Ascension eyes low-interest loan to build regional sewer system

Proposed Initial Phase of Regional Sewer Show caption
Proposed Initial Phase of Regional Sewer

Ascension Parish government is preparing to apply for a $60 million low-interest loan from a special fund overseen by the state Department of Environmental Quality to jump start plans to build a public regional sewer system.

Parish officials said Wednesday that loan, if granted, would pay for a phase of sewage treatment systems in a heavily populated part of northeastern Ascension long eyed as a toehold for the broader regional system several generations of parish leaders have sought.

The proposed sewer system would track La. 42, La. 73 and Airline Highway in the Prairieville and Dutchtown areas.

The plan also overlaps current or planned state widening projects on La. 73 and La. 42 projects, for which the parish has already had to put up millions to install sewer lines along the highways as part of the expansions.

But pursuing the loan means the parish will have to set aside up to $3.3 million a year from the general fund to cover annual debt payments expected over 20 years, parish officials said.

Parish officials and council memembers portrayed the possible loan as an opportunity that cannot be passed up during a Council Utilities Committee meeting in Gonzales on Wednesday.

Parish President Tommy Martinez noted that other parish leaders passed on the chance to do parishwide sewer with a 90 percent federal match about 30 years ago.

“I think that this is an opportunity that we can’t, can’t let slide by. I don’t think we’re going to get many more, and I think it puts us where we need to be in the sewer business,” Martinez said.

The new offer to apply for the loan came after a recent meeting with DEQ officials.

Unincorporated areas of Ascension have grow rapidly, but primarily without a public sewer system. The areas have instead beenserved by private sewer providers and individual systems. For the past several years, DEQ has been warning about tightening water quality standards that could slow future growth and also been pressing private providers to upgrade.

Committee members enthusiastically supported a resolution for Martinez to pre-apply for the loan.

“It just strikes me that this is absolutely wonderful,” Councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee said.

The full council will take up the same resolution 6 p.m. Thursday at the Parish Courthouse Annex, 828 S. Irma Blvd., Gonzales.

The loan would come from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which was seeded with funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and carries an interest rate of 0.95 percent.

“My personal opinion, we don’t have a whole bunch of people standing out there willing to throw $60 million at the parish for less than one percent,” said Councilman Benny Johnson, chairman of the committee.

Martinez cautioned that the loan is not guaranteed but the parish must not only make a pre-application but, also if that is approved, submit a full application with engineering and a financial plan.

Part of the pre-application requires the parish to show that it has dedicated funding to pay off the loan. Martinez told the committee he would present that general fund dedication during the annual budget process at the end of the year.

He said he feels comfortable the general fund could cover the cost with rising sales tax revenue and budgetary management. His proposal would alter how sales tax surplus is set aside each year and direct it to sewer costs.

The Council Utilities committee has been exploring ways to raise private capital for the future parish system that would add a small premium to existing rates of 3 or 4 percent per year.