State Rep. Paul Hollis says that raw sewage frequently inundates the yard of his Mandeville-area home, with 13 documented incidents in the last year and half, one of which forced him to cancel his 14-year-old daughter’s birthday party.
The smell and what he and his wife, a registered nurse, see as a health hazard have the lawmaker considering moving his family, which also includes a 4-year-old son, out of Grande Maison, where he’s lived for 10 years.
The sewage began spewing onto his lawn from a pipe and manhole again Monday night, prompting Hollis, a conservative Republican and strong critic of big government, to take his gripes to Facebook with a video.
He described an “ongoing battle with ineptitude and mismanagement” and asked if others were having the same kind of problem. He said he got lots of responses from people on Facebook and on the phone.
By Tuesday, parish crews were installing a new pump in the subdivision — something that Ronnie Simpson, a spokesman for St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister, said is part of a solution that the parish engineered after meeting with Hollis in October.
The new submersible pump, which Simpson said had just arrived, is larger and is expected to address capacity issues.
The parish is also working on other improvements to the lift station in the neighborhood, including an automatic notification system that will alert the parish when there is a problem.
At present, the 200 lift stations throughout the parish have an alarm that goes off and a number for people to call about a problem, but the automated system will eliminate the need for someone to hear the alarm and notify the parish.
Simpson said the parish will use Grande Maison as a pilot program for the automated system.
The faster the parish learns about a problem, the faster it can fix it, Simpson said, noting that the clog at Grande Maison on Monday was removed in about five minutes.
The parish also has a truck that can suck wastewater out of ditches in case of a backup, and it spreads quicklime on yards to deal with the smell.
"When it's in your neighborhood, on your street, nothing ever happens quick enough," Simpson said. "Can we do better? Sure we can do better. We can always do better. And we're going to continue to do that and continue to make improvements, not only to our infrastructure but our process."
The state Department of Environmental Quality also showed up at Hollis’ house Tuesday. The state lawmaker said he had called to ask about the process for making a complaint and had been planning to write a letter when officials showed up.
By Tuesday afternoon, Hollis’ yard looked back to normal, and the ditches were dry. But after years of incidents, Hollis said that he doesn’t have much faith in the parish resolving the problem.
He was especially critical of what he called a cavalier response from Greg Gordon, the head of the parish’s Department of Environmental Services.
His front yard was a mushy, smelly mess before his daughter’s party after hundreds of gallons of sewage had inundated the yard, he said. He said Gordon told him the parish would sprinkle lime on the yard to address the problem. Hollis said he expressed skepticism that doing so would make the yard safe for children.
He said the smell has been unbearable at times, and he and his wife have had concerns about sewage backing up into their dishwasher and washing machine.
His neighbors also have been affected by raw sewage in the ditches in front of their homes, he said.
"The departments that oversee this, to call them inept, that's certainly not an exaggeration," Hollis said, "At this point, years later, after many many complaints, with many people at different levels, to have to endure this with the amount of taxes that we pay, it's beyond ruffling feathers."