Ascension officials cite need for east bank sewer system upgrade

Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Eric Olson, who lives just outside the Ascension Parish line in East Baton Rouge Parish, looks over an Ascension parish map of existing wastewater treatment plants during a meeting at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center Monday in Gonzales.
Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Eric Olson, who lives just outside the Ascension Parish line in East Baton Rouge Parish, looks over an Ascension parish map of existing wastewater treatment plants during a meeting at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center Monday in Gonzales.

Ascension Parish officials on Monday began answering questions and soliciting public comments about a proposed sewer system that would serve residents on the parish’s east bank of the Mississippi River.

Officials spent nearly an hour Monday night fielding questions from about 20 residents who earlier toured information stations and watched a presentation about the parish’s sewer plan at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center gymnasium.

Parish officials, as well as representatives from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, the state Department of Health and Hospitals and the parish’s sewer consultant, were present. A second informational session will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Dutchtown High School, 13165 La. 73, in Geismar.

“I’m not going to sit up here and say we’ve got some pie-in-the-sky option that everybody’s going to like,” said Benny Johnson, who chairs the Parish Council’s Utilities Committee.

Johnson, who was the main spokesman for the parish, said there are a number of unanswered questions about a “dynamic” sewer project that features “a lot of moving parts.”

“We want to try to solve this issue,” Johnson said.

The issue is a disjointed sewer system in which private and individual utility systems dump undertreated wastewater into ditches and streams in the parish, officials said.

Bayou Manchac, New River and Blind River, the three major waterways on the parish’s east bank, are impaired, DEQ engineer manager Chuck Berger said.

Berger said the parish’s existing sewer treatment facilities “require significant upgrades.”

The first part of the project would include a $43.2 million construction in the Prairieville area along Airline Highway, La. 42 and La. 73. The plan utilizes approximately $8 million in sewer improvements that are part of the La. 42 and La. 73 widening projects, and it would feature a sewer treatment plant near the intersection of La. 30 and La. 73 that would eventually dump the treated sewage into the Mississippi River.

David Einsel, a senior project manager with Glenn Shaheen & Associates Inc., the parish’s sewer consultant, said expanding the initial project throughout the rest of the east bank would cost an estimated $750 million.

Johnson said parish officials are discussing ways to fund the project, including a possible half-cent sales tax and $200 parcel fee that would generate approximately $14 million annually. However, Johnson said he is unsure if parish residents would be willing to support those charges but added it’s up to parish officials to sell the need for the system to residents.

Einsel said the status quo simply isn’t working, and change needs to occur quickly.

“Quite frankly, it’s a danger to the health and welfare of Ascension Parish residents, pets and wildlife,” he said. “The quality of life in Ascension Parish residents is eroding.”