Ascension Parish is getting out of the business…if what appears to be a solid (maybe unanimous) Parish Council majority has its way. Last week the council authorized $101,450 dollars to have the parish’s wastewater treatment systems, and the land upon which they rest, appraised by three separate companies. Recent negotiations with/against Ascension Sewer/National Water Infrastructure (NWI) shifted to discussing the purchase of Ascension’s “assets” by the consortium.
- Hartman Engineering ($43,915) will appraise parish facilities
- Vista Appraisal Services ($17,625) will appraise all real estate
- Goodman Appraisal ($40,000) will offer a second opinion on the others
The most recent (ten days ago) NWI proposal memorializes the shift; instead of Ascension’s cash infusion the consortium would pay a $15,000,000 lump sum to the parish. It’s part of the Cooperative Endeavor Agreement (CEA) being considered currently, along with annual 3% franchise fees projected to generate $500,000 and expected to exceed $1,000,000 at some point during the 40-year contractual term. A September 17 decision by the council is expected to approve/reject the CEA.
A second contract, Purchase and Conveyance Agreement, has also been presented whereby NWI would acquire the parish-owned wastewater treatment facilities along with certain real property. The sale of any “revenue-generating asset” by the parish requires approval at the ballot box. Rejection by voters would not vitiate contractual terms of the CEA described above. If approved the $15 million payment from NWI would be credited toward the purchase.
NOTE: December 5 has been targeted for the ballot referendum. It seems unrealistic to this writer.
Unsurprisingly, parish officials and various council members have expressed a belief that Ascension’s wastewater assets are worth significantly more than that number. Parish President Clint Cointment, who declined comment, is keeping his cards tight to the vest.
Over the decades the parish has had to take over wastewater treatment of various localities, Astroland Subdivision in Darrow most notably. When the subdivision’s treatment plant became inoperable the parish stepped in. That was the mid-1990s and Ascension taxpayers have subsidized sewer treatment ever since, building the Hillaryville treatment plant in later years.
In 2017 the plant began piping treated effluent into the Mississippi River as part of a joint venture with the Corps of Engineers. Largely federally-funded, the project came in at $2.1 million.
Currently the subsidization hovers around $3,000,000 per year, including numerous smaller sewer treatment plants that have failed over the years. 23 total, according to one estimate by an administration official speaking on the condition of anonymity. All told Ascension parish operates sewer treatment for approximately 2,000 east bank residents.
The parish also operates a plant at Oak Grove Primary School. How much value can it have since $2.5 million has been earmarked for improvements?
There are sewer lines laid along Hwy 42 and Hwy 73, required by DOTD as part of road construction projects. Ascension Parish incurred a $15 million (+) in expenses to do so. Those lines make up a significant share of the parish’s 35 miles of sewer lines.