Water is held in an aerating pond at the Sewerage & Water Board plant in New Orleans. (Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator)
Louisiana lawmakers approved $356.7 million for 87 sewer and water upgrades around the state during their Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget meeting last week.
Some of the most expensive projects include fixes to the Calcasieu Parish water system ($15 million), the St. Tammany Parish water ($14.1 million) and sewer ($13.9 million) systems, and Shongaloo water system in Webster Parish ($10.4 million).
The projects were selected based on a scoring system that took into account the severity of the need and durability of the proposed fix. Water and sewer systems could also boost their chances of getting money if they found additional funding for the work or offered to combine their project with others.
The spending comes on top of the $300 million already allocated to sewer and water fixes in the prior budget cycle. Gov. John Bel Edwards and lawmakers decided to devote a total of $750 million in federal pandemic relief funding to water and sewer programs that are struggling across the state.
The money is not enough to address Louisiana’s widespread needs. House Appropriations Committee chairman Jerome Zeringue, R-Houma, said last week state demand for water and sewer projects totals $4 billion, and many systems that applied for funding didn’t get any financial support.
Lawmakers also reduced the amount of money going to two projects.
The Edwards administration had initially recommended a multi-city sewer consolidation project near the city of Amite in Tangipahoa Parish receive $45 million – three times as much money as any other project. Amite is the governor’s hometown, though Edwards administration officials have said that was not a factor in their initial recommendation.
Legislators cut that project’s award to $5 million, saying a single project shouldn’t receive such a large sum of money. They also had concerns about the financing plan proposed by Amite officials.
Legislators also reduced funding for a nearby St. Tammany Parish sewer project from $15 million to $5 million.
Overall, lawmakers looked to pull money out of Northshore parishes such as Tangipahoa and St. Tammany because they believed the region was receiving too much funding under the Edwards plan. They emphasized the dollars had to be “spread around” the state more than the governor’s team had recommended.
Legislators suggested the Amite and St. Tammany projects might be able to see their initial funding requests met through the state construction budget later this year, though they made no promises about giving them more money. In the construction budget, the two projects will have to compete for funding with hundreds of other items, including new roads and state college campus buildings.
Where the initial $50 million taken out of the Amite and St. Tammany projects will go also isn’t clear. The state will use the money for sewer and water needs, but legislators haven’t said what criteria will be used to distribute it yet.
On top of the $356.7 million given out last week, lawmakers also voted to set aside $48 million for cost overruns of water and sewer projects they have already given funding.
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