Ascension considering litigation to force DEMCO utility relocation

Certain of the Move Ascension Road Improvement Program’s projects have hit a snag, the placement of utilities within parish-owned right-of-way by DEMCO.  On Thursday the Parish Council emerged from Executive Session to authorize legal action against the company to force relocation of the utilities’ infrastructure impeding progress toward completion of unnamed Move Ascension projects.  The agenda item cited:

a. Demco’s violation of the Ascension Parish Code of Ordinances – Section 10-2 Dixie Electric Membership Corporation – Electric Lines

This comes after the Council March 22 meeting, another Executive Session after which (according to that meeting’s minutes):  Councilman Lawler made a motion to recognize that Demco is in violation of their franchise agreement by obstructing roads and creating safety hazards for citizens. The motion passed with no objection.”

Four months later, without amicable resolution, and the Council adopted the following motion offered by Councilwoman Teri Casso at the end of Thursday’s meeting.

“That the Ascension Parish Government, through its Parish President and with all the personnel under his authority, and the District Attorney take all legal action necessary to enforce the rights of Ascension Parish Government; and the Move Ascension Road Improvement Program to demand the relocation of utility improvements in conflict with road construction following the DOTD-established relocation procedures.  This would also include granting the authority to solicit subject matter experts at trial.”

DOTD’s power of eminent domain, found in Louisiana Revised Statute 48:441 et seq., along with the state’s Administrative Code: Title 70:II-529, includes the power to force relocation of utilities.  The statutory language, dense to the point of indecipherability for this layman, includes language which seems to indicate the utility provider bears the cost of relocation if, indeed, the hardware lies within a parish-owned right-of-way.  Good thinking, the motion’s “granting the authority to solicit subject matter experts.”

Demco’s franchise agreement (referenced in Thursday’s agenda item as Section 10-2 above), commencing in 1941, includes a 99-year term.

SECTION 1. Be it ordained by the Police Jury of the Parish of Ascension, State of Louisiana, in regular session convened this first day of April 1941, that the right, privilege, and franchise is hereby granted to the Dixie Electric Membership Corporation, its successors, assigns or nominees, for a period of ninety-nine (99) years from this date, to construct, operate and maintain across, along and/or over the present and future streets, avenues, parkways, alleys, thoroughfares, roads, bridges, public grounds and properties within the boundaries of the Parish of Ascension, State of Louisiana, as the Dixie Electric Membership Corporation may elect, electric lines with all the necessary or desirable appurtenances, including pole, wires, towers, transmission lines and underground conduits.

SECTION 2. Be it further ordained that this right, privilege and franchise is granted under the following express conditions:

That as to any electric light poles and wires that shall be erected along any street or road forming a part of the Louisiana State Highway System, said wires and poles shall be erected only after consent has been obtained of the State Highway Engineer, and the said work shall be constructed and maintained in strict accordance with the requirements of the rules and regulations of the Louisiana State Highway Commission, and with the provisions of Act No. 95 of the Extra Session of the Legislature of 1921, creating the Louisiana Highway Commission, and all law amendatory thereof.

SECTION 3. Be it further ordained that whenever any poles and wires are erected on any road or street not forming a part of the Louisiana State Highway System, that said Dixie Electric Membership Corporation, its successors, assigns, or nominees shall erect said poles and wires in a workmanlike manner, and in no way interfere with the drainage or traffic over said streets or roads, and the rights of the public thereon, and subject to the approval of the Road and Bridge Committee of the Police Jury of the said Parish of Ascension.