A day following the June 15 Utilities Committee meeting, Ascension Parish President Clint Cointment released a statement via his personal social media account to express his disappointment in the committee.
Cointment said their actions left him “little choice” but to respond.
“The committee rejected my administration’s attempt to develop a program to inspect Individual (sewer) Treatment Units in the parish in a move that directly benefits Bernhard Capital Partners’ proposal now under consideration,” the parish leader said in the statement.
Such inaction “will hurt every taxpayer in Ascension Parish,” he continued, citing impaired waterways which have caused the state Department of Environmental Quality to mandate corrective action.
Cointment said the state DEQ has found that the systems most polluting to waterways are ITUs. Bernhard has “no specific plan to solve that problem,” according to the president. He added that the plan focuses on customers in subdivisions where sewer is treated by community package plants.
“We (the administration) believe a true solution to improve Ascension’s impaired waterways is within our reach, but only with some cooperation from the council,” Cointment’s statement continued. “What I saw on Monday was the intentional sabotage by certain council members who are manipulating the process in favor of a private company with stands to pocket a billion dollars or more of our citizen’s money and government subsides [sic]. It was among the most disturbing betrayals by elected officials I have ever witnessed.”
Cointment went on to stress the transparency theme of his campaign. He expressed his intention to “explain every element of the Bernhard sewer proposal” to constituents.
The parish president added that the proposed fee structure was misrepresented during the meeting. He said starting fees for the inspection program would begin at $11 per month, increasing by 25 cents each year for four years (up to $12). Then the fee would increase by ten cents each year over the next decade.
The plan of the fee structure is to offset future hook-up costs, he said. A reexamination of the plan could lower the monthly fee component.
“All relevant information will be provided to the council and, we hope, some of them will offer meaningful insights,” Cointment said. “Transparency and full disclosure to the public is a must.”
During the meeting, parish Infrastructure Director Ken Dawson gave a presentation on the ITU program with the hope of the committee passing the item on to the full council.
According to the presentation, residents discharge 16 million gallons per day into watersheds of Bayou Manchac, Amite River, Blind River, and New River.
Committee member Aaron Lawler said he thought the resolution was broad.
Later in the discussion, committee chair Corey Orgeron said he wanted to compare “apples to apples” in deciding between sewer plans.
Chief Administrative Officer John Diez asked for an opportunity for parish government to compete with Bernhard.
“Pound for pound, if you can do one thing to clean our waterways, this is it,” Diez said.
Later, Diez asked Orgeron: “How do you know if you like the apples unless you have another set of apples to compare it to?”
“The taste,” Orgeron replied, prompting both to chuckle.
Orgeron said ITUs have been known to be a problem since January.
“We’re asking for an additional four months,” Orgeron said.
Committee member Joel Robert made a motion to advance the item to the full council. It failed due to lack of a second.
In a separate matter, the Utilities Committee mailed out a written notice to address past-due bills for Parish Utilities of Ascension (PUA) and Ascension Consolidated Utilities District 1 (ACUD-1) customers.
In the letter, Dawson said employees have returned to normal operations.
Due to limited space, a limit of two customers are allowed in the lobby at a time. Masks and social distancing are required.
PUA and ACUD have relaxed normal billing and collection policy and procedures. The average usage of previous months has been used to estimate billing amounts. The plan is to resume standard procedures during Phase 2 of reopening.
“As we read your routes to verify consumption, the July bill will reflect all necessary adjustments (which may increase or decrease the cost) to bring your account up to date,” Dawson stated in the letter.
During Phase 1 (from March 13 through June 5), no late fees were charged to customers. There were no cut-offs during that time.
Now in Phase 2, the parish will no longer waive late fees for past-due bills. If requested in writing, customers can be placed on a nine-month payment plan from July 2020 to April 2021.
For more information on billing and payments, call (225) 473-7603 or visit apgovpayments.com.
Also last week, parish government meetings were rescheduled to video conference due to a person in attendance at last week’s committee meetings having tested positive for COVID-19.
Parish Public Information Officer Martin McConnell said the changes were made out of an abundance of caution to the public and employees. Meetings are broadcast via YouTube, Ascension 21, EATEL, and Cox.