GONZALES — The state Office of Community Development has cleared the way for Ascension Parish government to begin using more than $5 million in federal hurricane recovery money to consolidate and upgrade rural sewer services, officials said.
The more than $5 million Community Development Block Grant funding is part of a $19.37 million award issued to the parish in 2009 for recovery from hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008.
The $5 million will be used to buy 14 acres of rights of way and allow parish government to build lift stations to consolidate sewer services in unincorporated areas of the parish, the Louisiana Office of Community Development announced in a news release.
Those areas include primarily the rural communities of Hillaryville, Darrow, Astroland and St. Elmo, which are along the east bank of the Mississippi River and south of Interstate 10.
About 200 homes will be tied into the new system, officials said.
Pat Forbes, interim executive director of OCD’s Disaster Recovery Unit, said in the statement Friday that some of those communities were without sewer services for two weeks after Gustav because they were not connected to a major treatment facility.
“In the case of future emergencies in these communities, being connected to the consolidated system will enable citizens and businesses to recover more quickly and return to normal conditions as quickly as possible,” Forbes said.
The parish’s overall plan for the Gustav-Ike award has already been approved. The plan includes spending nearly $8.9 million to help buy and upgrade Lamar-Dixon Expo Center, as well as investing millions more on projects in the parish and municipalities, the final plan says.
OCD has been reviewing the individual projects in that plan, said Christina Stephens, the agency’s spokeswoman.
Martha Collins, parish grants officer, said the announcement Friday means OCD has approved the parish’s full application for the sewer funding.
“Now we are ready to draw down money and begin the process,” Collins said in a prepared response.
Kenny Matassa, who is director of the parish health unit, issued a statement saying the parish is working with Hartman Engineering and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete a facility plan in two to three months.
Other projects in the parish’s overall plan already have received the same backing from OCD, Stephens said:
$4.69 million the parish used last year to help buy Lamar-Dixon.
$1.1 million for the planned purchase of the Louisiana Fairgrounds in Donaldsonville.
$1 million to help build a new Gonzales police station.
$500,000 for a new 3,500-square-foot Sorrento Community Center.
$500,000 each for Sorrento and Donaldsonville sewer upgrades.
$300,000 for a drainage study of the parish’s west bank.
The police station and drainage study are under way. The other projects are in earlier stages.
Parish leaders had discussed using the $5 million in sewer funding, in combination with an $18 million low-interest loan from the state Department of Environmental Quality, to jump-start a regional parish sewer system on the east bank.
But a critical aspect of that effort fell apart in late March when a key private sewer provider withdrew from negotiations to be bought out by a company seeking to run the new parish system.
The system needed the customer base.
Ascension Parish President Tommy Martinez said in the OCD statement Friday that the new consolidated system will be part of a larger parish system in the long run.