Ascension Parish sewer deal almost done, president says

Michael Tortorich

Negotiations between Ascension Parish government and National Water Infrastructure are nearly completed, according to Ascension Parish President Clint Cointment.

Planning and Facilities Director Ricky Compton speaks to the Ascension Parish Council during the virtual meeting held Dec. 17.

The announcement was made during the Dec. 17 virtual Ascension Parish Council meeting, which was the last one of the year.

The sale of parish sewer assets and the entering into an agreement with NWI will be decided ultimately by voters April 24.

Cointment laid out three milestones for the negotiation process, with the first being the operating agreement reaching 90 percent completion. 

Secondly, he estimated the appraised value of assets will be done at some time in January. 

Lastly, Cointment pointed to the milestone of setting the April election date.

Cointment said he is confident that a “unified front” from both the administration and the council will lead to voter approval of the contract.

Later in the meeting, Cointment said he does not want any miscommunication between the council or the public concerning the deal.

“That’s what I fear the most, miscommunication with the public. We’d like to present the facts and the benefits of this plan,” he said.

In other matters before the council:

-- Cointment stressed the importance of continuing to follow coronavirus guidelines.

The parish has partnered with Ochsner Health System to offer free testing at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales. 

At the time of the meeting, he said the parish’s percent positivity rate was 13.6. He emphasized the importance of wearing masks, washing hands, and practicing social distancing. 

Cointment said coronavirus had an impact on several of the parish’s water utility employees who had to quarantine early last month.

The quarantines interrupted meter reading for almost half of the Parish Utilities of Ascension water customers in Donaldsonville, though it did not affect water quality, he said.

The City of Gonzales assisted the parish utility during that time. Cointment thanked Gonzales Mayor Barney Arceneaux and Chief Administrative Officer Scot Byrd for their help.

According to the parish president, PUA has been offering payment plans as an option for customers unable to pay water bills.

Alvin “Coach” Thomas, who represents the Donaldsonville area on the council, asked the parish president about his lack of communication concerning the water utility. Thomas asked why Cointment called Joel Robert, who represents part of the west bank, but not him.

Cointment apologized to him and all of the other council members he did not contact, saying he had been busy after returning from a vacation in Mexico.

-- Thomas also asked about the 1.3 percent cost-of-living raise for parish employees, saying he thought they deserved a higher rate.

Coinment confirmed the cost-of-living percentage for all employees. Additional merit raises are based on performance, he added.

The administration has maintained the raise is comparable to those given by the parish’s school board and sheriff’s office.

Council member Chase Melancon cited the economic difficulties of those who have lost jobs, had salaries decreased, and took furloughs. He said he personally had a decrease in salary for about four months at his job.

“A 1.3 percent raise in this kind of economy, with everything going on, is on the side of generous,” Melancon said.

-- Cointment announced the stocking of 1,000 one-pound rainbow trout into the pond at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center. 

He said the release of the fish is done on an annual basis. The rainbow trout are purchased from Missouri.

-- Cointment said small-business spotlight videos have been running on the parish’s Channel 21, YouTube, and Facebook. 

The goal of the videos is to encourage shoppers to consider locally owned and operated businesses in the parish.

-- Cointment also pointed out the dedicated area for a dog park within Prairieville Park, located along Hwy. 929.

During a past meeting of the recreation committee, members of the Leadership Ascension class provided details on the plans for the dog park.

-- Cointment said the parish plans to use the networking site LinkedIn to advertise job openings in an effort to reach a larger audience.

-- He also announced the Christmas tree recycling program, which will be from Dec. 28 through Jan. 19 at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center.