Judge blocks effort to privatize Baton Rouge’s sewage plants after company sues over bid process

Judge blocks effort to privatize Baton Rouge's sewage plants after company sues over bid process
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A judge has blocked East Baton Rouge Parish from moving forward with a plan to privatize its two sewage plants until she can hear claims that the city-parish violated public bid law when awarding the contract to a company in February. 

The temporary restraining order signed by 19th Judicial District Court Judge Tiffany Foxworth-Roberts freezes a city-parish effort to get out from under a decades-old consent decree by filling operations and maintenance vacancies at the two plants, as well as limiting overflows.

Veolia Water North America – South, LLC, a branch of a France-based Veolia that performs contracted utility work for municipalities, sued the city-parish March 15 after it lost out on a 10-year, multimillion-dollar contract to take over all operations and maintenance at the two plants, according to court documents. The lawsuit criticizes the work of former Environmental Services Director Rick Speer and former Purchasing Director Kris Goranson, who were both fired by Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome earlier this month. 

“Veolia has identified what it believes are significant irregularities in the procurement process for this contract, and we are pleased the Court has granted our request for a temporary restraining order to pause the procurement process while our concerns are considered,” Veolia said in a statement Thursday. “We look forward to a full review and independent evaluation of the process.”

The company sued a month and a half after the Metro Council approved the city-parish’s selection of Operations Management International, Inc., and two days after the city-parish executed a 10-year contract that will cost the city-parish roughly $11.5 million annually. The city-parish will have the option to extend the contract a further 10 years, according to the contract.  

City-parish officials declined to comment on the ruling.

The city-parish argues in court filings that the bid selection process is by nature subjective and defends its choice of contractor as the best and most affordable. It also argues that Veolia failed to protest the bid selection in time under to state law and that temporary restraining order can’t block the city-parish from awarding a contract which has already been executed. 

But Veolia argues it didn’t realize it had grounds to sue until the Feb. 8 Metro Council meeting where OMI was awarded the contract. Veolia officials in attendance learned at that meeting that OMI had proposed levels of staffing that would maintain some vacancies at the two plants, indicating the company wasn’t the best choice for the contract despite a lower cost to the city-parish. 

The meeting came after an interview process where Veolia says OMI was selected for the contract days before Veolia’s scheduled interview in early November. Veolia’s interview was abruptly cancelled by the city-parish the day of, according to the suit, but then rescheduled the interview for early December. Veolia called the rescheduled interview a “sham” to protect the city-parish from litigation, according to court documents. 

“(The interview process) sent the indication that your mind was already made up,” Dunn told city-parish officials at the Feb. 8 meeting. “Not only that you wanted to move forward, but you knew who you wanted to move forward with.” 

Veolia attempted to formally protest the bid on Feb. 15 but was told by the city-parish that the move was not timely, according to court documents. 

Foxworth-Roberts will hear the two sides’ claims on Wednesday.

It’s unclear if the court proceedings will block OMI’s takeover of the two sewage plants now that the contract has been executed. 

The parish sewage system has been under a consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency since 1988. The agreement has been modified several times over the years, but generally requires the city-parish to address violations of the Clean Water Act at the two plants and throughout the system, as a whole.

More than $1.6 billion in improvements have been made to the system during that time at a steep cost to taxpayers, but sewage backups and floods still occur in the system. The city-parish had to borrow $1.47 billion for the work and will have paid $2.7 billion in principle and interest by the time the remaining $2 billion is paid off, according to the city-parish.

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About Mary Weyand 11096 Articles
Mary founded Scoop Tour with an aim to bring relevant and unaltered news to the general public with a specific view point for each story catered by the team. She is a proficient journalist who holds a reputable portfolio with proficiency in content analysis and research. With ample knowledge about the Automobile industry, she also contributes her knowledge for the Automobile section of the website.

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