A regional sewer system for the northern reaches of Ascension Parish moved one step closer to becoming a reality last week when the council approved ordinances allowing issuance of up to $60 million in revenue bonds.

The Prairieville area serviced by the system would include businesses on Airline Highway north of La. 42 and homes and businesses along sections of La. 42 and La. 73.

Funding for the project comes from a $60 million low-interest loan through the state Department of Environmental Quality, part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund.

The parish plans to budget $3.3 million from the parish’s existing 1-cent sales tax to secure the bonds.

Parish President Tommy Martinez, who was absent from Thursday’s meeting, has said the administration may ask the Ascension Parish Council to consider dividing the loan into two phases of about $30 million each.

Chief Administrative Officer Ken Dawson said last week that officials are looking at how to utilize $9 million in current infrastructure within the new project.

A treatment plant for the system likely would be located along La. 73, Dawson said.

“It’s a feasible location, because you don’t have to pull too far off that location to move the lines and discharge to the (Mississippi) river after that,” he said.

Council members debated the options of either taking the entire $60 million loan out at once or doing so in gradual increments.

Councilwoman Teri Casso noted that some expenses are not covered by the loan, such as right-of-way acquisition.

“I think it’s wise for the engineering department to be sure that we do not take out more than we or our citizens can pay for,” she said. “This needs to be incremental.”

Council Vice Chairman Benny Johnson, who also chairs the council’s Utilities Committee, said that is why the parish asked for up to $60 million in bonds.

“That way, if we have to bond the entire $60 million and can afford to do that, we will,” he said. “If we can afford to do something less than that, we’ll do it that way.”

Councilman Todd Lambert said he felt that if the parish takes less than the full $60 million, it risks a substandard beginning to the overall goal of a parishwide sewer system.

“A (treatment) plant is going to be quite expensive to build if we want it to handle this capacity, plus any subdivisions we pull in,” he said. “I agree that we need to start gradually, but $60 million is gradual on a $900 million project. I want to get a good start.”

Dawson said scaling the project always has been an option. The number of customers, he said, also will affect the stream of revenue to cover system operations and maintenance.

Acquiring private utility companies’ services in the parish also plays a role in the system’s potential growth rate, Dawson added.

“We didn’t want to invest in a big system and not have it operate correctly,” he said. “Instead, we wanted a smaller system you can operate very well, satisfy DEQ discharge requirements and be able to expand when the time comes.”

The next step in the process will see the parish go before the state Bond Commission for approval of the loan.

The parish aims to have the engineering, design and financial aspects of the project ready by November, so the project’s final loan application can be submitted to DEQ by December. Gonzales-based GSA Consulting Engineers is overseeing design of the project.