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Editor/Consulting Writer

A state district court may eventually decide whether St. Landry Parish or Opelousas city government has the authority to operate a sewer plant expansion project that is currently serving new development projects off Interstate 49.

Parish president Jessie Bellard vetoed on Wednesday night a Parish Council ordinance that grants the city total authority to control the $4.5 million wastewater treatment facility which began servicing customers in 2021.

The sewer project, which was completed following state funding and matching revenues provided by the Central St. Landry Economic District has the potential to handle a first-phase capacity of 150,000 gallons per day, according to the St. Landry Parish Economic and Development District.

Bellard placed his veto signature on the ordinance which was passed by an 8-1 Council vote.

During a post-meeting interview Bellard noted that although there was an original endeavor resolution by the Council, the city and CSLED to turn the completed sewer project over to the Opelousas, there was no signed agreement involving the three parties.

Bellard maintained that the parish has the ability to provide better maintenance and operational knowledge for the sewer plant, since the project will continue to service more customers as the I-49 corridor around Opelousas grows.

The parish, said Bellard, already has identified a contracting firm that has what he says is sufficient experience with maintaining large wastewater projects such as the one recently completed in Youngsville.

Bellard said that it will take nine Council votes to override his veto.

“If they override (the veto) then I’m fine with that. Then if we head to court, that’s also fine with me,” Bellard said after the meeting.

The city administration did not have a representative that spoke at the meeting.

Council member Jody White voted against the ordinance, while Faltery Jolivette, Harold Taylor, Ken Marks, Alvin Stelly, Dexter Brown, Timothy LeJeune, Jimmie Edwards and Ernie Blanchard voted “yes” on the issue.

CSLED chairman Buddy Helton told the Council that the city has been permitted to operate the I-49 wastewater plant since the inception of the facility.

Council legal advisor Garrett Duplechain said he understands the parish is paying the insurance for the plant although the city is operating it.

Helton told the council the CEA agreement indicates that it was always the intention to transfer operational authority of the plant to the city.

“It was an agreement that would put the (plant) in the city’s name. There was nothing signed, but that was the intent all along among the three parties,” Helton added.

LeJeune said the parish can obtain revenues by operating the facility.

“We can provide the city with sewerage and water. This is a chance for the parish to receive revenues. It may not be good for everybody, but it is an opportunity for (the parish),” LeJeune said.

Bellard said the city doesn’t have the “capacity” necessary to operate the plant.

Obtaining a declaratory judgment from state district court could resolve the matter, said Bellard.

“This wasn’t done right to start off with. Let the city sue us,” said Bellard.

Duplechain said it was probably best that the Council decide first whether it wanted to establish the ordinance that essentially donated the plant to the city,

“The Council needs to make that decision and then see what comes after that,” said Duplechain.