Public/Private sewer partnership abandoned

L-R: Former Parish President Tommy Martinez, Glen Shaheen and David Einsel of GSA Engineers, and Councilman Doc Satterlee after August 27, 2015 Utilities meeting

In December of 2013 Louisiana DEQ approved a $60 million loan which was intended to assist Ascension Parish’s endeavor into comprehensive east bank wastewater treatment.  Three years and two months later, two swings and two misses, and President Kenny Matassa read the eulogy in the form of a prepared statement recommending abandonment of Ascension Environmental to Tuesday’s Utilities Committee in Gonzales.

In the beginning the plan was “Modified P-1-6,” the brainchild of GSA Consulting Engineers’ headman, Glenn Shaheen.  It was going to utilize new sewer lines mandated along two major highways (73 and 42) undergoing DOTD improvements, linking to Airline Hwy lines, depositing treated effluent into the Mississippi River.

Within a few months of posing for the symbolic check presentation with former DEQ Secretary Peggy Hatch the parish concluded Modified P-1-6 would not work.  The bad news was delivered in early 2014 when former parish engineer Bob Horner informed Utilities that an insufficient customer base doomed the plan (doomed, that is, unless it would be subsidized by millions of taxpayer dollars for years).

Horner, who would be named Ascension Utilities Director by former parish president Tommy Martinez, was the first casualty of Kenny Matassa’s housecleaning upon taking office last January.  Matassa would appoint Bill Depew over Utilities only to fire him and Ascension has had no Utilities Director since October 4, 2016.  Peggy Hatch did not survive Louisiana’s gubernatorial transition from Bobby Jindal to John Bel Edwards.

With Bob Horner’s assessment in mind, the parish council concluded the “only path forward was P3-public/private partnership” if Ascension is ever to have integrated east bank sewer.  Request for Proposal was issued on September 10, 2015 with a 30-day window to respond, extended to 60 days, and the deadline was November 9.  One response was received and that was Ascension Environmental, the group cobbled together by (no surprise here) GSA Consulting Engineers and Glenn Shaheen.

The only public request for extension was made by letter dated October 21, 2015 from Hartman Engineering’s Jared Monceaux to all Council members.

“I met with the writer of that letter requesting six months,” Councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee avoided identifying anyone by name at the December 7, 2015 Special Meeting of the Parish Council which authorized (soon to be inaugurated) Kenny Matassa to commence negotiations with Ascension Environmental. “I asked that gentleman point blank, ‘is it gonna be a problem as some of my colleagues think it will be?’  Admittedly, he said it’d be a little more difficult but ‘No, Doc, I agree.  We have boiler-plates; we have other things we can use.  We’ll be there.’”

Hartman Engineering did not respond to the RFP, nor did anyone else save Ascension Environmental, and a lukewarm 5-3 Council vote decided to progress with P3 negotiations.

Shaheen’s original team included SCS Management (which is three companies including GSA) to oversee the $300-500 million project, Provident Resource Group to finance it, and Ascension Wastewater Treatment (AWT) to provide existing customers to service accruing debt.  Within months his team disbanded and Ascension Environmental was reconfigured a couple of times.

The Parish Council wasted several months in mid-2016 wrangling over the “owner’s representative” which would assist Matassa in negotiation and implementation.

Chaos reigns: Matassa ducks out as “fatally-flawed” process postpones P3 sewer

An abject waste of time if ever there was one.  All South Engineering Consultants was eventually selected but never tasked with actual negotiation or implementation.  According to Matassa and Ascension’s legal adviser, Tim Hardy, that is due to “critical changes” in Ascension Environmental’s team, i.e. AWT is not part of the team.

The key to Ascension Environmental was AWT’s existing customer base.  And, if east bank sewer is ever to get off the drawing board, those customers will always be the key.

Hardy, of Roedel Parsons law firm, sent three letters of inquiry without getting satisfactory answers.  He assured the Parish Council is on solid legal footing to declare the RFP abandoned and Utilities voted unanimously to recommend it do so.

Not even Doc Satterlee, sewer’s greatest Council champion, could object.

“I’m not going to beat an obviously dead horse,” he said after GSA’s David Einsel conceded defeat.

Einsel, appearing for the conspicuously absent Glenn Shaheen for two Utilities meetings in as many weeks, said he was “comfortable with the recommendations” to abandon the RFP.

It’s not like he had a choice.