A group of investors led by Baton Rouge-based private equity firm Bernhard Capital Partners has acquired Ascension Wastewater Treatment, a privately held company that provides sewer service to some 17,000 customers in Ascension Parish and is the largest private sewer operator in the state.
Terms of the deal, which has been in the works for several months and has already been approved by the Public Service Commission, were not disclosed.
The acquisition comes a little more than a year after Bernhard Capital began negotiating with the Ascension Parish government to finance, build and operate a new $225 million regional sewer system that would have consolidated the splintered wastewater treatment delivery systems that have proved problematic for the rapidly growing parish.
That deal also would have involved the acquisition of AWT by Bernhard Capital. But negotiations broke down after last fall’s election, when the incoming parish administration began questioning the terms of the proposed contract and suggesting investors would benefit at the expense of parish ratepayers.
Though the deal fell through, Bernhard Capital continued moving forward with its planned acquisition of AWT, which services more customers than the parish system or any of the other small pocket plants that have caused environmental problems for the parish.
Bernhard Capital plans to invest and expand AWT’s infrastructure and also promised today to give existing customers a two-month rebate, averaging $90 per customer, due to economic hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic
“As investors, we have a social obligation to the communities we serve,” says Jim Bernhard, partner at Bernhard Capital in a prepared statement. “We see no better way to help our customers, and the Ascension Parish community, than to provide some relief for their monthly obligations and needs at a time when families, small businesses and local hospitals are being so terribly impacted by this pandemic.”
The acquisition will give Bernhard Capital a foothold in the regulated utilities space and a platform for growth in that arena. The firm has been raising money to create public-private partnerships and invest in regulated utilities in middle markets around the country.
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