Former Peoples Water/PUA plant manager’s letter to Parish Council

NOTE:  The letter below was penned by the former Plant Manager of Peoples Water/Parish Utilities of Ascension.  It was forwarded to Ascension’s Council members.

It pains me greatly to watch the Utilities Committee Meetings each month. Before William Daniel came aboard, you all relied on Ken Dawson to answer all questions concerning Parish Utilities of Ascension. How long will it take for you realize that Ken Dawson sold, and continues to sell the Parish lies regarding EVERY aspect of PUA? I say this NOT as a former employee, but as a concerned citizen.

I have tremendous faith in the operators at the plant; however plant management from the top down is a circus of fools. The water plant is the ONE place where politics should never influence decisions. How much extra capacity does the plant have?? I implore you to ask Ken. I know for a fact there IS NO extra capacity. I could go on for hours and still not list all the lies you’ve been told.

The first day I met with Ken we discussed the plant and a list of items that needed repair. I mentioned that we had NO extra capacity. It would take years and cost millions before PUA would be able to supply water to all of ACUD. I started requesting financial reports and billing information to calculate water loss and cost of services for the council. I gave Ken or Carl Ladmirault the reports every month. If he didn’t like the numbers, he would tell the committee he needed to verify some numbers and get back with you. The cost per 1,000 gallons in Feb and March of 2017 was $6 and $9 per 1,000 gallons respectively.

I constantly contradicted every lie Ken told you. I was told to stop writing lengthy emails as they were subject to records requests. I was a threat to Ken’s narrative. A good leader surrounds themselves with people who shine in areas they don’t. So what does it mean when “The Leader” gets rid of anyone more qualified, who is a threat to their narrative, or won’t bow down to them?? What does it mean when “The Leader” surrounds themselves with a bunch of unqualified bumbling cowards? I was the only person working for the parish who had ever managed a water treatment plant. All the SOP’s and contingency plans were done and in Carl Ladmirault and Ken Dawson’s possession by February 2017. The committee never got a copy. I don’t think Ken even read them.

I have NO confidence in Ken Dawson’s ability to participate in any aspect of the water plant and neither should you. I ask that you not take my word for it, ask him why he has misled the council regarding EVERY aspect of PUA. Ask him for specifics. Ask him how many months last year they had the minimum required level of chlorine at the furthest point in ACUD distribution system. I will tell you it was less the 5 times. I repeatedly told both Ken and Carl that I love my dogs and no way in hell would I let them water from the end of ACUD.

Last year LDH reminded ACUD they were still under administrative order since 2012. You may wonder why LDH hasn’t done anything. For years LDH overlooked administrative orders and violations. They didn’t enforce things as they should. The EPA came down on them and LDH is now correcting the problem. They were understaffed and had employees with little experience. That being said…I’ll be more than happy to speak with anyone who has a sincere interest in the health and safety of the citizens who drink ACUD water. I’ll be happy to answer any questions pertaining to any statements made in this letter. I have an abundance of emails and audio supporting everything I’ve said.

FYI; Water Departments are considered “Enterprise funds.” An enterprise fund is self-sufficient. They’re similar to a business in that revenues must at least equal expenditures. However, unlike a business, an enterprise fund does not make a profit. Instead the goal is to have revenue equal expenditures.
As an Enterprise Fund, the Water Department:

• Is designed to break even without the use of financing for annual operating expenses
• Should not receive or utilize funding from the General Fund and is not supported by taxes
• Relies solely on user fees for all operations and future capital needs

Ken’s promise of the PUA being a money maker is fundamentally wrong. This one statement shows how unqualified he is to oversee any aspect of plant operation or finance. The goal is to at least break even. Any profit or revenue should be put aside and used to fund future capital needs. Instead of a money maker, Ken swayed the council to purchase a money pit that as it sits, is unable to provide water to ALL of ACUD.

***IT IS IMPOSSIBLE for someone with NO experience to manage a water plant efficiently enough to break even.

In the past, ACUD purchased water from St. James and Assumption Parish to sell to its customers. Parish Utilities of Ascension (PUA) currently provides water to the (St. James area) of ACUD at no cost. PUA doesn’t sell the water to ACUD therefore it receives nothing in return. PUA essentially subsidizes part of ACUD. Ken Dawson sold the council on the promise that by purchasing Peoples Water, they would save money by no longer needing to purchase water from Assumption Parish. They would use the nonexistent extra capacity at the plant to supply water for ALL of ACUD. PUA is a long way from being able to provide water to all of ACUD. Physically connecting ACUD to PUA will require engineers, LDH approval, and construction. Even if the physical connection took place in one year, the parish will continue to purchase water from Assumption until the plant has been upgraded and is able to provide the capacity needed to serve all of ACUD. This could take 2-4 years and cost millions. The plant is land locked. The city playground is one side, the park is across the street, the levee is in the back and a vacant building sits on the other side. The easiest way to expand and upgrade PUA would be to purchase the vacant building beside it and demolish it.

How long will it take for PUA to pay for itself?

• PUA provides water to the St. James side of ACUD at NO COST. Money generated from the sale of PUA water to ACUD customers is not given to PUA, It stays in ACUD budget.

• ACUD purchases water from Assumption at a cost of $2.50/1,000 gallons. (To SAVE money as Ken suggested, PUA would need to produce water for less than the cost of water purchased from Assumption.)

• Historically Peoples Water collected approximately $150,000 per month or $1,800,000 annually.

Assuming PUA has no annual expense. It would still take a little over 3 years of PUA water sales at $150,000 each month to recover the cost of $5.9 million dollars to purchase the plant. If the parish spends approx. $10-25 million upgrading the plant to “save money by providing water ACUD” they will be paying it back for 10+ years especially with no increase water rate which is required if they plan to use the CWEF grant. The parish would be better off continuing to buy water from Assumption and pay for the plant upgrades required by LDH.

In order to break even PUA will need to produce water at the same cost as purchased water from Assumption. Even then, assuming a $0.50 savings per 1000 gallons would hardly be enough savings to constitute the purchase of the water plant plus all upgrades especially if the CWEF grant funds the upgrade.

The citizens of this Parish deserve better from you all as council members and from Parish administration. The health of your citizens and the quality of water they drink should be your FIRST priority. You were elected by constituents in your district to represent them, to listen to their concerns and be good stewards of their tax dollars. It’s time you understand that people are disgusted with your corrupt good ole boy way of governing. Citizens will vote, and no doubt most of you will STILL be shocked when you lose your seat. It’s time for change from the top down. IT WILL HAPPEN.

Wendy Emmel
Former PUA Plant Manger/Operator