GONZALES — Three months since Geismar residents voiced their opposition to a proposed Ascension Parish sewage treatment plant in their area, parish government officials said Wednesday they have not had success in finding a cost-effective replacement location.
The lack of a location presents a major stumbling block for the parish to close on a $60 million low-interest loan for a parishwide sewer system. The state Department of Environmental Quality granted preliminary approval of the loan in December 2013.
The first phase of the parishwide system, which would initially serve the Prairieville area along La. 42 and La. 73, is projected to cost roughly $40 million and needs access to the Mississippi River to discharge treated effluent.
Worried about testing DEQ’s patience with so much money on the line, some members of the Parish Council Utilities Committee urged the parish administration Wednesday to press forward. The councilmen called for community outreach to residents, including a public information campaign to allay community fears of foul odors.
“Like we say, let’s educate the public,” said Councilman Oliver Joseph, who says the technology the parish is considering won’t have the kinds of odor problems other systems do.
The Parish Council had agreed in December to allow Parish President Tommy Martinez to negotiate with L.J. Grezaffi for land near the intersection of La. 73 and La. 30, but opposition quickly emerged from Geismar residents worried about stench from the future facility.
Martinez told the committee Wednesday that officials have put the word out to owners of land between La. 74 south to the river, including to several plants, but with no success.
“Nobody’s willing to sell any property to us at this point,” Martinez said.
He said parish officials have gone back to Grezaffi for other locations away from La. 73. Grezaffi owns a large swath of land along La. 73 and La. 30 and has turned part of it into a business park.
But Martinez said Grezaffi’s land along La. 30, which would be farther from Geismar, has been sold. Land deeper inside Grezaffi’s property, which is also farther from Geismar, is not yet available.
Martinez added that 40 acres near the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center, which BASF donated to the parish in the mid-2000s, would be cost-prohibitive because of the land’s distance from the La. 73 corridor and lack of easy access to the river.
“It’s probably going to add quite a few millions to what we’ve projected,” Martinez said.
Councilman Chris Loar said he would not buy a site without a better business plan for the system. A parish analysis last year showed the system would run a $2 million annual deficit on loan payments because of so few expected customers.
But Councilman Benny Johnson, who is leading the parish’s push for municipal sewer, said he does not believe the parish is in immediate danger of losing the DEQ loan and has time to continue looking. He said, however, he would agree to buy the original Grezaffi land, if needed, to keep the loan.
He said negotiations for another 10-acre site along River Road stalled when one of the owners objected to the plant. Another suitor was able to get a purchase agreement for the property, he said.
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