Proposed sewer agreement nearing completion, April 24 targeted for voter approval

Negotiations with/against National Water Infrastructure (NWI), formerly Ascension Sewer, LLC are nearing completion according to President Clint Cointment.  He offered a brief summary at the final 2020 meeting of Ascension’s Parish Council, three days short of a year since the former council rejected a vastly different Cooperative Endeavor Agreement.  The goal is to have every “i” and “t” dotted and crossed before presenting the agreement, which would include the sale of all parish sewer treatment assets, to the voters on April 24, 2021.

The “operating agreement” is 90% complete, only “details left…(which)…could impact other areas” outside of sewer treatment in the parish.  Sources close to the negotiation have indicated that future Right-of-Way acquisition, who will be responsible and on the hook for payment, is unresolved.  NWI has long insisted that it will “go it alone” if a deal does not get done, relying upon Louisiana Revised Statute 19:2 which empowers a private company to expropriate necessary property.  It reads, in pertinent part:

“Where a price cannot be agreed upon with the owner, any of the following may expropriate needed property:

(4) domestic or foreign corporation created for the construction or operation of…sewerage plants to supply the public with…sewerage.”

Cointment’s administration and, by all appearances, the entire council seem to be in lockstep as the Long March toward regional sanitary sewer trudges forward, but this time no one is talking retreat.  All concerned seem committed to meeting all deadlines to have the ultimate question before Ascension’s voters four months from now.

A Brief History of Ascension’s (f)utility: Eight councils have attempted parish-wide sewer

Appraisals of all sewer treatment assets, authorized by the Council in September, has not been completed.  Cointment expects receipt of same “in early January.”

“We’d like to have every detail hammered and present a clean document for council consideration,” the parish president said.  “We think the final product is going to be an attractive one for our residents who will have the final say so.”

Compared to the 2019 proposal, it most assuredly will be more appealing.  Instead of $75.8 million infused by Ascension Parish into last year’s deal, the parish will be on the receiving end with a substantial upfront payment ($15 million was the figure in early versions of the current proposal).  There will be annual franchise fee payments tied to a percentage of NWI’s revenue and, maybe most appealing of all to elected officialdom, Ascension will be out of the sewer business avoiding annual subsidization of east bank sewer (over $4 million last year).

Parish Attorney O’Neil Parenton recently raised the issue of illegality over Ascension’s decades long practice of subsidizing utilities out of the General Fund.  An opinion from Louisiana’s Attorney General was authorized by the Council on Thursday.