The City of Denham Springs will now require developers of large subdivisions to pay sewage impact fees up front, a move made after officials spent months exploring ways to improve the city’s wastewater department amid a wave of proposed developments.
Last April, city leaders voted to temporarily block large developments from connecting to its wastewater treatment system, saying they needed time to learn what upgrades and additions were needed for the 15-year-old plant.
The moratorium, which was passed unanimously, was implemented in response to multiple proposed developments that, despite being located just outside city limits, would’ve utilized the city’s wastewater system — and added thousands of customers.
Initially set to expire at the end of 2022, the council in January extended the moratorium another two months as a sewer committee finalized plans. On Tuesday, those plans were presented and approved.
During Tuesday’s meeting, the city council voted 4-0 to require developers of subdivisions with at least 151 lots to pay “100 percent” of the impact fees up front. For those building developments between 51 and 150 lots, half of the sewer impact fee would have to be paid up front.
Currently, the city charges a sewer impact fee of roughly $3,800 per lot that is paid when the developer applies for a water meter, according to Eddie Aydell of Alvin Fairburn and Associates, the professional of record for the sewage district.
Additionally, subdivisions of at least 51 lots that would utilize the city’s sewer, gas, and water services would need City Council approval.
“This is absolutely a good step,” said Councilman Robert Poole. “The whole thing is about providing as good a quality product as we can without diminishing anything to the existing customer base, and doing so in a responsible manner.”
City leaders have spent the last several months examining the city’s sewer system, which was built in 2008 and services around 7,800 customers, including about 5,000 customers within city limits, according to Mayor Gerard Landry.
But over the last year, officials have grown fearful that the system in its current state would be overwhelmed if three proposed developments were added.
Those developments — two residential neighborhoods on 4H Club Road and an apartment complex in Juban Crossing — would add another 3,000 customers to the system and push the plant to 77.5 percent of its capacity, Aydell previously said. But Landry said that “you have to start looking into expanding and upgrading” at 70 percent.
“In no way, shape, or form are we trying to deny anything that’s gonna hurt these developments,” Landry said in April. “But our concern is the Denham Springs Sewer District and the sewer plant itself.”
Officials weighed a variety of options to provide for growth within the service area during the months-long moratorium. Discussed options included building a new treatment plant on 4H Club Road, rerouting discharge from the Forrest Delatte Road plant to the Amite River, reducing the service area’s size, and adding an infiltration reduction program.
In the end, officials said “the best course of action” was to focus “all efforts and funds” to improving existing facilities and minimize the financial expenditures “that would not directly benefit” existing customers.
Aydell said making the builders of large developments pay impact fees in advance would “minimize” the city’s financial risk and give the city “a higher level of security” that the development will go through. Without an impact fee up front, the city could potentially pay for upgrades for a development that could possibly “flop.”
“In most cases, it should give you all or at least the majority of the revenue you need to do the upgrade and handle the development,” Aydell said Tuesday. “You can’t wait until all the houses are built to do the upgrades, because then you have a problem.”
In addition to the new impact fee policy, the city council also voted to perform “a detailed evaluation” of its current monthly user fees and impact fees, which the sewer committee called “inadequate.”
Aydell also discussed system improvements he felt should be done “regardless if another house is built.” His comments echoed recommendations from the sewer committee, which urged the city council to "dedicate more resources" to keep the sewer system "operating properly."
One project that is already underway, Aydell said, is clearing the treatment plant’s basins of the “grit” that has accumulated over the years. Aydell said that project, which is currently advertising for bids, “could add back maybe 25 percent of the treatment capacity” at the Forrest Delatte Road plant.
Aydell also urged the council to address the sewer system’s infiltration issues, which he called “one of the most important things you’ll ever do.” He suggested the city perform regular testing to find any leaks, saying infiltration has become a glaring issue since the Augusto 2016 flood.
“We don’t know where they (the leaks) are at, but it seems like our infiltration is a lot worse than it used to be,” Aydell said. “And it’s not because we have a lot more customers.”
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