A special meeting of the Ascension Parish Council, originally scheduled for tonight, to vote on a proposed 30-year deal to finance, build and operate a new $215 million regional sewer system for the parish, has once again been postponed.
It’s the second time in as many weeks the vote has been pushed back, amid questions from the parish president-elect and an incoming parish council member about the terms of the deal negotiated by the outgoing parish administration and Ascension Sewer LLC, the private company proposing to build and operate the new system.
In recent days, officials with Ascension Sewer, which was created and is largely owned by Baton Rouge-based private equity firm Bernhard Capital Partners, have been meeting with Parish President-elect Clint Cointment and incoming council member Chase Melancon to try to address their concerns.
Since his October election, Cointment has been urging the outgoing parish council to take a closer look at the deal and negotiate more favorable terms for the parish and its ratepayers.
Though no one in Ascension Parish disagrees that the current decentralized sewer system is outdated, unsustainable and will need to be replaced—perhaps by order of a federal consent decree—some have begun to question whether the terms of the contract originally proposed by Ascension Sewer are in the best interest of parish ratepayers.
BCP Partner Jeff Jenkins, who met with Cointment and Melancon for several hours Monday afternoon, says Ascension Sewer has agreed to “several significant concessions in favor of the parish.”
“We are working together to address all concerns and finalize a great partnership for the future of Ascension Parish,” he says.
Cointment says BCP and Ascension Sewer have been “gracious enough to give me some input on the deal and we’re making progress.” But he says until he sees something in writing, he’s not ready to get behind it just yet.
Ultimately, however, Cointment won’t have a say in the deal, even though his administration will have to live with whatever terms are negotiated. It’s up to the parish council to vote, and the outgoing council is expected to vote on the contract at its final meeting of the year, Dec. 19.