Storm Water Charges | Federal agencies have no knowledge of the NDA

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Congressman Garret Graves on the phone with the DOJ

UPDATE: Now, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) also says it was unaware of any nondisclosure agreements regarding proposed stormwater charges.

“I just spoke to the DOJ. The DOJ also confirmed that there was no sda requirement on their part. -Congressman Graves.

The EBR Parish Attorney’s Office released a statement in response now: “There is no NDA regarding the stormwater proposal. There is an NDA with the parish attorney regarding our conversations with the Department of Justice regarding our MS4 audit. Additionally, while there is no deadline for our stormwater proposal, there is a Department of Justice deadline to submit our MS4 permit compliance plan.

Full statement from the EBR below.

ORIGINAL:

Mayor Sharon Weston Broome, parish president of East Baton Rouge, and her staff have repeatedly told the public and officials that details of the proposed stormwater utility charges cannot be discussed due to of a non-disclosure agreement, or NDA.

Additionally, it appears that the rush to get the proposed fees ahead of the Metro-Council EBR is to avoid possible impending fees that could be assessed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under a decree of consent. Now, however, it appears the EPA is saying none of that is true, according to Congressman Garret Graves.

Congressman Graves sent a letter late last week to the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the EPA questioning the nondisclosure agreement.

Part of this letter reads as follows:

“Recent reports indicate that EPA and DOJ officials are demanding that Baton Rouge officials sign a
Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) before being told about stormwater management
negotiations. The City-Parish of Baton Rouge has indicated that a new tax on all property in the city will be
be imposed as a result of these confidential negotiations. In fact, the federal government requires
the city-parish of Baton Rouge to impose tens of millions of dollars in new annual taxes – which
amounts to almost 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 bodies. The use of an NDA in this situation
seems highly inappropriate and continues to prevent the public from accessing key information needed to make a
informed decision on the imposition of tens of millions of dollars in new taxes imposed on our
community by federal agencies.

However, Congressman Graves said after a call to the EPA that he learned that “no nondisclosure agreement is in place or required by the EPA or the Department of Justice regarding fees of stormwater in Baton Rouge”.

Congressman Graves said the EPA further told him “There is no EPA-required deadline in place that would require 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 difficult moving forward,” East Baton Rouge Councilman Aaron Moak said. “There are things we need to do and I there are funds that we have to find, but because of what happened here, to go ahead with those funds, it’s going to be very difficult. Now the public is going to be very discouraged and very suspicious of public servants and the council is now very suspicious of the administration because of exactly what happened here.

“I’m frustrated, angry and disappointed,” Councilor Laurie Adams said. “I was led to believe that the EPA/DOJ required our local officials to sign an NDA restraining parish officials from commenting regarding potential enforcement action against us for non-compliance with the Clean Water Act and MS4 authorization. I spoke with several EPA officials in Baltimore over the weekend and now realize they must have thought I was crazy asking them about the use of NDAs in a federal enforcement action placing the local council members in a terrible position to make decisions in the best interests of our community and its constituents. I will vote NO on this proposal.

Councilman Dwight Hudson said, “The lack of transparency around this proposal is staggering. The recent NDA news is another example of confusion resulting from a rushed schedule and a plan that is not well thought out.

The proposed fee has drawn a lot of heat from the public with few details released by officials under the guise of an NDA. Additionally, the proposed fee is set to go to the EBR’s Metro-Council on Oct. 26 for a vote, which in itself upset many voters. If the public is required to pay a license fee, they should be able to vote themselves, not just council members.

Last Wednesday, a paper was presented to the EBR Metro-Council for a proposal from Mayor-President Broome’s office to collect a district stormwater fee that will generate approximately $40 million each year in East Parish. Red Stick.

According to the city-parish EBR website, “The stormwater service fee is a dedicated source of funding for drainage maintenance and improvement works, which will improve water flow, reduce pollution and will reduce the risk of future flooding. The fee is a flat rate charged based on the amount of impervious surface on a property in East Baton Rouge Parish. Impervious surfaces are defined as materials that do not allow water penetration, such as buildings, roads, sidewalks and parking lots.

The website further explains why the fee is necessary: ​​“The parish town currently faces challenges regarding operational services, capital investments, and funding adequacy with respect to sustainable stormwater management. The funding mechanism that currently supports stormwater services is inadequate, unsustainable and does not allow for equitable cost recovery.

The town hall issued a press release:


The Parish City strives to remain in compliance with our Louisiana Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (LPDES) permit from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ). This effort includes establishing a solid stormwater improvement, maintenance and monitoring plan. Our current deadline for providing a plan to comply with our permit and respond to the findings of the MS4 audit is the first quarter of 2023.

The non-disclosure agreement (NDA) is an agreement drafted by the city and the parish. The NDA is signed by Parish-Town staff and Parish-Town consultants to protect discussions regarding our stormwater permit and the Parish-Town’s historical deficiencies in stormwater compliance. No state or federal government agency has required the parish town to sign a nondisclosure agreement or confidentiality agreement with respect to stormwater compliance.

However, as is common practice, settlement discussions that may lead to legal action should be kept confidential for the benefit of all parties.

There is no NDA for the stormwater proposal. There is an NDA with the parish attorney regarding our conversations with the Department of Justice regarding our MS4 audit. Additionally, while there is no deadline for our stormwater proposal, there is a Department of Justice deadline to submit our MS4 permit compliance plan.

Several public meetings have taken place and are scheduled until the October 26 vote.

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