The Ascension Parish Council has rejected Parish President Clint Cointment’s attempt to fully develop his own plan to inspect the more than 19,000 home septic systems spread across the parish.
Cointment wanted to spend $215,150 to hire firms to help him develop an alternative to the proposal by Ascension Sewer, a private consortium led by Bernhard Capital Partners. But council members said it would be a waste of money to do that when they’re already on the verge of voting.
Councilman Corey Orgeron, who chairs the council’s Utilities Committee, said he was not a fan of the previous council and administration spending $600,000 to vet Ascension Sewer’s plan and feared this administration's new request could be going down a similar path.
"It's a situation where I'm not certain that tax dollars are best spent in that scenario, and I don't want to make the same mistake twice ... by doing this, knowing full well that we have a decision that we're going to make inside of six weeks," Orgeron said.
John Diez, Cointment's chief administrative officer, argued that council should want a fully thought out alternative to the plan they intend to vote on.
"How do you know if you like the apples unless you have another set of apples to compare them to?" Diez asked.
"They taste good," Orgeron quipped back.
It’s the latest salvo in a long-running debate over best to overhaul the parish sewage systems to reduce pollution after state regulators recently tightened environmental rules.
One big problem is that many homeowners in the more remote parts of the parish aren’t tied into a municipal sewer system; they have their own, individual treatment systems. State regulators say those systems, when not properly maintained, can leak pollution into small streams and rivers.
Before Cointment took office in January, a previous council and president were on the verge of signing a $215 million deal with Ascension Sewer to overhaul the parish sewer systems. But Cointment has criticized the fact the parish signed an exclusive negotiation agreement, arguing it undercut any competition, and has tried to develop his own alternative.
The inspection part of his proposal would cost $3.1 million per year over 30 years. It would charge owners of home septic systems $11 a month to fund more inspections; Bernhard’s plan has a similar inspection system that would charge $10 a month.
Cointment’s plan is not as detailed as Ascension Sewer’s plan, which has been in the works for years. That has caused some skepticism among council members, who have asked for an “apples to apples” comparison.
Cointment wanted to spend the $215,150 to get that comparison, but council members said they didn’t want to spend that money when they were already close to voting on the existing proposal.
Ascension Sewer has given the parish until July 31 to make a decision on the deal; Cointment’s study would have lasted past that deadline.
The council ended up telling the administration to either scale back its request for a study or wait until after a vote on Ascension Sewer’s plan.
After the council rejected the funding request, Diez said Cointment would find a way to gather more information and have something to compare against Bernhard's proposal.
"It's not going to stop Clint," he said.