[Editor's Note: LUS Director Terry Huval returned The Independent's call shortly after this story was posted to say the public utility does not plan to cut off the flow of its water to Broussard. The headline has been since been adjusted. The Ind will have more on this story later in the week.]
In a reconventional demand filed March 28 in state district court, the city of Lafayette claims to have found numerous instances constituting breach of contract between Lafayette Utilities System and the city of Broussard. Lafayette’s recent court action was prompted by a lawsuit Broussard filed late last year questioning an $825,000 water bill LUS sent to the municipality. LUS sent the bill after it discovered that Broussard had connected a water line to LUS’ system without the utility’s knowledge or permission. In order to receive water through the line, Broussard bypassed a meter that was installed to allow LUS to monitor water flow so that Broussard could be charged for usage.
Broussard paid the bill in November but filed suit challenging the amount. By this time, LUS had already begun to dig a little deeper into the mysterious connection, and what it found — if true — is at best disturbing and at worst criminal.
“Lafayette has now discovered that Broussard installed, without Lafayette’s knowledge or consent, automatic meter reder devices, with the incorrect model register, on two LUS meters located on Coachman Lane in Broussard,” the counterclaim reads. According to LUS, the new registers caused the meters on Coachman to be misread, resulting in Broussard only being billed one-tenth of its actual consumption through those meters.
But there’s more. LUS claims it also discovered three previously unknown points of interconnection between a section of Broussard’s water system served by Lafayette and a section of Broussard’s water system served by its own water production facilities. Again, LUS says it had no knowledge of those connections. “There are no markings or records of the installation of these interconnection points,” the claim reads.
Lafayette is asking the court to declare Broussard in breach of contract and assess damages and court costs. Should the court do that, there would likely be an effort to renenegotiate the contract at a higher rate.
Asked Tuesday morning about the specific claim that automatic meter reading devices were installed without LUS’ knowledge, Broussard Mayor Charles Langlinais wouldn’t comment. “I’m not discussing anything relative to LUS; it’s in litigation,” he says. “Nothing good comes out of these comments, the back and forth, back and forth; it just increases friction, and we need to calm down the rhetoric.”
Langlinais says he’s not concerned with what some might call a worse-case scenario — voiding of the contract and potentially forcing Broussard to go elsewhere. “They can claim to try to nullify the contract. The judge has to order that, and it’ll never happen,” he says. “It goes back to reasonableness.”
The animosity between City-Parish President Joey Durel and Langlinais is well documented, and LUS has already been playing hardball since its first discovered that a water line was connected without its knowldege. In December it denied Broussard’s request for more water into the city.
The request, which Broussard made in September for an additional meter point on Ambassador Caffery South near the Youngsville Highway, is what set in motion the chain of events leading to LUS’ discovery that a meter already installed in Broussard on Albertson Parkway had been bypassed and was pumping water free of charge into Broussard since early 2006.
Although Langlinais appears to be backed into a corner, in December he was still shrugging off the potential impact of losing cheap water from Lafayette. He told The Daily Advertiser, after receiving the denial letter: “[t]he citizens of Broussard will be just fine.” He cited “several other sources and options” for providing water to his city.
“I’m not saying there was any malicious intent or that anything was done on purpose here, but the fact of the matter is we have never had a situation like this with a wholesale customer and we’ve been supplying wholesale water to other parishes since the 1980s,” Huval told KLFY-TV10 for its Monday story.
Read more about the water wars in our Nov. 23 cover story, “Out of Line.”