District Judge Alonzo Harris on Thursday issued a preliminary injunction forbidding the city from interfering in any way with the Environmental Processing’s access to the municipal wastewater system through next April, when the current contract expires.
EPI and its owner John Baham, Sr. sued the city and Mayor Bob Morris in September 2009 after Morris sent Baham a letter asserting EPI’s effluent was damaging the city’s system, a violation of contract.
The firm sought a temporary restraining order to keep the city at bay. The city in Nov. 2009 answered that there was no contract in effect, since Morris had not signed the April 14, 2009 renewal approved by the City Council, in his absence.
In December 2009, Harris issued the TRO. There have been no court appearances in the matter since until Thursday.
The city, through former City Attorney Jacque Puchue, argued Thursday that there was no contract in effect since Morris had not signed it.
Baham, through attorney Bruce Gaudin, argued that was not so, that current Mayor Rusty Moody’s decision to accept EPI’s monthly payments in essence ratified the contract.
Puchue countered it would be derelict of city officials not to accept the payments since EPI continues to discharge its treated wastewater into the city system.
EPI pays $300 monthly for access to the city system, plus another $28 in standard wastewater fees.
Morris contended that was not enough and he wanted to install a metering and monitoring system, at EPI’s cost, to track the discharge.
Baham was on the stand for about an hour Thursday, walking the court through the case history from his perspective.
Morris was on the stand for about 15 minutes.
Also testifying were a Louisiana Tech professor and two DEQ officials.
Dr. Dixie Griffin, an EPI-proffered expert, said his studies found no evidence that EPI’s effluent was damaging to the city’s system.
“It’s essentially domestic wastewater, with no evidence of toxins,” he said, adding the EPI contribution is a small volume of the whole at the plant, which handles about 1 million gallons a day.
Griffin did testify that the strength of ammonia discharge in the EPI discharge has been measured at quite high levels, though the city plant levels themselves are not out of sorts.
Morris testified he didn’t sign the contract renewal because of questions he had about the EPI discharge. He told Baham in a Jan. 2010 letter that “since there is no contract, no payment is required.”
Baham said he held the payments in an escrow fund until the administrations changed in January, at which time he send the money to the city and resumed making monthly payments.
Baham said cutting off EPI access to the wastewater system would create circumstances that would force the firm out of business.
Pucheu pointed out options available to EPI; Baham said they were too expensive.
An aside: Baham in July of this year applied for a permit that would allow him to treat and discharge the waste much the same as the city does. However, that permit is not guaranteed and tooling up should the permit be granted will take some time.
Gaudin several times reiterated the plaintiff’s position that the contract was renewed and valid, that it contained no new conditions from the original of April 2006 and that whether Morris signed it makes no difference.