Health department may take over small Northshore water provider

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wwltv.com

Posted on March 9, 2012 at 7:52 PM

Doug Mouton / Northshore Bureau Chief
Email: dmouton@wwltv.com | Twitter: @dmoutonwwl

COVINGTON, La. - In a rare move, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals is taking a northshore water company to court. The DHH will ask a judge to put Parks Water Works into receivership.

Receivership means an outside company would then be brought in to run the system, collecting all bills and making all necessary updates and maintenance to the system.

Jake Causey, the Chief Engineer with the Department of Health and Hospitals and Administrator for Louisiana's Safe Drinking Water Program said receiverships are "very unusual." In fact, according to Causey, the DHH was forced to put other water companies into receivership, but only when the current water provider has died, and no one was left to run the company. In this case, Causey said, "Someone still here, but poorly operating, I can't think of a time where we've had to get to this point."

Kelly Johnson of Loranger owns and operates Parks Water Works from his home near Loranger. Parks Water Works provides water to five separate subdivisions, Ponderosa Ranches, Ponderosa Estates, Forest Glen, Village Guthrie and Central Park. If a judge grants receivership, those five neighborhoods would soon get a new water provider.

According to the DHH, the state has tried for months to get Kelly Johnson to make the necessary improvements to his water system.

"We really don't feel like we've gotten anywhere," Jake Causey said, "and I certainly don't have an explanation for why that hasn't occurred, except that we have to go so the next step." That next step comes in court, Causey expected the DHH to file those papers next week, and he said the Louisiana Public Service Commission will join the DHH in that suit.

Causey said, it won't take expensive improvements to get the system in compliance, and he believes other water companies will be willing to step in and take over the system.

"Someone can come in and make some relatively minor improvements to the system," Causey said, "and residents will see a large improvement."

"Small water systems can be good money makers," St. Tammany Environmental Services Director Greg Gorden said Friday. "It's relatively easy to give quality drinking water to people, it just takes a lot of operation and maintenance and care." Those are things which Gorden said are not being provided now.

"No, not at all," Gorden added. "Not towards the water that they give, not towards the customer service that they provide to the customers, which is almost non-existent."

Parks is one of 37 water companies providing service in parts of St. Tammany. In Louisiana, there are more than 1,400 individual water companies operating. Both Gorden with St. Tammany and Causey with the DHH said, Parks is one of their more problematic water providers.

It is possible the new provider, the receiver, could raise rates to pay for necessary improvements to the system, but both Gorden and Causey believe the service will greatly improve for Parks roughly 550 customers.

"That receiver is going to be under the more watchful eye of the DHH and us," Greg Gorden said, "and if they get the rate relief to make those improvements, and schedule out those improvements, obviously it's going to benefit the whole system, so for the long term, those people should expect much service in the long run."

"It puts other small water systems on notice in this area that are maybe slipping towards that same point," Gorden added, "that they better get their act together."

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