Ascension Sewer/Bernhard Capital Partners’ (BCP) Jeff Baudier, with Tom Pertuit of Ascension Wastewater Treatment (AWT) in tow, reappeared before the Ascension Parish Council Utilities Committee on Tuesday. Chairman Corey Orgeron’s agenda included three items related to companies’ attempt to undertake regional sewer treatment on Ascension’s east bank (with smatterings of East Baton Rouge, Livingston and Iberville parishes thrown in). From all outward indications, negotiations with/against Ascension Sewer will have to commence anew, or be discontinued.
If Baudier’s assertions are accurate, a prime tenet of the agreement is invalid. Throughout last year’s “negotiations” Bernhard stressed that Ascension’s Parish Council would set monthly sewer rates for all Ascension Sewer, LLC customers. Now Baudier is claiming the Public Service Commission retains final authority.
For the sake of argument we will assume that actual negotiations occurred in 2019. Under President Kenny Matassa those “negotiations” were headed up by former Infrastructure Division Director William Daniel. There was no discernible give and take as Daniel led the cheers for Bernhard, predicting doom and gloom for his adopted parish if it failed to swallow Bernhard’s spiel hook, line, and sinker.
Wonder where William Daniel is now?
Without his main shill to rope in the marks, Baudier had to go it alone Tuesday (Pertuit had nothing to add and Corey Orgeron is no William Daniel, though not for lack of trying). BCP’s front man informed the committee that the parent company has “essentially completed” a transaction with AWT pending Public Service Commission approval. How much of AWT did BCP acquire?
Baudier was not that forthcoming but it was a big enough share to justify re-branding.
“National Water Infrastructure will be the new regulated utility that AWT sits under,” he did say. “We’ve had extremely positive conversations with a number of jurisdictions interested in also presenting growth opportunities for us.”
What’s in a name? Ascension Parish and AWT’s customers are only the tip of BCP’s spear intended to pierce the utilities market in a big way.
“We are wide open to any, you know, whether we start from scratch or we start from the proposal that we had on the table. There are various structures and many ways to approach this project,” Baudier touted his consortium’s “willingness toward flexibility.”
BCP is “confident that a partnership with Ascension Parish can be confected,” fully realizing that “other issues” have cropped up since Baudier last appeared. That was December 20 when…
In the interim newly-inaugurated Parish President Clint Cointment put his people to work considering an alternative, competing proposal to BCP’s.
“We’ve looked at Hilaryville quite extensively,” Baudier countered, “through the engineering and, really primarily the customer, but the engineering, you know, function and the staging of the project felt that Hilaryville was more of a secondary…a second phase project. We also had strong questions about whether or not Hilaryville was the appropriate place to expand treatment plants.”
What did that other champion of Ascension Sewer used to say, Corey Orgeron’s predecessor in the Utilities chair? Poppycock!
BCP never “looked at Hilaryville,” quite extensively or otherwise. One of the engineering firms included in the Ascension Sewer consortium, GSA Consulting Engineers may have done so (that is a narrative being spun by another lawyer/Utilities Committee member). GSA’s Glenn Shaheen has an awful lot of cash invested in the Modified P-1-6 sewer plan which is an integral part of Ascension Sewer’s proposal, and excludes the Hilaryville plant.
Conflict of interest, maybe?
Chairman Orgeron, leading the witness, asked Baudier to address recent reportage by The Advocate under the headline:
Sewer agreement would shield East Baton Rouge customers from Ascension consolidation rates
Will current Baton Rouge customers of AWT not have to pay the increased monthly rate faced by Ascension residents? EBR Metro Councilman Trae Welch was quoted in the January 6 piece:
“We got right on it and reached an agreement. The Parish Attorney’s Office has worked out (an agreement) that citizens of East Baton Rouge Parish who are currently on that wastewater system will not be required to pay higher rates for improvements they weren’t going to get any benefit from.”
“That’s not true,” Baudier told the Utilities Committee, blaming “some type of misinterpretation of the story.” He might want to take it up with his boss, Jeff Jenkins who, according to The Advocate, “confirmed the details of the agreement but called it a ‘moot issue’ since the sale has yet to receive approval.”
“If there were to be some type of transition, we have things worked out to satisfy the ratepayers and constituents outside of Ascension,” Jenkins (supposedly?) told The Advocate.
It would seem that Jenkins and Metro Councilman Welch misinterpreted the story in exactly the same way. Jeff Baudier attempted to clarify on Tuesday.
“Rates, with regard to the people within the AWT customer base, will be the same across the board. The expression that I think may have gotten confused was, there is a question with regard to how those rates might compare to Baton Rouge. The direct statement that we had made was the rates are gonna be consistent with the rates of Baton Rouge customers, but they were gonna increase from what they currently were to be the same as everyone else in the Ascension system, and Iberville, and Livingston Parish.
Somehow that got misconstrued.
To be completely frank, the issue that really was kind of brought up in that context, and it’s an issue that we’ve been trying to work our way through, I call it the representation issue…how to ensure those out-of-parish customers are represented.
Baudier attempted to explain the vagaries of Utilities District operations, outside and apart from the Parish Council’s role, all while considering Public Service Commission involvement, before assuring…
“There’s always recourse to the Public Service Commission by any citizen regardless of…they always hold concurrent jurisdiction. So, if there were a citizen that believed they were even wrongly treated by Ascension Parish, they could make an appeal to the concurrent jurisdiction of the Public Service Commission to ensure that rates are, quote, ‘fair.'”
To quote Jeff Baudier, “that’s not true.” By definition one cannot “make an appeal to the concurrent jurisdiction.” In his scenario the PSC would enjoy appellate jurisdiction to overrule a rate set by the Ascension Parish Council, as opposed to concurrent jurisdiction which means two entities simultaneously have jurisdiction over the same question. (NOTE: There are two lawyers serving on the Utilities Committee, neither of whom had anything to add).
One of BCP’s main pitch points was that the council would have rate-setting authority instead of the Public Service Commission.
If Baudier’s tortured explanation is accurate, the entire proposal is void on its face. If any rate-payer can “appeal to the Public Service Commission” then the Parish Council lacks final rate-setting authority. Which means the entire Cooperative Endeavor Agreement should be scrapped.