BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — A controversial stormwater fee proposed by East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome came under fire Tuesday, October 18, when a Congressman took to social media to address aspects of the proposed fee.

Earlier this month, Mayor Broome presented the stormwater utility fee as a funding source for drainage management and operations, adding that implementation of the fee was necessary to avoid federal interference.

In this regard, some city officials also mentioned that federal regulators wanted EBR leaders to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) related to the new stormwater proposal.

However, Congressman Garret Graves on Tuesday, used his social media accounts to claim there is no NDA between the city and the federal government for the stormwater fee in Baton Rouge. Graves said he learned this during a phone call with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Shortly after Graves posted this information on social media, the City-Parish released a statement on the matter.

Mark Armstrong, Chief Communications Officer to the City of Baton Rouge, says the statement below was crafted by the Parish Attorney’s office to clarify the NDA.

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.

The Parish Attorney’s Office

Mayor-President Sharon Weston-Broome later issued a statement regarding the issue, saying:

Today, a series of events have unfolded regarding the City-Parish effort to address compliance issues related to stormwater management. This issue at hand is more complex than a tweet or sound bite.

The truth of the matter is, this is a decades old issue that my administration has sought to resolve. However, we can’t do this alone. The compliance and legal components are addressed in consultation with the Parish Attorney’s office.

My administration has been under their advisement on how to negotiate settlements with the federal government, including the recommendation to enter into a non-disclosure agreement.

As the parish’s chief legal counsel, we rely on the information they provide regarding the details of the NDA and its parties.

Unfortunately, an assessment of that information and that which has come to light today, has led me to the conclusion that I was misinformed regarding the federal involvement related to the NDA.

I want the citizens of Baton Rouge to know that my first option is never to place undue financial burden on them or to be less than transparent.

To that end, I am asking that this matter be removed from the council agenda until we obtain the full facts and that the metropolitan council join me in seeking answers from the parish attorney’s office and staff of the Office of the Mayor-President.

I want to ensure you I have always, and will remain committed to be, honest, open and transparent with the public on any matter relating to City-Parish government.

Office of the Mayor-President Sharon Weston-Broome

The stormwater utility fee is a dedicated funding source for drainage maintenance. The utility fee would cost $1.36 per 500 square feet for both residential and commercial and the city would charge based on how large a business or house is.

The East Baton Rouge Metro Council is scheduled to vote on the fee October 26.