Sanitary sewer agreement in limbo?

William Daniel (file photo)

The headlong rush into east bank Ascension sanitary sewer seems to have stalled.  Just last month Infrastructure Division Director William Daniel, among others, painted a grim picture of potential consent decrees and EPA/DEQ regulatory sledgehammers about to fall, stressing the imperative of executing a 40-page agreement with Ascension Sewer, LLC at the September 19 Parish Council meeting.  Daniel was whistling a different tune at Tuesday’s meeting of the Utilities Committee, wondering if (not when) the deal will get done.

As the committee considered whether, or not, to accept “a commercial sewer system from Galvez Commons” Daniel would be asked:

Councilman Bill Dawson: “How long will this be a stand alone operation discharging” into one of Ascension’s already impaired waterways?; i.e. when will Ascension Parish have a regional sewer treatment in operation?

William Daniel:  “If we do the sewer deal, three years before we hook it up.  If we don’t do the sewer deal, then we’re gonna build a sewer treatment plant behind Oak Grove.  That will take about 12 months…If we don’t build a regional sewer system, all of our permits will be held to a higher standard.”

Louisiana DEQ and the Department of Health regulate sewer treatment, the latter oversees individual plants.  Part of the problem, as explained by William Daniel on multiple occasions, is that sewer treatment is subject to regular inspection and permits are only good for so long.  When/if the regulatory agencies determine that Ascension is not moving toward a regional system, those permits will be more stringent, which means the treatment of sewer will be substantially more expensive.

Can the parish undertake a regional system without Ascension Sewer?  Would that satisfy DEQ which has offered a $60 million, .95% loan to the parish since December 2013?

“That’s one of the most frustrating aspects to this whole thing,” Jeff Pettit, candidate for Council District 10 and the only one asking hard questions publicly, asserted.  “We have no indication when those regulatory agencies are going to drop the hammer.”

Jeff Pettit, Candidate for Parish Council District 10

“And we can’t get any straight answers from Ascension Sewer, LLC,” Pettit warned against “Mr. Bernhard’s group taking advantage of the parish.  Ascension Wastewater Treatment (AWT) is part of that group and it has never negotiated in good faith with Ascension Parish.”

The limited liability corporation is a conglomerate cobbled together by Bernhard Capital Partners which includes two engineering firms and AWT, the biggest private wastewater treatment provider in the parish (some say the State of Louisiana).  Tuesday marked the first Utilities agenda since April to omit some item related to the proposed agreement, so secretive that security clearance has been withheld from council members.

According to multiple sources there have been more of those closed door meetings Ascension Parish Government is known for, to consider the Cooperative Endeavor Agreement whereby Ascension Sewer will garner a 30-year franchise to operate east bank sanitary sewer.  Details of the agreement are revealed on a need-to-know basis and, apparently, the Council does not need to know.  Or, maybe, the deal is so odious that they would prefer plausible deniability.

NOTE:  Pelican Post submitted a records request seeking a copy of said agreement with ZERO expectation of production.

When the council will consider the Ascension Sewer proposal is unknown.  Will it be vetted, and how thoroughly, by Utilities in lieu of those sessions behind closed doors?  Will the public, those residents of the east bank ultimately responsible for repaying the mountain of debt incurred to build the system, have the opportunity to weigh in?

We know President Kenny Matassa’s administration does not consider mere citizens to be stakeholders.

William Daniel was supposed to hire Jacobs Engineering to review, then report on financial/engineering aspects of Ascension Sewer’s contract.  That fell through and Daniel has not indicated publicly whether an alternate expert has been retained to advise the council.