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Councilman Trae Welch fields a question during a meeting of the Metro Council on Oct. 24, 2018, at City Hall in Baton Rouge, La.

Residents of southeastern East Baton Rouge and in the Zachary area at risk of higher sewer bills under a proposed consolidation of Ascension Parish's sewer system with a private consortium won't face higher rates, under a new agreement. 

East Baton Rouge Parish leaders and the private consortium ironed out an agreement that would protect the ratepayers in Baton Rouge from facing nearly $60 per month sewer bills should the proposed 30-year deal to improve sewer service in Ascension get approved. 

The East Baton Rouge agreement would go into effect only if the proposed Ascension sewer deal goes through. 

News of the East Baton Rouge agreement comes days before Metro Councilman Trae Welch had planned to ask the council to support a resolution requesting the Louisiana Public Service Commission to deny final approval of the deal that could replace dozens of neighborhood treatment plants in eastern Ascension to a regional system.

The sewer proposal, which the Ascension Parish Council has yet to vote on, would not only affect residents in that parish but another 28 neighborhoods with sewer systems operated by Ascension Wastewater in nearby Livingston, East Baton Rouge and Iberville parishes. 

It was previously reported the proposed sale would give the private consortium — composed of Ascension Wastewater Treatment and Bernhard Capital Partners — instead of the Public Service Commission the power to set sewer rates, something Welch and others in East Baton Rouge took issue with. 

The proposed consolidation would bring together 19,500 customers, about 3,000 served by Ascension Parish government and 16,500 served by Ascension Wastewater, according to previous reports. 

A good portion of the 14 affected neighborhoods in East Baton Rouge Parish that could get swept up in the Ascension deal are on the north end in Welch's district in the Zachary area, with a few others in the southeast corner of the parish. 

Welch said keeping the power to set rates with the state's Public Service Commission ensures that his constituents would have an elected representative they could hold accountable on the state body.   

Welch also had concerns his constituents would end up subsidizing the Ascension system without any say. 

But with the agreement between East Baton Rouge and the consortium in place, Welch says he'll be pulling the council's vote on the item from Wednesday's agenda.

"We got right on it and reached an agreement," Welch said. "The Parish Attorney's Office has worked out (an agreement) that citizens of East Baton Rouge Parish who are currently on that wastewater system will not be required to pay higher rates to help pay for improvements they weren't going to get any benefit from."

Under the Ascension deal, customers would see an immediate rate increase, including those in the adjacent parishes connected to the system. Rates would start at $57.90 per month for residential customers and more for commercial customers, and the rates would increase by 4% per year for the first 10 years.

The details of the proposed deal also sparked outcry from residents in Ascension, prompting its Parish Council to postpone a vote on the matter until later this month, after the inauguration of a new parish president and parish council. 

Welch also revealed Monday that East Baton Rouge's agreement with the consortium would include connecting the approximately 1,400 ratepayers in the parish to the new regional system at the consortium's expense. But that wouldn't happen until sometime later, he added. 

Jeff Jenkins, the spokesman for Bernhard Capital Partners, confirmed the details of the agreement but called it a "moot issue" since the sale has yet to receive the approval its needs from Ascension parish leaders to move forward. 

"If there were to be some type of transition, we have things worked out satisfy the ratepayers and constituents outside of Ascension," Jenkins said. 

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