Council abolishes east bank Utilities District; notices election to sell off sewer treatment assets

“Trains” at current Darrow-Hillaryville treatment plant (among parish assets up for sale?)

On Thursday Ascension’s Parish Council adopted an ordinance abolishing Ascension Consolidated Utilities District (ACUD) #2 moments after noticing its intent to place the sale of its wastewater treatment assets on the ballot for April 24, 2021.  ACUD #2 was created in 2010 to provide “economy and efficiency in the furnishing of utilities (defined as sewer and water)” to east bank Ascension Parish (excluding the City of Gonzales and Town of Sorrento).  It achieved neither of its stated purposes and Ascension Parish Government wants out of the sewer business.

ACUD #2, according to legal counsel on Thursday, never even took ownership of 30 or more community sewer systems.  The formative ordinance required appointment of a five-member advisory board to govern the District, but that never happened.  And parish government subsidized east bank sewer treatment for years, over $4 million General Fund tax dollars in 2019 alone.

Parish Attorney O’Neil Parenton recently called into question the schemes constitutionality.  Does Louisiana law allow the general fund to subsidize a separate political subdivision’s shortfall?  He cited multiple Attorney General opinions for the proposition that “publicly owned utilities cannot give away utilities.”

NOTE:  ACUD #1 on Ascension’s west bank has also been subsidized from the parish’s general fund for years.  As west bank Councilman Alvin “Coach” Thomas is fond of saying; east or west, it is one parish.  Don’t expect the council to abolish ACUD #1, or Parish Utilities of Ascension (the entity created after acquisition of Peoples Water Company), any time soon.

A potential solution…sell it all and get out of the sewer business.

Contracting with National Water Infrastructure (formerly Ascension Sewer, LLC) in May 2019, the current council’s predecessor granted exclusive negotiating rights to NWI in return for the company’s attempt to bring comprehensive parish-wide sewer treatment into being.  Contractually, Ascension is prohibited from negotiating with any other entity until May 20. 2021.

The flaw in that plan was the cast of characters heading up the parish’s efforts in 2019.  A moribund parish president, Kenny Matassa had ceased to care about anything other than having Ascension taxpayers foot his criminal legal fees.  William Daniel, the parish’s inaugural Infrastructure Division Director, failed to wring a single concession out of NWI at the bargaining table and directed the parish’s high-priced attorneys to follow his lead.

And the former council, with a single exception in the personage of Bill Dawson, was complicit as certain members salivated with anticipation to do a deal, any deal with NWI.

While the terms of the current document have not been revealed publicly, much had changed from the original by the end of May (this year).  Ascension taxpayers are not on the hook for $75.8 million dollars, for one. As of In fact, NWI would pony up to purchase parish assets, and probably overpay; it would also pay an annual franchise fee in a fixed percentage of its revenue.

No one is discussing the current negotiations on the record though certain of the participants on the parish side assure that the sides are “close to a deal.”  Councilman Chase Melancon explained that, while certain details remain to be worked out, the council had to act if the proposition is to appear on the ballot in April.