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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.

If Ascension Parish voters approve a ballot measure Saturday that would bring a new sewer system, the school board will one day be able to get out of the business of building its own wastewater plants at campuses in unincorporated parts of the jurisdiction.

"We didn't build those sewer plants as an option," said Chad Lynch, the school district's chief operations director. "There were no other options." 

Of the 34 schools in the district, 20 have their own on-site sewer plants built to meet the regulations of the state Department of Environmental Quality, which monitors the plants, Lynch said.

The remaining schools are either connected to the city-run sewer systems in Gonzales and Donaldsonville or are tied into those of nearby subdivisions.

One of the district's newer schools — Bluff Ridge Primary, which opened last summer — was able to tie into a parish-owned sewer system.

Another school board plant, built for Oak Grove Primary in Prairieville, was purchased five years ago by the parish to serve the surrounding community, as well as the school. 

In Saturday's ballot measure, the Ascension Parish is seeking voter approval to sell its sewer assets — a network of small, neighborhood systems — to the National Water Infrastructure company. 

If the initiative passes, the company plans to build a $200 million consolidated sewer system over two phases that would serve the unincorporated areas on the east bank of the parish.  

At an Ascension Parish School Board meeting last week, Tom Pertuit, chief executive officer of National Water Infrastructure, said if the measure succeeds at the polls the district could tie schools into the system at its discretion — after completion of the company's first five-year construction phase.

That phase will begin with building a treatment plant near the Mississippi River, in the industrial corridor, Pertuit said.

For each campus linked to the new sewer system, the school board and National Water Infrastructure would negotiate a connection fee requiring approval of the state's Public Service Commission, Pertuit said. 

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In an interview last week, Lynch said the first candidates for the new sewer infrastructure would be schools with older on-site systems.

The first in that category would be Dutchtown Middle School and Dutchtown Primary, which share a campus on La. 73, he said.

New schools built once the first phase of construction is in place would also be tied into that system, he added.

"Our goal is to, over time, transition out of the sewer system business," Lynch said. 

The school district spends anywhere from $250,000 to $650,000 — depending on whether the school is a primary school, middle school or high school — to build an on-campus sewer treatment plant, he said. 

The school system will keep in place its sewer plants that are newer, to get its money's worth out of them, Lynch said.

The plants have a life of 17 years, he said.

If Saturday's proposal passes, the school board and National Water Infrastructure will face the prospect of a new Prairieville High School coming to the parish. 

The school is expected to open for the 2023-24 school year. The first phase of the parish's new sewer system wouldn't be completed until a few years later.

Lynch said the district and National Water Infrastructure would study the possibility of putting a temporary plant at Prairieville High that would meet all DEQ regulations until the high school could tie in to the company's system.

  

Email Ellyn Couvillion at ecouvillion@theadvocate.com.