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City Parish maintains stormwater plan deadline looming
BATON ROUGE - Just when we all thought that the city was ready to move on, the mayor's office is rekindling the flame over a deadline it must meet with the feds.
A call to 2 On Your Side Tuesday from the mayor's office doubled down on the deadline that the City-Parish says it's under to get the Stormwater Utility Fee organized with a dedicated funding source by or around January 15. The date is still not entirely clear because the mayor's office hasn't provided any paperwork.
Watch this two-part WBRZ investigation:
Part 1: Nakamoto reports on hidden emails from parish attorney
Part 2: Brittany Weiss learns of new claim from city hall over federal deadline
Last week, Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome sat down with WBRZ to clear the air about what's been going on with the fee and the Environmental Protection Agency.
"They made it pretty clear that if we did not take this seriously that we could be facing their intervention and action - it was pretty clear," Broome said.
But, was it clear? In a news conference on Oct. 6, 2022, the mayor said the alternative is costly federal enforcement action. The urgency of the Stormwater Utility Fee news conference led the public to believe there was no other option. Days later, Congressman Garret Graves learned differently.
"We had conversations with both the EPA and DOJ and both of them confirmed there is not a federal NDA and that there is not an imminent threat of federal takeover," Graves said.
The conversation over the Stormwater Utility Fee escalated quickly and then crashed. The mayor says the plan was initially presented to the feds on August 30, 2022. Follow updates continue this month and next with a final plan that includes a dedicated funding source in January. Tuesday WBRZ learned that the date is on or around January 15 and the City-Parish says if it's missed the EPA would sue in February.
Requests for documentation regarding this deadline and pending legal action were not answered. Instead, 2 On Your Side was referred to the mayor's interview from last week.
Parish officials pitched the Stormwater Utility Fee earlier this month. The Metro Council would have had to approve it and property owners would pay for it. The mayor's office couldn't say much more, hiding behind a non-disclosure agreement they claimed to be under with the feds. The city even asked Metro Council members to sign the NDA. Then we learned there was no NDA and the mayor wanted the Stormwater Utility Fee pulled from the council agenda.
"I do feel like I was misinformed at the end of the day, that the parish attorney's office had been leading us, our team, and even the Metro Council down a path of NDAs in that they were part of the process that we had to adhere to," Broome said.
Wednesday, Metro Council member Cleve Dunn said he added an emergency agenda item to discuss firing Anthony Dotson, the parish attorney.
The council is upset that this decision was being forced onto them with such urgency. Many first found out about it on Sept. 7, 2022.
Last week, Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Kelvin Hill, the man at the front of the utility fee plans, resigned. WBRZ has repeatedly asked for Hill's resignation letter but was referred back to the mayor's statement from last Friday.
With the deadline apparently looming, the city is waiting for what's next and waiting to see the documentation to support it.
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