Matassa’s first official acts was the firing of Bob Horner, a move that was unrelated to sewer treatment.  Horner was a supporter of Matassa’s campaign opponent, Chris Loar, whose unexpectedly miserable vote count left him out of the November 21, 2015 runoff election to succeed Tommy Martinez as Ascension’s chief executive.  Some months thereafter Matassa shifted Bill Depew from Fleet Management to replace Horner as head of Utilities.  Depew was fired in October of 2016 after criticizing Matassa’s administration in Pelican Post (we are troublemakers if you hadn’t heard).  Seven months and counting, Ascension’s Utilities Department has been without a Director.

“If we jump into this we may feel like we need to add to the administration somebody that is a Utilities Director,” suggested Chairman Clouatre.

According to Consigliere Dawson the parish will be jumping into it:

President Kenny Matassa (foreground) and CAO Ken Dawson (File photo)

“Eventually we’re looking at a huge RFP” but that is “way down the line.”

First thing first and Ascension needs to retain the services of an Owner’s Representative, a consulting firm which will, among other duties, evaluate east bank wastewater treatment proposals submitted by any private company.  Ascension Wastewater Treatment has already met with individual council members to pitch a plan.  The committee recommended issuing Request for Qualifications to identify that owner’s rep which will explore “what we need to do to complete the sewering of the east bank” in the words of Ken Dawson.

“It’s the only way to move forward without discharging into Bayou Manchac; discharging somewhere else and how to generate the revenue to pay the prohibitive costs,” he explained.