MANDEVILLE - After Eyewitness News highlighted State Rep. Paul Hollis' frustrations with yet another sewage overflow at his Mandeville neighborhood's lift station, the lawmaker asked the state to look into whether Tammany Utilities was meeting its duty to the public.
A month later, a letter from the head of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, says the parish department failed to report to the agency, as required by law, at least five sewage spills documented by Hollis since 2012.
"I gotta say, I really wasn't surprised," Hollis said. "I'm very disappointed and I'm of the opinion that there's a lot more people in St. Tammany Parish and perhaps across the state that are enduring a problem that they shouldn't have to endure, especially in this day in age."
While the letter says the findings have been forwarded to enforcement for possible action, the parish's Director of Environmental Services says it's already taking action against itself.
"We did not do a good job this time with the paperwork,"said Greg Gordon. "But we go out and respond."
And now, there's a new policy book for how to better respond, which includes stepping up its own reporting requirements from the current quarterly deadline to notifying the state within 24 hours of any time a lift station malfunction results in a sewage spill.
The department is also installing 80 auto-alert systems on lift stations around the parish that will make crews aware of an issue, big or small, immediately. One of them is on the newly repaired and improved equipment in Hollis' neighborhood.
"We want to go above and beyond that now because we want to be fully transparent," Gordon said.
Hollis, now, wants to find a solution state-wide. He's starting by bringing legislation to the State Capitol this session.
"To come up with a seven-member, state-wide commission of experts to look at the problem and then present solutions at the next Legislative session," he said.
It's a long-term goal Hollis hopes has a wide-reaching effect, all from a small problem that turned out to be bigger than anyone realized.
Last week, the Department of Health and Hospitals identified a handful of violations with Tammany Utilities' water services on the east end of the parish, following other reports we've aired.
The parish says it requested that review and is already making the recommended changes.