Water meter projects between $16.4M and $23.4M discussed

Published 12:15 am Saturday, June 30, 2018

LAPLACE — There are four individual plans ranging between $16.4 and $23.4 million.

There is a major incentive to begin one of the plans in the next six months.

Those options and mounting community pressure are expected to spur water meter response action from St. John the Baptist Parish Council members and administrators.

Local residents have been plagued for more than two years by inconsistent water metering that leads to dramatically spiked bills and off-schedule billing.

Faulty meters and registers and a lack of previous maintenance are blamed for the problems that multiply as the current system extends well beyond its 10-year recommended usage.

St. John Parish has been pre-approved for a $6 million low-interest loan to begin overhaul efforts courtesy of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.

That money is only available if a project is started before December ends.

Under terms of the loan, St. John would be on the hook for a 20-year payback schedule with an interest rate of .95 percent.

St. John Parish personnel are currently using a hodgepodge of techniques to bill customers, including in-person reading, drive-by laptop reading and bill averaging.

Utilities Director Blake Fogleman said his department is working to read all parish meters in person by Aug. 1, something administrators say would drastically curb St. John’s billing inaccuracies.


Rob Delaune, a Digital Engineering consultant hired by the parish, detailed a 20-year financial analysis to Parish Council members this week contrasting in-house manual reading, contractor-supplied manual reading, automated meter reading and advanced metering infrastructure.

The 20-year cost projections for those options are $23.4 million, $19.8 million, $17.7 million and $16.4 million, respectively.

Delaune went into detail on the advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) option as it came in as the least expensive.

According to Delaune’s breakdown:

• Approximately 17,000 residential, commercial and fire hydrant water meters with AMI smart metering technology and leak detection software would be installed.

• Meters would provide hourly meter readings instead of the current once-a-month formula.

• The AMI system would provide priority alarm notifications of potential leaks, reverse flow events, tamper detection and low battery alerts.

• A customer portal would allow customers to set up alerts for consumption and leak detection, and view current and past water usage.

• Each new meter would be covered by a 20-year warranty.

Following the meeting, Councilman Michael Wright said he was leaning to support AMI, saying “I’m cautiously optimistic about going into this type of system with a maintenance plan in place. (Maintenance) is really the reason that the current meter system is failing, because the maintenance system was never put in place.”

Next step

For St. John the Baptist Parish to proceed with any of the options detailed this week, the Parish Council must vote on a path, outlining an expenditure process.

According to Wright, the Council is waiting on an administration recommendation at the board’s next meeting, scheduled July 10.

Parish administrators did not voice an opinion at this week’s meeting. According to St. John Communications, administrators are looking to formulate a recommendation in the next week.

If the recommended advanced metering infrastructure is the chosen option, St. John would have to formally go through the loan application review and closing with LDEQ, which is expected to take two months; advertise for bid to vendors for water meter installation and set up, which is expected to take two months; and begin construction, which Parish Council members were told would take 12 months.

The approved bidder would be responsible for meter installation, three years of software support and parish personnel training. St. John Parish takes over maintenance after the first three years.

To meet state loan guidelines, the Parish Council would have to vote to begin the process by late August.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated since the printed edition to reflect information provided by St. John Communications after press time Friday.)