Vacherie area swamps to help with sewage treatment

St. James Parish government has agreed to make the final land purchase below south Vacherie for a regional sewer system relying on Louisiana swamp lands to do part of the water cleansing work.

The Parish Council has been accumulating property off La. 20 for the past two years and is close to amassing 951 acres for the project, parish officials said.

The property will be used to build a 1 million gallon-per-day facility that will send treated sewage effluent into the swamp and also will serve as the area to receive the treated effluent.

Called wetlands assimilation, the method relies on the swamp to draw up the nutrients remaining in the treated effluent discharged by sewer plants.

Often a water quality problem when sent directly into streams and bayous, these nutrients are food to freshwater swamps, which in turn finishes cleaning the effluent water.

Hammond and other communities in the state have used the treatment method.

Council Chairman James Brazan said the council agreed Wednesday to buy the final 761-acre tract from Bayou Chevreuil Land Co.

The land, which sold for $3.2 million after an appraisal, was paid for with state capital outlay dollars the Legislature appropriated earlier this year.

Parish President Timmy Roussel, whom the council authorized to finalize the purchase, said the concept has been a long time coming in St. James.

“This has been in the works for 20 years,” he said in a statement.

Melissa Wilkins, parish government spokeswoman, said the sale has not closed yet because the parish is waiting on the capital outlay dollars to arrive.

“We expect to receive the money in the next few weeks,” she said.

Jody Chenier, parish director of operations, said the system will ultimately provide consolidated sewer service for up to 5,000 customers on much of the west bank, including north and south Vacherie.

He said the system will improve water quality in the Vacherie area and have the benefit of restoring the distressed cypress and tupelo swamp, which also acts as a buffer for parish’s flood protection levee.

“I’d much rather see a strong viable swamp wetland than an open marsh, which is going to happen if we don’t do it,” Chenier said.

Ecosystem Renewal, a Baton Rouge company involved in wetlands mitigation banks in Louisiana and Texas, is eyeing a bank on a few thousand acres adjacent to the site.

Danny Moran, Ecosystem Renewal director, said the wetlands assimilation project could benefit those surrounding lands.

“In the event we make a decision to put that bank in place, that (wetlands assimilation project) would very helpful,” said Moran, who is also one of the investors in Bayou Chevreuil Land Co.

St. James Parish, along with the town of Lutcher, has a wetlands assimilation project underway on the parish’s east bank.

Chenier said that system will convert an existing town sewer pond and send treated effluent to the Maurepas Swamp Wildlife Management Area. That system will add another 1,000 customers, including in the unincorporated Paulina area.

Construction funding for the projects is coming from grants through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: $1 million for the Lutcher project and $2 million for the south Vacherie project.

Chenier said scientists working on the wetlands part of both projects are conducting baseline studies for environmental permits.

The east bank project is in design. Construction is expected to start at the start of 2014 and the system should be up and running in 15 months, Chenier said.

The south Vacherie project is two years away, with construction expected to begin in the fall, he said.