Is Ascension Sewer viable without EBR customers paying increased rate?

29 AWT package plants outside of Ascension Parish

Apparently, Ascension Parish Council’s next meeting agenda will not include approval/denial of the proposed agreement with Ascension Sewer, the consortium fronting for Bernhard Capital Partners.  That is in contravention of the council’s December 20 decision to have the vote on Thursday.  Much has changed since then, calling important elements of the proposal into question.

On January 6 The Advocate reported that “the private consortium ironed out an agreement that would protect the ratepayers in Baton Rouge” from increased monthly sewer bills.  According to Bernhard’s Jeff Jenkins 14 package plants in EBR totaling 1,400 customers will not experience the increase; and Bernhard will pick up the tab to connect them to “the new regional system” if it ever gets built.

With those EBR customers out of the equation, the Iberville and Livingston package plants are sure to follow.  That will mean approximately 3,000 customers (of the 19,500 total) are eliminated from the increased rate structure upon which Ascension Sewer’s beginning monthly rate is predicated.

Is the deal still doable?  Is the $57.90 beginning monthly sewer charge still viable?  Is the advertised beginning monthly sewer rate still included in Bernhard’s proposal?

The rate would automatically increase by 4% annually settling in the mid-$80 range after a decade.  Will those out-of-parish customers, the responsibility of Ascension Parish, be shielded from the $85 monthly rate while Ascension residents bear the brunt?

Bernhard’s point man early on, Jeff Baudier claimed that all of Ascension Wastewater Treatment’s customers, even those outside Ascension Parish, had to be included in the deal to maintain that starting rate.  AWT’s Tom Pertuit insisted that it was all or nothing, take every one of his customers or the deal was dead.

In October we asked Baudier, “How many current AWT package plants outside of Ascension Parish will be included in the coverage area?”  His reply:

If this proposal is approved, AWT will contribute all of its assets to the ACUD #2, including 30 package plants located outside of Ascension in Iberville, East Baton Rouge and Livingston. These customers will be part of the full customer base and will pay the same new rates as all customers in the consolidated system. As the regulatory authority over ACUD#2, the Parish Council will have ratemaking authority and control over the System and the assets comprising the System.  Ascension Sewer will be responsible for all maintenance and compliance of the System and will continually evaluate options to connect all package systems, including the out-of-parish systems into consolidated treatment facilities.

Actually, AWT is hoping to pawn off 29 package plants on the parish (or maybe it’s Bernhard who wants to do the pawning since it bought an undisclosed interest in AWT).

AWT’s current customers are paying, we’ve been told, $42.50 per month, $15.40 less than Bernhard would charge initially.  It would mean a $46,200 monthly hit to the bottom line, $554,400 annually.  Ten years hence, with the rates having risen to $85, the numbers become even more staggering.

Without those out-of-parish rate increases $127,500 would be foregone every month, $1,530,000 every year.  Who would absorb that loss (since we’re pretty sure it won’t be Bernhard Capital Partners)?

The Ascension Sewer proposal is a bad deal and it’s getting worse all the time for the people of Ascension Parish.  With a new chairman of the Council Utilities Committee seemingly negotiating against the parish’s interests, we shudder to think where it will end.  Newly-elected to the District 4 (Prairieville) seat, Corey Orgeron had this to say yesterday:

We ask that the public show both confidence and patience with us as we engage in seeking the best option to provide regional sewer to Ascension Parish. We further ask that the public appreciate the need to negotiate with Ascension Sewer, LLC as the Parish is bound to do so under the terms of a Cooperative Endeavor Agreement signed last year. A failure to negotiate in good faith could be considered a breach of the CEA, which could lead to litigation. I appreciate that there are those in our parish government that desire we look at other options; however, any effort by the council or the administration to do so could seriously compromise the Parish.

Which council members are included in the collective “we” who are, according to Orgeron, asking for public “confidence and patience?”  Shouldn’t Orgeron and his colleagues leave the threats of a lawsuit to Bernhard’s lawyers…

Shame on Ascension Sewer, and its lawyers [direct threat made against Dardeau]

and future negotiations to the new parish president?

Clint Cointment has demonstrated his willingness to fight for Ascension’s PEOPLE, not Ascension Sewer.

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