GONZALES — A Prairieville woman filed suit recently against Ascension Parish’s largest wastewater treatment company, alleging its plant had sewer overflows on her property last year when the company upgraded the plant this year.
Dagmar Goerl, who lives in the Jefferson Oaks subdivision off La. 73, alleges in the lawsuit that sewage from the Ascension Wastewater Treatment Inc. plant overflowed onto her property four times between Sept. 23 and Oct. 24, 2013 and contaminated her property.
The waste damaged her lawn and killed two of her sweet viburnum hedges, she alleges.
Goerl alleges that the company also moved a chlorine contact box onto an easement that runs through her property that was meant only for underground sewer pipes and access to the treatment plant behind her house. Ascension Wastewater then built a fence around the new box, Goerl’s suit alleges.
Goerl, who is representing herself, also complained about another upgrade causing a “loud, high-pitched whistling” noise.
Filed Oct. 20 in the 23rd Judicial District Court, the suit seeks damages from Ascension Wastewater and came nearly three months after the Ascension Parish Council asked the state Public Service Commission in a resolution to consider blocking rate increases for any private sewer companies not in substantial compliance with the state Department of Environmental Quality.
Ascension Wastewater officials complained in July and August about the more broadly worded parish resolution, because if the PSC agreed, it would block the rate increase the company was asking the PSC to approve to pay for required upgrades.
But DEQ officials later told the council that Ascension Wastewater, which is under a yearslong compliance order to upgrade its sewer plants, including the one in Jefferson Oaks, was in substantial compliance and the parish decided to adopt a more narrow resolution, which essentially allowed the company to seek its rate increase.
Ascension Wastewater officials did not directly respond to the suit Tuesday.
“We haven’t seen anything, and we have no comment,” said Lauren Bankston, Ascension Wastewater utilities supervisor.
A woman answering the phone at Goerl’s home earlier this month also declined comment.
DEQ records show that inspectors checked complaints about the Jefferson Oaks plant three times in 2013.
Two of the complaints — at least one of which was filed by Goerl — involved sewage leaking from the subdivision treatment plant while Ascension Wastewater was making upgrades in late September 2013, the reports say.
A DEQ inspector found that sewage was leaking from the plant, a Sept. 27, 2013, report says.
Jean Kelly, DEQ spokeswoman, noted that the leaks alleged by Goerl came months before DEQ officials spoke with the Parish Council and the required upgrades apparently happened.
The state Department of Health and Hospitals, which also has regulatory authority over sewage treatment systems, cited Ascension Wastewater in early September after an Aug. 22 visit to the plant, a violation letter says. While Goerl sued over the fence being built around the chlorine contact box on her property, it was DHH’s inspection that led to the fence being built.
DHH cited the company for not having the fence around the chlorine contact box, which is required to keep out people and animals. Company officials told DHH in a late September letter that the fence and other required upgrades had been completed.
Goerl alleged in her suit that the fence was built without her permission and without DHH’s approval. However, the agency says it doesn’t say on whose land the chlorine contact box should be built, just that the company has to have a fence around it.
Ashley Lewis, DHH spokeswoman, said it is up to the sewage treatment plant owners to ensure that private property is not encroached upon by their facilities.
Though DHH threatened to fine the company up to $100 per day, Lewis said DHH did not fine Ascension Wastewater because the company corrected the problems.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.