Ascension Wastewater Treatment, the state's largest private sewer provider, has been acquired by Baton Rouge private equity firm Bernhard Capital Partners, backed by a group of investors.

Ascension Wastewater Treatment has nearly 17,000 customers in Ascension and surrounding parishes. The price was not disclosed. 

In response to the coronavirus pandemic and the economic downturn, Bernhard Capital expects to cut checks totaling $1.5 million to existing customers as a rebate for a two-month billing cycle.

The average rebate for each customer is $90, according to the company. Bernhard Capital is also donating thousands of face masks to Our Lady of the Lake Ascension.

Bernhard Capital Partners announced in December it would make a significant investment in Ascension Wastewater Treatment. The private equity firm is led by former Shaw Group CEO Jim Bernhard and has raised more than $3 billion in capital. 

Bernhard Capital Partners had been pushing Ascension officials to approve a deal between the wastewater company and the firm that would have built a $215 million regional sewage treatment system that discharges into the Mississippi River. Customers would have seen a rate increase, according to the terms of the proposed deal which did not go through. 

"It's imperative, now more than ever, to optimize utilities for delivering services as efficiently as possible," Jeff Jenkins, a partner at Bernhard Capital, said in a news release. "We will work to expand (Ascension Wastewater's) sizable footprint and identify new opportunities for improving utility services in other communities throughout Louisiana and the U.S."

The company expects to expand its utility services into other undisclosed communities. 

"Aligning our organization with Bernhard Capital allows us to leverage the firm's decades of experience, institutional knowledge and readily available resources into enhancing our services and infrastructure," said Tom Pertuit, CEO of Ascension Wastewater. 

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