In 2001, news headlines heralded a plan to create a new regional sewer system for Ascension Parish. That plan never reached fruition.
In 2010, the parish tried again, issuing a request for proposals and considering several. But again, no plan advanced.
Yet again, in 2015, another request for proposals was issued, another proposal pursued, and yet another stalled effort. A triumph of local bureaucratic red tape and another disappointing defeat for Ascension Parish.
Nearly 20 years from the first attempt, Ascension remains without a modern consolidated sewer system — despite significant growth and development that are straining all elements of the parish’s infrastructure.
The dire consequences of the failure to act are multiplying. Bayou Manchac has been declared an impaired water body, and similar declarations on New River and Blind River are imminent without significant changes to the way raw sewerage is processed in the parish. These declarations are stalling permits for residential and commercial development and halting progress. Additionally, the parish secured a commitment from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality in 2010 to provide a $60 million low-interest loan to facilitate the build-out of this system. With no traction since that commitment, the parish is now in very real danger of losing access to this crucial funding source.
But the window of opportunity has not closed on Ascension Parish yet. In late 2018, my administration reached out to private parties seeking to launch yet another consolidated sewer effort. In May 2019, Ascension Sewer responded, signing a cooperative endeavor agreement with the parish to partner in a transparent manner and develop a comprehensive plan that places residents’ needs and exceptional customer service at the forefront — and it prioritizes getting sewer out of our ditches once and for all.
Professional experts hired by the parish to evaluate the proposal found that if the parish pursues a “business-as-usual” path, and continues its current operations, it will lose between $13 million to $27 million over the next 30 years. Even by increasing sewer rates well over $60, the parish loses; sewerage will remain in our ditches without a central treatment plant, and our local water bodies will remain polluted. And the long-term effects, including environmental compliance actions to mitigate, will be costly and on the taxpayers' dime.
But there is a clear solution, and one that has reached agreement on all fronts. The contract has been debated extensively and progress updates were shared publicly at Parish Council and Utilities Committee meetings. When this program is completed, Ascension Parish will have a modern sewer system to serve the parish well beyond the next 50 years.
Millions of gallons of treated sewerage will be diverted from Bayou Manchac every day. Millions of sales tax dollars will be freed up annually for other urgent parish needs. Our citizens will have affordable and predictable sewer rates, consistent with nearby parishes. And most importantly, Ascension Parish will have ownership of all the assets and retain regulation over rates and services.
This partnership creates and protects a thriving financial future for Ascension Parish by resolving the long-standing problems stemming from the lack of investment in our sewer infrastructure. The time to act is now.
Kenny Matassa is Ascension Parish president.