Utilities Chair qualifies endorsement of Peoples Water acquisition

District 11 Councilman Benny Johnson

District 11 Councilman Benny Johnson

Newly-implemented sewer fees clarified

Councilman Benny Johnson, who chairs the Council’s Utilities Committee, registered his continued support of Ascension’s efforts to purchase Peoples Water Company at Wednesday’s committee meeting in Gonzales.  On two recent occasions the company has failed to deliver potable water to its west bank Ascension Parish customer base and it is currently being investigated by Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH)…and, maybe, the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

“They’re having these issues,” Chairman Johnson conceded.  “But we’re buying water from two separate entities and we’ve got no control over what they’re sending to us.”

A “main line burst along Hwy 18″ resulted in a “loss of pressure” rendering Peoples’ “water supply system is of questionable microbiological quality.”  Peoples Water issued a Boil Advisory to its customers on April 10.

In March it was revealed that Peoples Water’s water contained unacceptably high levels of chlorine dioxide and the company had failed to maintain requisite documentation on numerous occasions going back to September of 2015. The company is still under an administrative order by Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals.

The second entity referenced by the Utilities chair is the supplier to Ascension Consolidated Utilities District (ACUD) #1.  (DHH) confirmed the presence of the Naegleria fowleri ameba after testing its site at “9295 Brou Road” in July of 2015.

Johnson qualified his support of spending $5.9 million to buy Peoples Water.  State and federal investigations must be resolved and, so too, must pending litigation against the company.  May 23 had been targeted for closing the deal but the parish threatened to back out unless Peoples Water requested an extension to August 31.

“We’re not going to buy the company if it’s being investigated,” insisted Parish legal counsel, O’Neil Parenton.  “We’re going to get a company free and clear” of litigation, or his recommendation would be “to walk away” from the deal.

Citing potential economic development on the west bank, District 1 Councilman Oliver Joseph argued for the acquisition.  The Council approved a large Industrial Overlay Zone in 2015 and his belief is that Ascension could make money by selling water to whatever industrial concerns occupy the property in the future.

In other news Chief Administrative Officer Ken Dawson informed Utilities that Bill DePew is “officially the Director” of the parish’s Utilities Department.  Bob Horner was terminated from the post in January and Ascension’s governmental website has yet to identify his replacement.

O’Neil Parenton clarified a 2011-adopted ordinance which Ascension’s Planning Department only recently began enforcing; Ordinance 18-115.7, entitled Connection and development fees.

“Sewer connection and/or development fees shall be purchased by the property owner” begins a copy of the ordinance which began showing up in subdivision packets before the Planning Commission in recent months.

(2) Development fee, per lot…$2,500: a. One-half to be paid by the subdivision developer at the time of final plat approval by the parish.  b. One-half to be paid by the builder or owner at the time a building permit is applied for.

The planning packet document provides an example utilizing a “Subdivision with 100 lots.”  The developer would pay $125,000 $1,250 per lot.  “Builder= $1,250 per lot paid at the time a building permit is applied for an each lot.”

“We never discussed the difference if someone gave us the system and didn’t,” Parenton said on Wednesday.  “If you keep your system you gotta’ cut us a check.”

Those who dedicate systems to the parish will see their fees offset by the value of said system.

And there has been no resolution “on how to deal with commercial” development.  According to legal counsel Utilities can set the terms since no new fee is being charged.