Finally! St. John sewer addressed

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Parish Council ready to take on issues while developers wait to bring housing boom here



LAPLACE — After over a year with no action taken, rumblings of something finally taking place to address the urgent sewage treatment situation in St. John Parish appears to be in the works.

Councilman Ronnie Smith may have put it best when he said &#8220I don’t give a darn if we put it next to the Percy Hebert Building or anywhere else. We need a new facility, and we need it now.”

Perhaps due to the recent story published in L’Observateur that 3,000 new homes are planned here by two major national developers in the next four years, and confirmation by the three top builders in town of another 1,000 homes they plan to build, parish officials are suddenly jumping to action to address the problem.

Parish officials have agreed for years that the capacity of sewage treatment for St. John Parish has gotten more taxed as each month has gone by.

However the last substantial action on the matter was on April 30, 2005 at a Parish Council meeting when the board scratched the prospect of buying land from Dupont for the much-needed new sewage treatment plant, because of complaints from neighbors in the proposed area.

The plant originally planned would treat two million gallons of sewage a day, but now council members are suggesting that amount may need to be as much as three million gallons a day, due to the prospects for so many new homes in the near future.

Just why parish officials have not taken any serious action in over a year brought several responses from council members, and the parish president’s office.

&#8220That’s a good question why nothing has been done in over a year,” Councilman Lester Rainey Jr. said. &#8220But I know that we’ve started some new discussions and I think you’ll see a recommendation at the next council meeting.”

Dupont had originally offered to sell land to the council at what most agreed was an ideal site, since it would situate the plant on the Dupont property where heavy industry already exists. But after residents turned out at the April 30, 2005 meeting to oppose it, the council decided against the site, and Dupont has now withdrawn the offer of that land.

Dupont Plant Manager Guy Tenini said he had a petition with &#8220hundreds of signatures” opposing the site.

But despite the foot dragging in the past year, parish officials are now promising again that something is about to happen.

A meeting of several council members last week, as well as Mike Patorno, consultant for URS engineering firm, has pushed the matter forward. All council members who responded to phone calls from L’Observateur now agree that action needs to be taken quickly, or the new developments intended here just won’t be allowed in.

&#8220These new developments just can’t happen unless we get this situation settled,” Councilman Sean Roussel said, after a meeting last Friday with Patorno and Councilmen Ronnie Smith and Steve Lee.

&#8220Everyone recognizes the situation now,” he added. &#8220And it’s time to quit playing around. But I think that right now we have a strong chance to move forward.”

Funding for the project, even though the price tag has been put at $10 million minimum, doesn’t appear to be the problem. The holdup continues to be agreement by council members on a site.

&#8220The pond is what we’re looking at now,” Smith remarked. &#8220And we have to take care of this now to ensure we don’t stunt the growth in the parish. I don’t want to be unable to accept the new developments, since that is a lot of jobs for local people. I am also working on a temporary facility to ensure we can accommodate the new growth, at least until the permanent site is built.”

Patorno’s company recommended three sites last June to the council, and most officials are now agreeing that the old oxidation pond in Reserve is the top prospect, since there is current infrastructure already there, and very little residential homes nearby.

&#8220The administration wants to go on record that we back the pond site,” said Natalie Robottom, Chief Administrative Assistant to Parish President Nickie Monica. &#8220Now the administration and the council need to get together and agree to get this moving.”

Robottom said the parish already has a $1 million grant in the bank to start the 18-month process of building the new plant. She believes they will fund the rest of the $10 million through other grants, bonds and perhaps a small rate increase.

&#8220We also have been told that some of the new developers may help with the cost, and we may look at impact fees on new homes,” she added. &#8220We have to have a plan to accommodate all these homes, or we can’t allow them in. And even though we are already addressing our water situation, that may have to be looked at again if all these homes end up here.”

Councilman Lee said that he was still hoping Dupont could come back with another offer for the parish to buy that land, but that deal appeared to finally be dead two weeks ago.

&#8220We still were hoping to get the Dupont land, and that’s one reason this thing hasn’t gone forward somewhere else,” he said. &#8220Now we have to select a site, and I expect it will be the pond.”

Councilmen Cleveland Farlough, Allen St. Pierre and Jimmie Hymel also said they support using the pond site, while Council members Dale Wolfe and Jaclyn Hotard did not return phone calls seeking comment.