Tempers flare during Sorrento sewer meeting; grants seen as the answer


A special meeting called in the Town of Sorrento began with Councilman Lionel Melancon saying “We have been having issues with the sewer here lately,” as he went on to explain the sewer system has had several recent problems including a relay burnt in the lift station.

He added that the town has also been doing some work to the sewer ponds and noted that one of the problems is crushed perforated pipe in the filter bed.

“This needs to stop, we need to find out what is going on with our sewer and it needs to be fixed now--some way, some how,” Melancon said.

 Melancon said he has received several phone calls from residents, some of whom were present at the meeting, with complaints of sewer backing up in their houses since last week.

“I will bankrupt this town fixing the sewer,” Melancon told a council meeting room full of people, “before DEQ comes over here and burns our butts paying fines.”

One item that has been brought up at the past several town council meetings regarding the sewer system that the manholes need to be sucked out.

“It has come to my attention that for the parish to help us, we have to have an intergovernmental agreement,” Melancon explained, because they must have a permit to suck out the manholes.

Mayor Blake LeBlanc responded by presenting policies for construction work in the town of Sorrento recommended by the parish. One of the policies requires work over $1000 to have the town engineer part of the planning process, and the scope of work should be approved by a vote of the town council.

Also, LeBlanc said, the waste water treatment operator must be involved in the planning if it is a sewer project. If the work is to be done on the town sewer system, the waste water treatment operator, the mayor, the engineer, the councilman appointee on sewer and the contractor are to meet weekly until the project is complete.

“We got a lot of lose ends in the town,” LeBlanc said. “So I am recommend to the council we adopt these policies.”

LeBlanc then gave councilmen and the meeting attendees the opportunity to add any other policies they thought would be necessary.

Kenny Brock, waste water treatment operator for the town, said that after coming under a “high-rain advisory” last week the town went into an alert mood, checking things out. Brock explained that the ponds got high, but he didn’t think it wasn’t due to the  rain because the rain gauge did not show that enough rain had fallen to effect it.

“There’s no way a home owner could have back up in their home because of that situation,” Brock said. “If we have had five inches of rain, everybody would have had back up.”

Brock said he is responsible “good clean water” going back into the environment.

“Anything dealing with sewer backing up in people’s houses is not about the system,” Brock said. “He might have a pluggage, they might have a pluggage, and they might have to get a plumber to look at that.”

After further  discussion of the system, several town residents stood up in defense of Brock’s , and stated their experience with sewer back up.

Residents claimed they had sewer backing up in their houses, bathtubs, yards, and were unable to flush their toilets last week after a malfunction with the lift station.

Another problem brought to the council’s attention, was that a road cone is in the manhole on the corner of Bureau Street. Residents claim the cone ended up there after the man hole cover was repeatedly knocked lose by the Allied Waste truck running over it, and that it was blocking the sewer system as well as being a hazard for their children loading the school near the manhole.

Tempers rose among councilmen, residents, and Brock as accusations of ‘he said, she said’ were made.

The group began pointing fingers and placing blame on councilmen and the waste water treatment operator for the sewer problem, before the meeting became chaotic.

LeBlanc described the loud outburst from meeting attendees as “pandemonium,” after using his gavel in an attempt to restore order to the meeting several times.

After several minutes of “pandemonium,” and even one woman being escorted out of the meeting after repeated outbursts, order was restored.

“Right now we aren’t working together, we are pointing a finger, naming blames, talking behind people’s back,” LeBlanc said. “We got to pull together.”

Engineer Jake Lambert with Glenn Shaheen & Associates addressed the council and residents, describing the issues with the damaged sewer system, possible solutions and steps needed to be taken to repair the system.

He explained to keep the system running properly, requires constant maintenance, not just quick fixes every time something breaks.

Knowing the maintenance would require funds the town does not have, Lambert suggested the town apply for various rural block grants through the state and federal government available to small towns like Sorrento, to help pay for the project.

After hearing Lambert’s suggestion, opinions from the audience, and legal advice from Town Attorney Erin Lanoux, the council closed the meeting agreeing to seek out grants. The council also voted to ask the parish to expedite the approval of the intergovernmental agreement between Ascension Parish and the Town of Sorrento to clean out sewage lines owned by the town on an as needed basis. This request is based on the declaration by the town that this is an emergency situation.