Some Baton Rouge neighborhoods are experiencing the pain of long-delayed improvements to the city’s sewer system and roads, city-parish officials and contractors acknowledged Thursday night at the Bluebonnet Regional Branch Library.
But those projects will help rather than hinder the local economy, Mayor-President Kip Holden told more than 50 residents who showed up for information about the massive work now under way, which includes the $1.4 billion Sanitary Sewer Overflow program and $600 million Green Light Plan for road improvements.
“Baton Rouge has come a long way,” Holden said. “But Baton Rouge’s infrastructure is in very bad shape.”
Holden said programs like the Green Light plan should have been initiated many years ago. In addition to risks to human life, Holden added, the collapse of even one bridge “would have a devastating impact on our local economy.”
One closed bridge can cause a minimum of 30-minute delays on alternate routes for people commuting to work, Holden said.
Some homeowners along Staring Lane, however, expressed frustration with the pace of sewer and road improvements in their neighborhood. Some said they fear a loss of their property values because of the project.
William Daniel, City-Parish public works director, said big problems go hand in hand with big projects, but asked for patience.
Staring Lane resident Pete Territo, however, complained that a gas line and water line were placed on his property by mistake. Territo also said, “Eighty percent of my backyard is underwater when it rains. We need to take a look at what is going on.”
Territo reported that two other Staring Lane residents have carports that are just inches from the new servitude for expansion of the two-lane artery to four lanes with the addition of a median.
“Somebody needs to quit making excuses,” Territo said.
Daniel replied: “I’ve met with you. I’ve met with the Staring Lane Community Association. I understand your frustration, sir.”
Daniel said he will return for more discussions with Staring Lane residents.
He also released a phone number that he said any East Baton Rouge Parish resident can call to obtain more information about sewer improvements: (225) 588-5678.
By order of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the sewer improvements must be completed by the end of 2014.
“Can we afford this $1.4 billion project?” asked Phillip Lillard, a member of the Baton Rouge Tea Party. Lillard said the city-parish would take on about $1 billion in debt because of the project.
Mark LeBlanc, financial manager for the bond program, said a third of the debt will be retired by a voter-approved sales tax, with the remaining 67 percent covered by user fees.
Debt is necessary to comply with the EPA’s deadline, LeBlanc said, noting that a pay-as-you-go program would mean user fees might be as much as $200 a month.
He said later that the average sewer user fee currently is less than $45 per month.
“This is something we have to do,” LeBlanc told residents. “If you don’t have a sewer system, you can’t grow as a community.”
Holden said the sewer and road improvements eventually will be appreciated.
“We feel very good … when both programs are completed, you’ll have less problems,” Hoolden said.
City-Parish officials plan three more community meetings on the projects. The meetings, all on Mondays, are scheduled for 6 p.m. July 2 at the Martin Luther King Center, 4000 Gus Young Ave.; 6:30 p.m. July 9 at Zachary Library, 1900 Church St. (Hwy. 64); 6 p.m. July 23 at Greenwell Springs Library, 11300 Greenwell Springs Road.