ASCENSION PARISH, La. (WAFB) - A heated discussion took place in Ascension Parish Friday, Dec. 20 as the parish council took up a vote to revamp the parish’s sewer system, which is expected to increase rates for customers with Ascension Sewage and the Ascension Consolidated Utility in district two.
The council chose to decline to vote on the plan immediately and instead postponed the vote until Jan. 23, 2020, siding with opponents of the decision to revamp who fiercely argued that the switch could backfire and negatively impact more people.
The plan eliminates small, individual treatment facilities that are in the neighborhoods and replaced them with a regional treatment facility that would dump treated water into the Mississippi River. Currently, sewage is being dumped into nearby bayous. The change would come with a price tag of $215 million.
Under the proposal, the parish would be locked into a 30-year contract. The initial rate would’ve been set at $57.90 per month. For the first ten years, that rate would have increased 4% each year, eventually reaching $82.41 per month. For the following 20 years, the rate would increase by 1% each year, but that depends on the costs of the project.
Incoming Parish President Clint Cointment previously expressed concern that costs will ultimately fall back on the entire parish though. He also said he’s worried the council was not doing its due diligence before voting on the proposal.
He spoke again with WAFB Friday night.
“I think this is a win for Ascension Parish, and I want to first start off by thanking the current council for having faith not only in me as the parish president-elect, but the new council members coming in,” said Cointment.
Around 60 people showed up to speak out in opposition of the plan, which would probably increase rates for Ascension sewage customers. One person even had a that said, “Do not sell out Ascension,” and on the other side, “Haste makes waste.”
“Raise your hands if you’re concerned with the cost to you personally. Okay, you see it here don’t you?” said one Ascension Parish resident.
“Why are we shoving this down the throats of the residents in this parish? Slow down, give us a chance to review it, let us vote on it, put it up for a public vote. Don’t shove it down our throats,” said another resident.
“This community needs to clean up it’s act to a certain extent, with respect to what’s happening from an environmental standpoint, and it’s very controversial, it’s difficult and that’s the way these things go,” said Jeff Jenkins, a Bernhard Capital partner.
A public hearing will be scheduled the week before the vote, which is schedule for Jan. 23.
“They’re [residents] paying the bills, they’re paying the rates. How about we ask the people that are paying to get their input? And that’s essentially what we’re going to do in January,” said Cointment.
Most residents who appeared before the council Friday agreed. They described the decision as rushed, and questioned the motivation for council members to vote so soon.
One resident, Sean Dardeau, filed suit against the parish council Monday, Dec. 16 in an attempt to halt a vote that was supposed to take place that same day. A judge issued a temporary restraining order, stopping the council from proceeding with any votes, hearings, comments, approval, or progress on the plan until a hearing on Jan. 7, 2020. However, a state appellate panel overturned that. Dardeau and his attorney, Jean-Paul Robert, then filed a new temporary restraining order request that was more detailed. However, a judge denied that order just minutes before the council gathered at 6 p.m. Friday.
Here’s the gist of what’s going on: The new parish president-elect, his administration, and the new council don’t really want to be saddled with a deal that the old council and administration came up with.
However, Cointment vowed to work out the kinks with the current deal at Friday’s meeting. Both Cointment and the six new council members will be sworn in Jan. 6.