Did Broussard steal water from LUS?

by Walter Pierce

The small Lafayette Parish town is about to get a "substantial" bill from the utility company.

The small Lafayette Parish town is about to get a "substantial" bill from the utility company.

Lafayette Utilities System says the city of Broussard, one of several wholesale LUS water customers, had been receiving free water at one of its meter locations in southwest Broussard since at least 2006, and the bill for all that free water is going to run to the tune of $800,000.

"It's a serious situation," says LUS Director Terry Huval. "We've never had something this serious occur on our system with a wholesale customer before."

The back story: In 2005, Broussard requested an additional meter be placed near where Camelot, a retirement community, was set to be built on Albertson Parkway in southwest Broussard. This was a growing sector of Broussard, and the city anticipated the growth and an increased need for water in the area. Broussard paid for the meter, which LUS installed.

Municipal meters of this sort have two valves on them - one for the meter that allows the provider to keep tabs on the customer's usage and bill them accordingly, and a second valve that bypasses the meter. The bypass valve is there to prevent an interruption of water service in the event the meter needs to be serviced or replaced.

But, according to Huval, after the meter in question was installed, it was never put into service - the meter, in other words, wasn't turning. And that, according to the utility director, was because the bypass valve had been turned on and water was flowing into southwest Broussard free of the meter. And free of charge.

"You have to have the right tools and you have to have some know-how, so it wasn't just someone that went out there that didn't know what they were doing," Huval says. "They had to turn on the [bypass] valve."

"I think maybe closer to $8,000," Broussard Mayor Charles Langlinais says of what that estimated LUS bill should be, admitting in the same breath that specifics about the meter and the bypass valve are hazy. "I think there was little or no water pressure there so there was no, I don't know, I don't remember the details. All I know is [Broussard city engineer Mark Savoy] briefed me about it and I said, Well, clean it up and whatever we owe 'em, we owe 'em."

Mark Savoy, the city engineer for Broussard, says he was notified of the bypass valve situation in September, but says the problem must be on LUS's end. "I can't exactly answer what happened because it's not [Broussard's] meter, it's LUS's meter," he says. "And understand, this meter is in a lock box and the only one with a key is LUS."

Huval, however, says the meter in question is not in a lock box; since a special wrench and some know-how are required to work the valves, a lock isn't necessary.

Savoy estimates based on the wholesale rate Broussard pays to LUS for water, that an $800,000 bill would be for roughly 300 million gallons of water. "I don't know how much water they buy from LUS a year, but that seems kind of like a lot of water," he says.