When it rains it pours, but for some Port Allen residents, it gurgles.
For years, sewage has backed up into about two dozen homes in West Side Village during heavy rain. The city is set to begin costly repairs to alleviate those problems in the next few months, and sewer rate increases are on the horizon, Mayor Richard Lee said.
Cracked pipes in the 60-year-old system are primarily responsible for backups, Chief Administrative Officer for the City Adrian Genre said. During an average day, the wastewater treatment plant in the rear of the West Side Village neighborhood processes around 1 million gallons of water. During a rain event, it can soar to as much as 4 million gallons.
As the rainwater overloads the treatment plant capacity, and water escapes wherever it’s able—usually the bathtub, toilet or sink for some West Side Village residents.
A recent camera exploration of the sewer line, the first phase of the city’s sewer rehabilitation plan, revealed approximately 17 cracked pipes in the area. Repairs are expected to begin in the next few months, which should relieve a majority of the “headaches” caused by bathroom back-ups, Genre said.
While cracked pipes are the most significant part of the problem, the treatment plant’s insufficient capacity is another reason residents’ restrooms gurgle when it rains. The ultimate goal is to convert the West Side VIllage treatment plant, which processes all of the wastewater in the city, to a master lift station and build a new, higher capacity wastewater treatment plant outside of the city limits, Genre explained. Big plans come with big price tags, and this one could cost the city as much as $15 million.
Mayor Lee said the City Council needs to meet “like yesterday” on finding property for a new treatment plant. The city once owned land off of La. 415 with intentions of placing a sewer treatment plant on it but sold it to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ).
The project could take up to 10 years to complete, Mayor Lee said. With a discussion about a proposed 200-acre annexation to the city on the horizon, plans for an improved sewer system should be too, he explained.
“If we want to expand we have to expand services,” Mayor Lee said.
Since 2015, the city has spent nearly $1 million on sewage and wastewater treatment plant repairs. Port Allen spent more than $500,000, the most on sewage repairs in almost a decade, during the 2017-18 fiscal year, with various system repairs and the $400,000 rehabilitation of the lift station near the Depot between avenues A and B.
The city needs to begin increasing sewer rates each year to keep up with the money spent repairing the old system, Mayor Lee said.
“If we gradually increase the rates over the next 10 years, there will be money that we can replenish in the sewer fund to construct this plant, and we won’t have to borrow as much…” Mayor Lee said.
City Council members Ray Helen Lawrence and Hugh Riviere agreed with Mayor Lee’s proposed increases. The sewer rate increase and 200-acre annexation will be up for further discussion and potential action at the Wednesday, Feb. 13 City Council meeting.