Plaquemine asks seeks federal stimulous funds for sewer plant

Deidre Cruse

The City of Plaquemine is queuing up for a piece of the federal stimulus package to help fund the city’s planned new sewage treatment plant.

Mayor Mark A. “Tony” Gulotta said state Rep. Karen St. Germain hand-carried the city’s request for  $12 million in funding the parish’s Congressional delegation in Washington D. C. The plans already had been forwarded to the office of U. S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, who had solicited projects “that were ready to go.”

Louisiana is in line for $6 billion to $8 billion from the stimulus package, including $1 billion for sewer enhancement projects. Ascension Parish, Gulotta said, already has put in a proposal for $50 million for sewer improvements.

“They are looking at programs that can be put into construction in 90 days,” Gulotta told the Board of Selectmen at a committee meeting last week. “...I think we need to make a hard run at this.”

The mayor said Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr. has agreed to endorse the city’s project, although the parish planned to submit projects as well.

Ourso did not return a telephone call to discuss the parish projects.

“In Washington, they’re all well aware of Plaquemine’s sewer project,” Gulotta said. “We talk to them every year about the sewer problem.”

Plaquemine had been included in one bill for $12 million. Although Congress never appropriated the money, the previous approval could help the city secure the new funding, the mayor said.

Also last week, Gulotta met with state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) officials about a low-interest loan to finance the project.

The revolving loan program has been in place for sewer projects for 15 years, but at rates about even with the market, the mayor said. That changed about a month ago, when the state slashed the rate to 0.9 percent.

“Basically, you’re talking free money ere as far as interest is concerned,” he said.

DEQ wants regional sewer treatment projects, Gulotta said. Since 40 percent of the sewage the city treats comes from outside the city limits, the mayor thought the city had a good chance at the money.

Last year, the city sold $5 million in bonds to finance sewerage improvements, including a new sewer trunk line to divert treated wastewater to the Mississippi River, rather than Bayou Plaquemine as is now the case.

The bonds sold for just over four percent, a good rate but still higher than the state’s current offering, Gulotta said.

City officials have dedicated Plaquemine’s portion of a new one-cent sales tax to building the new sewer treatment plant.

Gulotta said he also met recently with a representative of the U. S. Department of Agriculture, which is offering grants to businesses wanting to invest in energy-efficient equipment.

Brochures on the program will go out to every business in town, the mayor said.