UPDATE: Now, the U.S. Dept. of Justice (DOJ) is also saying they were not aware of any non-disclosure agreement over the proposed storm water fees.
“Just talked to DOJ. DOJ confirmed also that there was not an nda requirement on their part.” -Congressman Graves.
EBR Parish Attorney’s office has issued a statement in response now: “There is no NDA regarding the stormwater proposal. There is an NDA with the Parish Attorney concerning our conversations with the Justice Department regarding our MS4 audit. Also, while there is no deadline regarding our stormwater proposal, there is a deadline from the Justice Department to submit our plan for MS4 permit compliance.”
Full statement from EBR below.
East Baton Rouge Parish President Mayor Sharon Weston Broome and her staff have repeatedly told the public and officials that details of the proposed storm water utility fee cannot be discussed because of a non-disclosure agreement, or NDA.
Plus, it appears the rush to the get the proposed fee before the EBR Metro-Council is to avoid possible looming fees that could be assessed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under a consent decree. Now though, it appears the EPA is saying none of that is true, per Congressman Garret Graves.
Congressman Graves sent a letter late last week to the U.S. Dept. of Justice (DOJ) & EPA questioning the non-disclosure agreement.
Part of that letter reads:
“Recent reports indicate that EPA and DOJ officials are requiring Baton Rouge officials to sign a
Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) prior to being briefed on the stormwater management
negotiations. The City-Parish of Baton Rouge has indicated that a new tax on all properties in the city will
be imposed as a result of these confidential negotiations. Effectively, the federal government is forcing
the City-Parish of Baton Rouge to impose tens of millions of dollars in new, annual taxes – which
amounts to nearly half a billion dollars over ten years – without any transparency. The parties involved in
these negotiations are all public entities. There are no intellectual properties, trade secrets, proprietary
information, or other confidential data at risk – only public agencies. The use of an NDA in this situation
appears highly inappropriate and continues to block the public from key information needed to make an
informed decision on the imposition of tens of millions of dollars in new taxes being forced upon our
community by the federal agencies.”
Now though, Congressman Graves said after a call to the EPA, he has learned that “No non-disclosure agreement is in place or required by the EPA or the Department of Justice regarding the storm water fee in Baton Rouge.”
Congressman Graves said the EPA further told him “No deadline in place required by EPA that would force the new tax to be imposed by the parish by the end of the month.”
“It’s upsetting and it’s hurtful. It’s going to be very hard to move forward,” said East Baton Rouge Councilman Aaron Moak. “There’s things that we need to do and I get it. There’s funding that we need to find but because of what’s happened here, to move forward with these fundings, it’s going to be very hard. Now, the public is going to be very disheartened and very untrusting of public officials and the council is now very untrusting of the administration because of exactly what has happened here.”
“I am frustrated, angry, and disappointed,” said Councilwoman Laurie Adams. “I was led to believe that the EPA/DOJ was requiring our local officials to sign an NDA preventing Parish officials from making any comments regarding a potential enforcement action against us for being out of compliance with the Clean Water Act and MS4 permitting. I spoke with several EPA officials in Baltimore this weekend and I now realize they must have thought I was crazy questioning them about the use of NDAs in a federal enforcement action placing local council members in a terrible position to make decisions in the best interest of our community and constituents. I will be voting NO on this proposal.”
Councilman Dwight Hudson said, “The lack of transparency around this proposal is staggering. The recent news regarding the NDA is yet another example of confusion that has resulted from a rushed timeline and a plan that is not well thought out.”
The proposed fee has caught a lot of heat from the public with few details released from officials under the pretense of an NDA. Plus, the proposed fee is expected to go before the EBR Metro-Council on Oct. 26th for a vote, which in itself has upset many voters. If the public will be required to pay a fee, they should be able to vote on it themselves, not council-members only.
This past Wednesday, an item was introduced to the EBR Metro-Council for a proposal by Mayor-President Broome’s office to collect a stormwater utility district fee that will generate an estimated $40 million every year in East Baton Rouge Parish.
According to the EBR city-parish website, the “stormwater utility fee is a dedicated funding source for drainage maintenance and improvement work, which will improve water flow, reduce pollution, and reduce future flood risk. The fee is a flat rate charged based on the amount of impervious surface on a property within East Baton Rouge Parish. Impervious surfaces are defined as materials that do not allow the penetration of water, such as buildings, roads, sidewalks, and parking lots.”
The website further explained why the fee is necessary: “The City-Parish is currently facing challenges regarding operational services, capital investments, and funding adequacy with regards to sustainable stormwater management. The funding mechanism that currently supports stormwater services is inadequate, unsustainable, and does not provide for equitable cost recovery.”
The mayor’s office issued a statement:
The City-Parish is working to remain in compliance with our Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) Louisiana Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (LPDES) Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4) Permit. This effort includes establishing a robust stormwater plan of improvements, maintenance, and monitoring. Our current deadline for providing a plan to achieve compliance with our permit and address the findings of the MS4 audit is the first quarter of 2023.
The non-disclosure agreement (NDA) is a City-Parish drafted agreement. The NDA is signed by City-Parish staff and City-Parish consultants to protect discussions regarding our stormwater permit and the City-Parish’s historic shortcomings in the area of stormwater compliance. No state or federal governmental agency has required the City-Parish to execute a non-disclosure agreement or confidentiality agreement as it pertains to stormwater compliance.
However, as is standard practice, settlement discussions that may lead to court action should remain confidential for the benefit of all parties.
There is no NDA regarding the stormwater proposal. There is an NDA with the Parish Attorney concerning our conversations with the Justice Department regarding our MS4 audit. Also, while there is no deadline regarding our stormwater proposal, there is a deadline from the Justice Department to submit our plan for MS4 permit compliance.
Several public meetings have been held and are scheduled till the vote on Oct. 26th.