Pettit: Monumental sewer decisions should be left to newly-elected officials in 2020

I watched last Thursday’s meeting of the Parish Council with outrage and disgust.  For a private engineer to withhold the draft of an ordinance on allowable fill material, establishing elevation requirements for all construction from two council members was outrageous.  Deeming subdivision developers as “primary stakeholders” worthy of a seat at the table while prohibiting attendance by the public is disgusting.

My request to attend those meetings were rebuffed by CAO Ken Dawson but developers’ desires are being taken into account as GSA Consulting Engineers drafts the fill ordinance.

It seems to be Standard Operating Procedure for the council and President Kenny Matassa’s administration since the same process is playing out with Ascension Sewer, LLC.  As noted by Councilman Doc Satterlee last week, the Cooperative Endeavor Agreement generated by the corporate conglomerate (which includes GSA Consulting Engineers) has been completed without being made available for public scrutiny.

What do they have to hide? What’s the rush to implement sanitary sewer?

It has been said, at multiple meetings of the Council’s Utilities Committee, that a Consent Decree either has been issued or is imminent “to reduce discharge into Bayou Manchac by over two million gallons per day.  I wonder if they, the “Officials” (elected or not), are referring to the 2007 DEQ/EPA Bayou Manchac Watershed “total maximum daily load” (TMDL).


That document concluded:

In general, LDEQ does not intend to permit additional discharges of oxygen-demanding loads.  However, in the event that one of the (established) requirements can be attained, LDEQ may permit new discharge.  Such new facilities may be required to submit environmental impact assessment to LDEQ’s permitting staff, which will conduct a thorough evaluation of the proposed facility based on environmental impacts, economic benefits, an analysis of alternatives, and other pertinent factors.

LDEQ went on to “recognize that some local governments are in the process of expanding regional sewage collection and treatment systems,” finding it feasible to permit additional facilities which agreed “to tie into a regional collection and treatment system when it becomes available.”  In summation DEQ cited “Land Development and Redevelopment” as the primary cause of Bayou Manchac’s impairment.

Ascension has considered numerous plans for sanitary sewer treatment over the decades, all found to be unworkable for a variety of reasons.  And now, sight unseen, the Parish Council has effectively bound the parish to whatever plan Ascension Sewer, LLC concocts.  I am still in disbelief that we entered into an agreement granting an exclusive two-year negotiating period with the conglomerate.

That agreement states, “for a period of two (2) years, (Ascension Sewer, LLC) shall have the exclusive right to negotiate an agreement with the District to construct, manage, operate and maintain the System; going on to envision “a more detailed description of the rights and obligations of (Ascension Sewer, LLC) to construct, manage, operate and maintain the System as well as certain other administrative details related to the agreement or similar agreement (the “Construction and Operating Agreement”) to be finalized between the Parties.”

That’s the one finalized but not released to the public.  Admittedly, we need sanitary sewer on the east bank.  We don’t need to have our pockets picked in the process of getting it.

Display at July 23 Ascension Sewer Open House

It has already been disclosed, in a recent story by The Advocate, that Ascension Sewer’s contract will include an annual 4% increase topping out near $90 per month for its customers.  That was never stated at any of the Utilities Committee meetings.

Infrastructure Division Director William Daniel has taken the lead for the parish, claiming the proposed fee schedule mirrors that of East Baton Rouge Parish.  EBR is under a Consent Decree while Ascension is not; so why are we going to be charged consent decree prices?

Why was this massive project not put out for Request for Proposals?

We are rushing into the project to enable developers to build more subdivisions and to save Ascension Wastewater Treatment (AWT), even after that company pulled a fast one to derail the last sanitary sewer proposal.  Also a key member of Ascension Environmental in 2016, AWT pulled the plug after its attempt to fleece Ascension Parish failed.

Given those bad faith negotiations, why are we still bowing down to AWT?  Pursuant to legislation enacted by the Council on August 25, 2011 all independent operators are required to tie into the parish’s regional system when/if it comes on line.

Ascension Code of Ordinances: Section 18-117.1. – Mandatory connection to public sanitary sewer

(c)… the owner or operator of any community sewage system, situated within the parish and located near any street, alley, or right-of-way in which there is now located or may in the future be located a public sanitary sewer, that consistently fails to meet the requirements of this division, as determined by resolution of the parish governing authority, is hereby required at his expense to connect such community sewage system directly with the proper public sanitary sewer in accordance with the provisions of this division or as otherwise agreed by the parish president, provided that the public sanitary sewer is reasonably available, as determined under standards developed by the utility director and posted on the parish website.

If AWT operates in compliance there’s no problem to solve.  Historically, that has not been the case.

That decade old DEQ decree targeted private wastewater treatment providers (by far the largest being Ascension Wastewater Treatment), not Ascension Parish Government.  And now the council intends to implement and agreement to bail out AWT and clear the way for more development as drainage/traffic/other vital infrastructure is woefully inadequate.  And you, the citizen, will be stuck with the tab.

Business as usual in Ascension Parish.  These important decisions should be left to the incoming administration and newly-configured council, not the lame duck president and a council whose membership might look drastically different come January 2020.