EBR development to use eco-friendly sewer treatment

Harveston Baton Rouge, a development planned for the southernmost part of East Baton Rouge Parish, is building an eco-friendly sewer system which will be the first independent sewer district in the parish if approved by the Metro Council on Wednesday.

John Fetzer, who is developing Harveston with Mike Wampold, said the 1,400-acre property south of Bluebonnet Boulevard and Highland Road and east of Nicholson Drive will use wetland assimilation — a waste water treatment technique that uses filtered waste water to enrich the wetlands.

“The wetlands assimilates and treats the waste water,” Fetzer said. “The trees and plants within the wetlands will actually use the waste water as fertilizer and the forest will be enhanced.”

In East Baton Rouge Parish, waste water is treated and processed at one of the city-parish’s plants and pumped into the Mississippi River.

Harveston Baton Rouge, previously known as Longwood Village, will feature retail, office space, a 600-acre nature preserve, and walking and biking trails. Harveston could have as many as 2,500 homes, Fetzer said, with prices beginning in the mid-$300,000 range, over the next couple of decades.

The first phase beginning this year will be called The Preserve at Harveston, and include about 93 homes, Fetzer said. “This is more like a small village or town, because it’s so large,” he said.

Bryan Harmon, deputy director of the city-parish Department of Public Works, said the size and scope of the development, along with the wetlands concept, are what make the project worthy of its own separate sewer district.

Harveston is also 7,000 feet away from the city-parish’s sewer system, which means the developers would have had to lay expensive infrastructure if they had chosen to connect to it. New construction within 300 feet of the city-parish’s sewer lines is required by ordinance to tie into the city-parish system.

Some rural areas in the northern part of the parish not connected to the city-parish sewer system use private sewer plants, however, they are still considered within the city-parish sewer district because the city-parish can opt to expand and tie the rural areas into the system.

The creation of a sewer district for Harveston means it will never be forced into the East Baton Rouge Parish system, but can opt in at its own request.

The city-parish won’t receive sewer impact fees or user fees from homes in Harveston. The sewer impact fee is a one-time fee to connect to the system, that costs $2,250 for a single family home. The average sewer user fee for a residential home, which is based on usage of 8,600 gallons of water, is currently $42.23 per month.

Since Jan. 1, 2004, sewer fees have gone up 4 percent each year. The annual increase helps fund the city-parish’s Sanitary Sewer Overflow program, a $1.5-billion upgrade of the city-parish’s sewer infrastructure.

The city-parish also levies a half-cent sales tax for sewer system repairs and operations.

The parish is required to upgrade its sewer system under a federal consent decree, a settlement agreement contained in a court order. In 2003, the Metro Council approved the ordinance related to the effort. The SSO has a deadline of December 2014, though city-parish officials are negotiating with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to have that deadline extended until 2017 or 2018.

Harmon said Harveston will not affect the consent decree as long as it is a separate system.

Harmon said the city-parish still benefits from the sales taxes generated from the development that go toward the sewer program and the city-parish general fund, as well as property taxes.

But he said the city-parish would oppose a subdivision or community already tied to the sewer system that wanted to break away and create a separate system.

“We would fight that because they’re currently paying our fees and our rates that pay our costs and bonds sold,” Harmon said. “This property hasn’t been paying to our system, and we’re not getting any more sewer to process so there’s no increase in our cost.”

The Harveston sewer district will levy its own fees, which Fetzer said he hopes will be less than the city-parish’s.

“We’d like to try to save our homeowners money,” he said. “The idea would be to make it less than what it costs an average homeowner.”

Mandeville is one of 11 cities in Louisiana that uses the wetlands waste water method, and said the natural processing is both better for the environment and less expensive to operate.

David DeGeneres, director of Public Works in Mandeville, said the process has led to regrowth of cypresses and other plants in its marshes.

Todd Franklin, an administrator in the water permits division of the state Department of Environmental Quality, said the wetland assimilation treatments are still held to the same testing standards as those in traditional sewer processing plants.

Because wetlands are such sensitive environments, Franklin said, the programs require extensive monitoring and testing. But he said in general the wetlands have seen benefits from the waste water.

Harmon also said the wetlands project is preferable to private “package” sewer plants, which he said have a tendency to “not meet the stringent requirements for water quality” set by state and federal guidelines.