Ascension takes another step toward regional sewer service

Ascension Parish President Tommy Martinez signed a $2.4 million contract Monday to hire GSA Consulting Engineers, of Gonzales, to oversee the design of a regional parish sewer system and have it ready for construction late this year.

GSA beat eight other bidders to bring public sewer service to business and residents along La. 42, La. 73 and the northern tip of Airline Highway in northwest Ascension.

“We are happy and moving forward,” GSA business manager Glenda Shaheen said Monday after getting the signed contract.

The state Department of Environmental Quality has given preliminary approval to a $60 million low-interest loan to parish government through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund.

The fund provides loans through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state matching funds.

Chief Administrative Officer Ken Dawson said the parish wants to see the engineering, design and financial aspects of the project ready by November so the parish can have its final loan application submitted to DEQ for December.

“That is why we have very aggressive time line and a very aggressive items to be accomplished with accountability measures in place,” Dawson said.

Martinez’s signing of the contract brings the parish further along than ever before on the path toward the long-sought goal of regional sewer service.

In 2011, a proposed public-private partnership among the parish, GSA and GSA partner Integra Water LLC of Birmingham, Alabama, floundered in the negotiations phase.

Martinez and Integra officials pulled the plug on the deal in late March of that year when Ascension Wastewater Treatment Inc., a major private sewer provider in Ascension, backed out of a proposed sale intended to jump-start the sewer system with a batch of ready-made customers.

Three years later, the parish still does not have a lock on acquiring a private provider within the first phase, but Martinez said after the council committee meetings Monday night that the project is proceeding rapidly.

“We’ve got everything in motion. We’ve got several things we’ve done ahead to expedite the process so we could get it done the beginning of next year,” Martinez said.

Dawson said a separate engineering firm already under contract, Hartman Engineering, is finishing a preliminary engineering report and environmental impact document and borrowing from an earlier U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report the parish already paid for to develop the required documents to speed up the process.

GSA will be developing the individual design packages for all the elements of the new system. The parish plans to seek proposals from firms to develop those elements.

During the meetings Monday, the Council Finance Committee also took an early step in declaring its intention to issue taxable revenue bonds for the $60 million DEQ loan and seek state Bond Commission approval.

Malcolm Dugas, parish bond attorney, said the parish is on a time line to bring the issue before the Bond Commission and be able to incur debt by September.

The bonds would be repaid through general fund surplus money.

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.