GONZALES — A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency audit has found that Ascension Parish government lacks a storm water management plan that is overdue by 3 1/2 years, officials said.
EPA spokesman Dave Bary said in an interview that enforcement officials found the plan missing during an audit earlier this year.
When asked, Bary said he would not characterize the overdue plan as a major violation of the U.S. Clean Water Act, “but it is a violation nonetheless.”
He said a report on the audit is expected in mid- to late August but has said it is premature to discuss additional enforcement.
Storm water plans outline how governments try to limit pollution from running off into drainage systems, creeks and bayous. The fixes might range from erosion controls at construction sites to public educational campaigns. Since the discovery, parish officials said they have been bringing the parish into compliance and implementing the plan.
Ben Laurie, chief parish engineer, said Thursday the plan is now nearly finished and will be reviewed by department heads this week. The plan will be made public, said Beth James, chief executive assistant to Parish President Tommy Martinez.
Martinez said the parish plan was supposed to be completed in 2007 and implemented by 2008.
Martinez also has warned the Parish Council that implementing the plan would not be “an inexpensive endeavor” in the future. He said he planned to budget staff next year to regulate storm water discharge.
The missing plan also highlights the at-times lagging efforts under three parish administrations to comply with paperwork requirements called for in state and federal storm water regulations, online records from a Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality database show.
In June 2006, the administration of former Parish President Ronnie Hughes agreed to pay a $900 penalty to DEQ to settle violations for failing to submit three years worth of annual reports dating back to 2003.
Martinez’s administration has also been late on annual reports but got caught up in May, records show.
In recent years, the Parish Council has adopted a drainage ordinance and rules on erosion controls related to construction. For several years, the parish has also reviewed with contractors whether they need special storm water permits, annual reports show.
In June, the council backed an ordinance laying out tiered levels of enforcement of the parish storm water program that ultimately can lead to a fine of $500.
On Thursday, the council also considered a series of changes to the parish drainage ordinance. Two were delayed after a contractor asked for more time to study the issue.
Federal and state environmental regulators have pushed smaller counties and cities in the past decade to implement storm water plans as part of storm water discharge permits.
In Louisiana, the permits were issued under a statewide general permit.
Ascension Parish received its permit in December 2002, according to the DEQ online database. The permit required a storm water plan no later than December 2007 when the parish permit would be up for renewal.
The parish’s permit was renewed on Dec. 5, 2007. A Nov. 30, 2007, DEQ letter on the renewal included a warning that the storm water plan was still needed.
DEQ does not actually require the parish to submit its plan, only annual reports.
But Tom Killeen, DEQ water permit manager, who wrote that letter in 2007, said DEQ will renew permits when there are instances of non-compliance.
When asked about fines, Killeen said he believes the parish is on track and DEQ’s main priority is to the see the parish reach compliance.
“There’s no misconception now,” Killeen said. “They now understand, in no uncertain terms, what our expectations are, and we intend to see to it that they comply.”