Grant funding awarded to improve water & wastewater systems

Published 4:18 am Wednesday, January 11, 2023

LAPLACE — St. John the Baptist Parish has been awarded two grants by the Louisiana Water Sector Commission providing a combined $7.49 million for parish-wide water and wastewater system improvements.

On the wastewater side, St Parish John is receiving $5 million to consolidate sewer systems near Cambridge and Woodland Drive in LaPlace, allowing for the closure of the deteriorating Woodland Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Since taking office in 2020, Parish President Jaclyn Hotard and her administration have laid the groundwork involved with consolidating the eight existing treatment plants into two oxidation ponds. This will allow the parish to better maintain wastewater capacity and prepare for future growth.

“The existing infrastructure includes eight irreparable mechanical treatment plants that have been neglected from a maintenance standpoint,” Hotard said. “We will consolidate the five existing plants into one oxidation pond on the East Bank and three existing plants into one oxidation pond on the West Bank. Once we do the entire consolidation, it will save us about $1 million annually in maintenance costs.”

The existing wastewater facilities are between 30 and 40 years old, according to Reed Alexander of the St. John the Baptist Parish Utilities Department. Belle Pointe, which has been condemned, will be the first to be demolished, followed by Woodland.

The current annual maintenance cost on the Belle Pointe facility is roughly $30,000, while the current maintenance cost on the larger Woodland facility is approximately $214,000.

The entire wastewater project is estimated at $43 million, subject to increase with rising costs of construction. The tentative completion would be the fourth quarter of 2025, and plans are currently in motion.

“You can’t shut everything down at one time. Of the others that need to be condemned, some are under design (for demolition), and many have engineers working on them,” Hotard said.

The second grant from the Louisiana Water Sector Commission awards St. John Parish $2.49 million to expand water treatment capabilities at the Lions Water Treatment Plant in Reserve, which serves residents in Reserve, Garyville and Mt. Airy and also serves as a back-up water supply for the West Bank.

A comprehensive water improvement plan seeks to create redundancy between all of the parish’s water systems using the Mississippi River. The three pieces of the project include water treatment at the current reverse osmosis site on Woodland Drive, the transmission main transporting water from the river to Woodland Drive, and finally the intake pump station located on the Mississippi River. The entire project is estimated to cost $52 million.

“We put our foot on the ground in 2020 to address LaPlace’s water system issues, which is that the water source is outside of the levee protection system and is not accessible during weather events,” Hotard said. “At the Lions Water System, we’re making upgrades there as well because that system lacks capacity. We had total water loss in the freeze event. On that system, we are adding an additional filter, membrane treatment, control valve, and an additional 3 million gallons of treatment capacity per day.”

In the November 2021 election, voters approved a proposition to generate funding for upgrades and relocations of Parish drinking water systems. This rolled back the general obligation bond millage from 12.5 to 11.25, representing a cost savings for taxpayers achieved through refinancing bonds and mindful spending practices.

“Voters approved the bond issue, but we are also aggressively pursuing grants and sources of money. The cost of construction has gone up, so even though we have funds, we are really trying to pursue additional funds any way we can,” Hotard said.

According to Hotard, the intake station portion of the water project will take the longest due to land acquisitions and other legal requirements.

“We are looking at fourth quarter 2025, first quarter 2026, and we have funds on this project, so money is not the hold up. A lot of work needs to be done on the front end,” she said.

Thus far, design work has taken place on the transmission main that will take water from the river to the Woodland site. Legal representatives have identified servitudes that will be needed.

Funding from the two Louisiana Water Sector Commission grants is expected to save St. John Parish approximately 65% of the planned expenditures for the identified infrastructure improvements.