Cointment: Parish can save $1 MILLION by doing 85% of Drainage Plan in-house

Payments made to engineering firms over the from 2015-19.

“What I’m asking for…is for this board to have faith in the administration to complete (a Floodplain Master Plan within 365 days),” Ascension President Clint Cointment staked out a bold position at Monday’s meeting of East Ascension Drainage Board.  “If I don’t, that’s on me.  If I do, and I don’t  come up with these (projected) savings, that’s on me.”

“When I am able to achieve this, we all win.  Not only does the administration win, not only does this board win, but the people of Ascension Parish win,” Cointment asserted his administration’s ability to deliver aspects of the plan in-house, saving taxpayers approximately $1 million.

Campaigning against the proliferation and profligacy of so many engineering contracts “that never seem to result in actual projects,” it was a natural stance for Cointment to adopt.  Can his administration deliver “the deliverables?”

The administration proposal separates the Floodplain Master Plan from Hydrologic and Hydraulic (H&H) Modeling with in-house personnel doing up to 85% of the former.  It will require training with Esri GIS Software, but a confident Cointment was unperturbed.  That phase, according to the parish president, would be accomplished by August at which time the project would be turned over to the firm selected via Request for Qualifications (RFQ).

Cointment stressed the benefits of competition in selecting that firm.

He envisions a committee comprised of members representing the parish’s Drainage, Planning, GIS and Technology departments.

  • All studies/data previously accumulated to be reduced to a comprehensive document ready by August;
  • The firm selected via RFQ would finalize that document, which would need to be certified;
  • The document will be modified, and re-certified annually.

President Cointment enumerated his goals:

  • Avoid duplication of studies;
  • Ensure studies undertaken result in tangible benefits;
  • Post-project review to improve efforts;
  • Cost/Benefit Analyses;
  • Transparency in the selection of firms.

“Thank you for having a plan to have a plan,” Prairieville Councilman Aaron Lawler began his inquiry, pressing Cointment to elaborate on previous lack of transparency.

Elements of the Drainage Board, ten east bank Parish Council members, favor authorizing HNTB to undertake the work at a $3.446 million price-tag.  Councilman Lawler led that contingent.

“The problem I have with Task Order No. 1, a not to exceed $400,000 contract, is that it has morphed into a $3.4 million adjustment without going out for qualifications.  The spirit of contract has changed, in my opinion,” responded President Cointment who stopped short of leveling any specific accusation.

It all began on October 3, 2016, six weeks after disastrous flood waters inundated much of Ascension Parish, when former Drainage/Public Works Director Bill Roux told the Drainage Board:

“I think this is something critical to the parish.  We really need to implement Floodplain Management.  And I’ll tell you right off the bat, once we define what is a floodplain; and map out the exact criteria for a floodplain; and the locations of the floodplains, we will be suggesting no fill within a floodplain if it impacts drainage on flooding situations.”

Then, nothing; not another syllable spoken about any of it until seven months elapsed, and…EA Drainage’s May 4, 2017 agenda included:

“Discussion of schedule and scope of work for the formulation and implementation of a Flood Plain Management Program for Ascension Parish.”

Roux unilaterally tabbed HNTB to bring it about, sans RFQ.  At the time, then Council Chairman/Board Member Bill Dawson insisted on issuance of a Request for Qualification which was resulted in HNTB being awarded the contract, anyway.  CSRS engineers was added by the time of EA Drainage’s approval on August 7, 2017.

On October 9, 2017 Bill Roux told the Drainage Board that HNTB’s work would be completed in “nine months to a year.”  Nine months later, on July 9, 2018, EA Drainage’s agenda included:

(8) Approval to accept and adopt the final recommendations of HNTB in regard to the implementation of the Flood Plain Management Plan as follows:
a) Proposed revisions to the Drainage Impact Study Policy.
b) Proposed revisions to the Parish of Ascension Unified Land Development Code Appendix V. – Drainage Regulations.
c) Proposed revisions to the Code of Ordinance – Chapter 9.5 Flood Damage Prevention.

No action was taken, with the recommendations reappearing on EA Drainage’s December 10, 2018 agenda.  The item was pulled and did not come back to EA Drainage until the end of 2020.  And the initial, “not to exceed $400,000” contract had, in Cointment’s words, “morphed into a $3.4 million adjustment without going out for qualifications.”

When Lawler resumed his Monday cross-examination, intent on getting a rise out of the often fiery parish president, Cointment declined the bait.  Lawler proceeded with a tough inquiry, aimed at drawing distinctions between the administration’s project and HNTB’s.

Councilman Dal Waguespack would follow up, concerned over “a lack of detail” in the administration’s presentation.  According to Waguespack the Board revisited the issue in September after a lengthy hiatus, time enough for the administration to have produced a more thorough product than was offered on Monday.  The District 9 councilman also wants “a tighter timeline.”

HNTB was represented on Monday, intent on presenting its case to the videoconference meeting.  A “technical glitch” could not be ironed out and its slide show could not be presented so HNTB will make its pitch at Tuesday’s meeting of the Finance Committee.