Parish Utilities makes a case for rate increase

Greg Fischer Editor-in-chief
Parish President Kenny Matassa and Chief Administrative Officer Ken Dawson discuss the proposal for a Parish Utilities rate increase said to benefit Westbank water systems.

Parish President Kenny Matassa recently expressed the need to repair and replace portions of what was formerly People's Water, which supplies much of the Westbank with clean drinking water.

According to parish officials, the company, now Parish Utilities of Ascension, still has original galvanized steel pipes in the ground from the 1920's when the system was put into place by the Gillette family.

Moreover, the steel pipes are laid shallow in the ground and prone to break often, causing water outages and low pressure to the community. This may lead to issues with the services of the fire department.

"People can say what they want, but People's Water did nothing but exist for years," Matassa said. "They didn't change any lines, unless something broke."

The industry standard is PVC pipe. It does not rust like steel. And according to Matassa's Chief Administrative Officer Ken Dawson PVC pipe will last "forever."

"Once we finish with these lines we will see a substantial reduction in operating cost because we will not be watering trees," Dawson said.

He added that a complete overhaul of the system would cost the parish anywhere from $5-8 million dollars. An overhaul is what Dawson and the Parish President are proposing.

Moving on, People's Water was purchased by Ascension Parish in September, 2016. It was bought for $5.9 million, a price admittedly higher than the $5 million dollars Matassa had aimed for. But in an age where water is a sought after commodity and small town systems across the U.S. are facing problems similar to this one, he felt it was the right move.

Immediate changes included a move to the DPW building for better handicap access to patrons. Next, the parish has already invested in a generator that would be in place to keep the water from Parish Utilities running during an extreme event like a hurricane.

Notably, Matassa was said to be directly involved in putting temporary generators in place after a tornado ripped through Donaldsonville in February, leaving some folks without power for over 24 hours.

"It was a good test run," Dawson said.

Obviously, the last thing anyone wants is for people to get sick. All that may be prevented with a solid renovation, one that could carry the Westbank and D'ville into future generations.

According to Matassa, Parish Utilities is capable of one day supplying water to Gonzales. But whether or not that takes place an upgrade is in need.

However, in order to ensure the quality of water Matassa is proposing a thirty percent increase to Parish Utilities current monthly rate. That was said to be down from a former proposal of People's Water for a 50 percent hike. He will cast the proposal at the next Utilities Committee Meeting, chaired by Councilman Randy Clouatre, on June 6.

Donaldsonville Mayor Leroy Sullivan has mixed feelings. He is concerned with the price increase, mentioning some poor and elderly people in the community.

"The people of Donaldsonville deserve a better system," Chief of Staff Kyle Gautreau said. "We didn't buy it so we could neglect it. We bought it to provide a quality product to the people of Donaldsonville."