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The pumps near Sorrento used for drainage in Ascension Parish. Aerials of severe weather flooding in Ascension Parish on Monday August 15, 2016.

SORRENTO — Town officials say they want the East Ascension drainage board to clear more than 19 miles of roadside ditches and culverts, create a ditch maintenance schedule and share the operational details of the parish's major drainage infrastructure in the town.

Those action items were among the highlights of a item-by-item letter that town officials say they will hand to the parish in the coming weeks over the town's lingering drainage problems from years of parish neglect.     

The Town Council on Tuesday hashed out the fine points of the demand in a freewheeling special meeting and agreed to approve a final, edited document in two weeks, ahead of an expected meeting with parish officials.

"It's going to be Sorrento's demand for drainage services that they feel are due under the law in regard to East Ascension Drainage District No. 1," Town Attorney Matthew Percy said of the coming letter.  

For months, town officials have questioned the East Ascension drainage board's long-standing position that it is not responsible to maintain roadside ditches inside the town of more than 1,600 people. The board is made up of 10 of 11 Parish Council members.

These are the smaller ditches that line each side of the byways throughout Ascension Parish and often have vegetative growth fed by discharges from household sewage treatment systems.

After a December vote directing their attorney to pursue all legal options for drainage funding, Percy sent the drainage board a legal demand letter in March, calling generally for drainage work and asserting it was the parish's job to do it.

With the assistance of the town's consulting engineer, the newest letter drills into the details and the time tables, though offers no cost estimates.

A draft of the letter provided Tuesday lays out an inventory of town roads that need ditch improvements and, according to handwritten additions made Tuesday night, also calls for the parish to provide Sorrento with a schedule for those and other repairs that all must be finished in a year and a half.

The draft letter and the handwritten notes also call for point of contact and for work on the town's major drainage ways, for which the parish hasn't generally disputed it is responsible.

In a deal that Percy advised the council to keep separate from the detailed demands, Sorrento is also proposing to cut grass on 42 acres of ditch and levee rights of way for a fee of $75,000. The deal, which the parish would pay, would increase the grass-cutting schedule from two to six times a year. 

Since voters across the parish's east bank renewed a long-standing 5-mill property tax in November, the complaints from Sorrento have risen louder about the backlog of clogged road ditches in the town. 

In the run-up to the tax renewal vote, parish officials pitched the tax to voters as paying for road ditch work, among other improvements. Even in the last days before the vote, parish officials touted in a public meeting the continued expansion of a new contract road ditch clearing program — courtesy of the 5-mill tax then on the ballot. But the program is aimed at a backlog of clogged ditches in the unincorporated parts of the east bank, not Sorrento or Gonzales. 

Voters in Sorrento heavily supported the 10-year tax.

The town's March letter to the parish notes that state law, parish ordinances and the 5-mill tax's own ballot language do not carve the municipalities out of the drainage district and so they can't be "limited access to the funds collected via taxes imposed on those voters living within the District."

Parish officials, who have met at least twice in closed session on the issue, do not agree they are responsible for road ditches in the town but say they are willing to work with Sorrento.

During the town meeting Tuesday, Sorrento resident Chris Guidry aired his frustration with the focus in the draft letter on roadside ditches, worrying that that work alone without improvements on larger, clogged ditches could cause backups that would affect his land. 


Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.