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Lessons Learned From Baton Rouge - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Lessons Learned From Baton Rouge

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SHREVEPORT, La -

When and how much is the question Shreveporters ask when it comes to raising utility rates to tackle the city's aging water and sewer system. But shreveport isn't the first to experience the wrath of the federal government when it comes to leaky sewers. Our neighbors to the south in baton rouge are already working to comply with a deal they cut with the feds.

Sam Jenkins is a Shreveport City Councilman. He said, "Is what we're raising going to be enough to address the problem, will it be more than enough to address the problem or God forbid it becomes a scenario where instead of needing 350 million, we need more than 600 million to address the problem." That's just one of the questions on everyone's mind as we prepare to tackle the city's aging water and sewer system. Earlier this week, the city council was introduced to the proposed consent decree, or contract, with the U.S. Department of Justice outlining work to be done by the city to get our sewer system in compliance. Right now,  officials estimate we need $350 million dollars to fix all the problems we have. Unfortunately, the cost for all that work is still an estimate. Barbara Featherston is the newly appointed director of water and sewer for the city. She said, "Right now we're still in that assessment phase with our modeling and until we sit down with EPA and figure out how they want our modeling, we really won't know what those costs will be. But we've estimated some costs for capacity improvements as well as the things we already know about that have been in our unfunded list for years."

City officials say, a rate increase over the next 12 years is the only fix for our sewer crisis. David Guillory, Public Works Director for Baton Rouge, agrees that's probably the city's best solution... Before it's too late. "We are on the tail end of a 1.3 billion dollar sewer improvement plan. Right now we have a 4% increase on the user fee, and that's every year. It's in perpetuity right now. It just increases 4% every year." Guillory says the capital city has had the federal government breathing down its neck for years, all because of similar problems we're seeing here in Shreveport regularly, sewer leaks spilling into streets, yards and sometimes buildings. Sewage can also seep into the storm drain system, sending untreated human waste into the Red River.

Guillory said, "That's kind of what happened to us. The number of Sanitary Sewer Overflows or SSO's reached a level where it was time for us to do significant investment into our sewer system." But if Shreveport wants to catch up with its sewer  issues, before the city is drowning in fines and increasingly higher repair costs. Guillory says it's time to take action and raise rates, considering that Baton Rouge's estimated repair costs of $600 million dollars 11 years ago has more than doubled to $1.3 billion dollars. Guillory offered, "Sewer is not usually considered an issue, unless it's backing up into your house. And it makes it a little harder to raise rates or implement taxes to fund capital construction that people really don't see."

The city council can't vote on authorizing Mayor Glover to sign the consent decree with the federal government until its next meeting on August 13th. However, on August 1st, a public comment meeting will take up the issue of the utility rate increase. Some council members have been pushing back on the increase, concerned about the impact on low income users as well as possible impact on commercial and industrial users. Looking again at Baton Rouge, that city not only raised rates but property taxes to spread out the cost. The city of Shreveport has had 1100  SSO's or sanitary system overflows since 2009. The federal government fines each SSO at $37,500 dollars per overflow per day. This year alone, city crews have responded to nearly 50 overflows.

 

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