Council disputes administration over west bank water options

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 26, 2011



LAPLACE – A discussion at Tuesday’s St. John the Baptist Parish Council meeting regarding the west bank water treatment plant in Edgard put parish administrators on the defensive over plans to repair the aging facility.

Councilman Haston Lewis, who represents the west bank, said recent repairs to the clarifier at the plant were not enough to save the water plant from potential failure while the parish waits for construction of an under-the-river water line to connect the Edgard plant to the Lions water treatment plant in Reserve.

“You and I know that if that clarifier goes, we’re going to be out of water,” said Lewis, who also asked that the administration consider building a second clarifier that would back up the old one. The clarifier filters water pulled from the Mississippi River to make it ready for consumption.

Parish President Natalie Robottom said the original plan, a component of the parish’s $29.5 million bond issue approved by voters in 2009, called for the parish to build a new clarifier, repair the old one, then go back to the old one.

“That didn’t make sense to me,” Robottom said. “It didn’t make sense to our team. We met with engineers and in the end, it was decided to ensure that the west bank would have a water source that wouldn’t be jeopardized by a timetable.”

Lewis offered a motion to the council for the administration to go out for bid on construction of a clarifier. The motion was seconded by Councilman-at-Large Lucien Gauff, whose district includes the area, but he withdrew the second once Robottom offered her explanation.

Robottom said temporary repairs have been made to the clarifier to extend its life at least another three years. She said when additional repairs are made, the system will survive as many as five more years, which, she said, would be enough time for the parish to secure permits and funding for the pipeline under the river to connect the two plants.

The parish has some money in the budget for the pipeline, but Robotom said the parish is also seeking grants to help with the estimated $1.3 million cost of the pipeline. She said a new clarifier would cost the parish more than $800,000 alone. The repairs to the existing clarifier ran roughly $66,000.

“It is not in the best interest of the parish to spend tax dollars on something we don’t need just because it was part of the original plan,” Robottom said, regarding construction of a new clarifier.

Robottom said the Reserve plant has the capacity to supply the west bank with water in the event of a failure at the west bank plant. She also said the Edgard plant already produces more water than the west bank consumes and that the west bank plant could send water to the east bank in the event of a failure there.

Robottom said after the meeting that funding and permitting with the Pontchartrain and Lafourche Basin levee districts, as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has slowed the pipeline project but added that similar plans in both St. James and St. Charles parishes have made the corps and the levee districts more familiar with the process.

In other action, the council accepted substantial completion of construction on an elevated walkway from the levee to the west bank’s water intake pump along the river batture. The walkway will help plant workers safely access the intake facility for maintenance during periods of high water in the river. Cecil D. Gassiot LLC was the contractor on the project.