Ascension Parish voters to decide on sewer sale April 24

Michael Tortorich

During the Ascension Parish Council meeting Dec. 3, notice of consideration was given regarding the sale of the parish’s east-bank sewer utility, and the granting of a franchise operating agreement.

The Ascension Parish Council, which returned to virtual meetings last week, receives a report from Chief Administrative Officer John Diez.

The intent of the council is to let parish voters decide, placing the matter on the April 24, 2021, ballot.

A group of parish officials have been in negotiations with National Water Infrastructure, with details yet to be revealed publicly. The potential deal would combine some 19,000 customers of the parish and NWI.

Council member Chase Melancon stressed a point that voters will be informed on the matter prior to going to the polls.

“I would like to let the public know that due to the timeline, we had to start advertising this, but we have not worked out the details. As soon as that is 100 percent done, for the next three-and-a-half to four months, we will bombard them with all of the information we have to educate and help them with these decisions,” he said.

The state’s Public Service Commission and voters must approve of any deal put together. 

Ascension Consolidated Utilities District 2 was set up in 2010 to provide sewer and water utilities to the eastbank of the parish, excluding the municipalities of Gonzales and Sorrento. Areas on the west side, outside of Donaldsonville, are served by ACUD 1.

Abolishing ACUD 2 provides a simplified path to creating a public-private partnership for the regional system. 

In other matters before the council:

-- Parish President Clint Cointment gave an update on the parish’s partnership with Ochsner Health System to provide free COVID-19 testing at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales.

He said 160 people had been tested on the first day, and another 207 the following day.

At the time of the meeting, the parish’s percent positive rate was “headed in the right direction” by going down, he said. 

Cointment also credited council chair Teri James Casso for recording a public-service announcement to remind residents of the importance of following coronavirus safety measures. 

Casso has spoken publicly about how she and her husband battled the virus. 

The recorded message has been available across the Ascension 21 channel, YouTube, and Facebook.

-- EATEL, a family-owned and operated telecommunications company, will have naming rights to the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center’s 4-H building through a 10-year sponsorship agreement.

The company will exchange services with the Gonzales facility, which is located near Hwy. 30 at Interstate 10.

The deal will run through Nov. 30, 2030, and include internet and television services and maintenance.

In 2009, parish government purchased the 250-acre property for $7.5 million from Bill and Mary Lee Dixon. A stipulation of the deal was to maintain the center’s overall name. Individual buildings, though, are eligible for naming rights.

-- Chief Administrative Officer John Diez said a round of 40 new meters will be installed for Parish Utilities of Ascension water customers.

Officials have explained that the westbank water utility has been missing out on revenue due to inaccurate meters. In past meetings, they have discussed the possibility of collecting more funds through replacing meters, therefore allowing the parish to eventually replace outdated pipes.

Diez estimated the completion of the 40 meters to be Dec. 18. He said an additional 150 meter replacement would be done after.

Infrastructure Director Ken Dawson said PUA has about 3,000 customers. A sample of 190 meters would allow the parish to determine the level of under-reporting in water usage.

Alvin “Coach” Thomas, who represents the west bank, has been particularly vocal on the ongoing issue.

“I am very happy about the meters, but I’d be happier if you were to fix those pipes in the ground,” Thomas said.

-- The council unanimously rejected a denial from the planning and zoning commission regarding the property of Colby Palmer.

The commission recommended denial of an amendment to the zoning map from medium intensity residential to light industrial for the property located on the south side of Hwy. 74, just west of Airline Highway.

Council member John Cagnolatti said he and Dal Waguespack had been heavily involved with the matter for a few weeks.

Cagnolatti said the site was formerly Palmer Oil, which dated back to the 1950s. Afterward, the family operated a wrecker service from the property.

“All of the residential areas grew around it, believe me. I grew up in this area. It was just woods. I hunted squirrels in those woods for many years,” he said.

The wrecker service was discontinued for more than 180 days, causing the property’s status to revert back to the parish development code, according to Cagnolatti.

He moved to deny, and Joel Robert provided the second.

Robert said he operated a wrecker service in 2009. He recalled how the Palmer family helped him get started in the business.

Cagnolatti said the adjoining neighbors to the property signed a letter stating they did not object to the plan.