Workers contracted by Ascension Parish government dig out a portion of Brown Street in December 2020, as part of a federally funded parish project completed this spring to bring regional sewer service to the Hillaryville and Darrow areas. Voters on Saturday approved selling this new sewer infrastructure and older systems in the parish to the National Water Infrastructure company.

Ascension Parish voters on Saturday gave the go-ahead for the parish government to sell its wastewater utility system on the east bank to a private management firm that will build the first consolidated sewer system to serve unincorporated areas there.

"As parish president of Ascension, I am proud to say that the sale of our east bank sewer assets has been approved by the voters," Clint Cointment said on Sunday. "This is another monumental accomplishment of our administration and council." 

National Water Infrastructure will pay the parish $9.26 million for the parish's current small network of neighborhood systems on the east bank outside the city of Gonzales and the town of Sorrento. 

Under a franchise agreement, National Water Infrastructure will also pay the parish $500,000 in annual fees, an amount that would increase as new customers are added to the system. 

The project, to be built over two phases, will begin with a new $200 million regional treatment plant that will discharge into the Mississippi River. 

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Parish officials have said that the money saved and earned under the deal with National Water Infrastructure could go to other needs in the parish. They estimate the amounts could reach $95 million over 20 years. 

Unofficial election results show that a little over 9% of Ascension Parish voters, about 7,600 people, went to the polls on Saturday, with 56 percent of the voters saying yes to the ballot measure. 

It's not clear what kind of rates NWI's current and future parish customers -- about 19,000 in all -- would pay under the deal.

Parish officials have said it would be up to the Public Service Commission to set rates; NWI has said ratepayers could see an “extremely minimal” rate increase in the next two years, and capital expenditures could bring a later increase.

NWI residential customers currently pay $45 per month; parish customers pay $42.50 per month.

The sale of the sewer system closes a years-long debate over how best to handle Ascension's growing sewer needs. Parish officials, including Cointment, had sought ways to have the parish finance and expand its own regional system, but were unable to reconcile the high costs through taxes, high user fees or significant subsidies with general parish funds.

Email Ellyn Couvillion at ecouvillion@theadvocate.com.