I-Team: $1.5 billion sewer upgrade backfires

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The 9News I-team has uncovered a major flaw in a very expensive East Baton Rouge project. Some homeowners said a $1.5 billion upgrade to the city-parish sewer system has only made matters worse.

Morgan Place is a quiet neighborhood filled with traditional ranch style houses. Most of the people who have settled there have called the neighborhood home for decades. Tom Lacy is one of them.

"I've lived here 29 years and we never had a problem until they did the upgrade on top of the street," Lady said.

Cell phone video taken by residents showed what Lacy and his neighbors said happens in their front yards every time it rains. It showed raw sewage gushing out of the manhole cover covering lawns and settling in ditches.

Vincent Donellan said it triggers an even worse problem inside his home.

"We can't flush our toilets during a rain and even after a rain, up to 8 hours later," Donellan said.

"If you have a bunch of people over, like we have a fairly large family and it starts raining, they have to leave because there's no facilities available," Lacy said.

"We can't take baths. We can't wash our clothes. We can't do anything of the sort," Donellan explained.

Donellan and his wife took pictures following a recent downpour. They said sometimes the sewage takes days to drain, and when it does they are left with a crusted manhole cover and lawn.

"You'll see what looks like toilet paper and feces," Donellan said.

Homeowners said the mess is one concern. The possible health risks associated with the waste sitting on their properties is another.

"After everything dries up, I go out and stop my lawn mower and try to cut grass in front yard and everything there is friable which winds up in my lungs and on my clothing," Donellan said.

Residents said they've been battling the situation for two and a half years. They believe it is tied to a city-parish project aimed at improving the sewer system. The lift station near the entrance to their subdivision was upgraded but another lift station in the center of the neighborhood was not.

Several months ago they reached out to state and parish leaders for help.

"These are emails over the past many months that show we have been trying to complain and make them aware of our problem," Paulette Donellan said.

Homeowners said they can't seem to get any help.

"If the mayor-president or the head of DPW had this in their subdivision or at their house would they go two and a half years before something was done," Vincent Donellan asked.

"I'm basically tired of going over to Walmart to use their facilities while it's raining," Lacy explained.

The DPW director, David Guillory, told 9News the city-parish got ahead of itself and failed to properly plan the construction of the new lift stations.

He said, as a result, there are many subdivisions experiencing similar problems.

Guillory said the city-parish has ordered some temporary pumps that will be installed in the older pumping stations to help alleviate the problem but that won't happen for 60 days.

The permanent upgrade is scheduled to happen in Morgan Place in a year and a half.