In the wake of Ascension Planning Commission’s approval of Jamestown Crossing there was a meeting convened to discuss the viability of a lawsuit enjoining same. Over 50 frustrated individuals showed up, all but a handful were residents of Benny Johnson’s Council District 11 but only two of them knew who their councilman was. Johnson was not present to hear their concerns which is symbolic of Johnson’s 11.5 year council tenure.
There has never been a year when any of Johnson’s current colleagues have been absent at more council meetings than him. Johnson was notoriously absent for all those meetings called during 2016’s flooding event as his District 11 was spared the worst of it unlike neighboring districts to the east. We’re not telling Councilman Johnson anything he doesn’t know. In response to our query about any regrets, he responded:
“First, not being able to resolve the sewer issue for the parish would have to be at the top of the list. I believe we have come close but the inevitable question of how to pay for the project is the next major question to be answered. I am hopeful this latest attempt will be successful. Second, although shift work has its advantages, like the ability to follow up on items ongoing in District 11 during the week which many of my colleagues that work Monday through Friday may not be able to accomplish, it has not allowed me to attend as many meetings as I would have liked. Now that the reorganization at my work and my transfer has been completed, I will be free to attend more council meetings.”
Johnson’s entire response, unedited and unadulterated, can be viewed at:
Benny Johnson occupied the chair over the Council Utilities Committee for the better part of a decade, coinciding with two failed attempts “to resolve the sewer issue for the parish.” In late 2018 Johnson was on the wrong side of a power struggle to assume the council chair for 2019, then relegated to relative obscurity. Going back to 2012-13 it was Johnson who led the attempt at east bank sanitary sewer, Modified P-1-6, insisting that it was necessary to pass a tax in order to accomplish the massive project.
In December 2013 Louisiana DEQ offered Ascension a .95% interest, $60 million loan with which to undertake the project, or any regional sanitary wastewater treatment project. That loan is, for the time being, still available but not for much longer if Infrastructure Director William Daniel is to be believed. Modified P-1-6 was deemed unworkable in early 2014 which resulted in another failed attempt, this time a Public-Private Partnership called Ascension Environmental which never got off the ground because the largest wastewater treatment provider in Ascension pulled out almost immediately.
A futile effort floundered for another 12 months, Utilities Chairman Johnson doing little to foster success. When the big money boys interested in funding Ascension Environmental began meeting with groups of council members, Johnson came to be viewed as the poison pill intending to doom the deal. While he was not alone , the multi-national European concern avoided the Utilities chair.
Ascension Environmental was abandoned by the Council in February 2017. Johnson, as a member of Utilities Committee, will have the one-fifth of the initial say when Ascension Sewer, LLC’s, the latest foray into east bank sanitary sewer, presents its $220 million plan on September 10.
Councilman Johnson did not mention that other big deal in parish utilities.
Peoples Water Company would, ultimately, be purchased by the parish in September 2016 but only after sorting out a number of regulatory issues. Re-branded Parish Utilities of Ascension, the dilapidated system is currently scheduled for $17 million worth of necessary upgrades, the need for which was never discussed in the months leading up to acquisition of Peoples Water for $5.9 million.
Those upgrades are being funded by USDA which extended a $10 million loan with a $7 million grant. There was little to no discussion of Peoples Water’s poor physical condition at any Utilities Committee prior to its purchase by Ascension…
even though Hartman Engineering had prepared an analysis of those needed upgrades in a report that was never disclosed to the full council. It may be worse than Hartman projected.