Category: Archives

City of Ponchatoula Partners with CivicSource to Auction Tax Delinquent Real Estate

The City of Ponchatoula is updating its adjudicated property auction processes by implementing the proven technologies of CivicSource, the leading online auctioneer of tax-distressed real estate. CivicSource has provided the City of Ponchatoula with an online tax certificate sale platform since 2011. The City’s new adjudicated property auction platform will be an invaluable asset to the City, improve existing protections for homeowners and provide tremendous benefits to Ponchatoula property investors.

The online adjudicated property auctions will eliminate blight while restoring significant, annually recurring revenues to the City from property taxes that had previously gone unpaid. “We are looking forward to our partnership with CivicSource to help return previously vacant land and properties back to use and commerce,” explains Ramona Tara’ Umbach, Tax Collector for the City of Ponchatoula.

CivicSource specializes in digitized due diligence, ensuring all homeowners, heirs, and persons of interest affiliated with a tax-delinquent property have been adequately notified and given ample opportunity to redeem the property before it qualifies for an adjudicated property auction. All adjudicated properties for sale at went unsold in a tax sale and have not been redeemed.

The City of Ponchatoula’s new, technology-driven property auctions will take place online at, allowing bidders to conduct property research and participate in the auction from any internet-ready device whether at home, work or a public facility. offers numerous innovative investor tools including access to auction legal research, integrated Google and GIS parcel maps, a proxy bidding feature, customizable watch lists and a sliding close function preventing last-second, online bid sniping.

Visit to view a complete listing of qualified tax-delinquent adjudicated properties or to nominate properties for auction through a deposit of $850. The properties are listed for $0 plus closing costs. Both commercial and residential properties are available for purchase. To RSVP for an upcoming information session on purchasing adjudicated properties, visit

City of Ponchatoula Financially Sound and Debt Free

Tuesday, August 15, a record capacity crowd of 94 packed the Rotary Hut as part of the Chamber of Commerce’s Brown Bag Lunch Summer Series for the annual State of the City address by Mayor Bob Zabbia. Eagerly anticipating what they knew to be a positive report, they weren’t disappointed.

The mayor began with words few Louisiana municipalities ever hear about their own, “The city is financially sound and debt free.”

Careful planning, careful spending, and careful saving seemed to be the unspoken background of the presentation, showing how it’s possible for a city this size to maintain such a glowing record. Mayor Zabbia said the $10.4 million-dollar budget accepted in June is a result of sales tax, mainly due to retail businesses attracted to the city, and property tax and fees which are also strong and brisk. “When I first took office, the assessed valuation of all property was $43-$44 million, but with the strong residential and business swing, that has climbed to $52.6 million,” he added.

“The raised monthly collection projections of $250,000 to $280,000 are already $100,000 over those projections in the first two reporting periods of the year. Looking forward, another $2 million in tax is expected from the $20 million nursing home under construction across from Café NOLA. Just the night before, an additional 9.7 acres on Northeast I-55 service road was annexed where Jani King plans to build a $40 million corporate headquarters along with retail space. Under consideration and in the usual confidential stage, a third party has expressed interest in acreage also along Veteran’s Highway in front of Walmart.

Zabbia explained other ways the city is able to get more for less: “Having fund balances has allowed us to capitalize on projects in which we have to match the state.”

Similar to an individual having a good credit reference and savings, the city qualifies at the top of municipality lists when applying for state capital outlay matching funds for needed projects. Example: Limited parking along Main Street hurting business resulted in the new parking lot on North Sixth and West Hickory, a $660,000 purchase and construction cost of which the state paid 75% and the city 25%.

The planned Law Enforcement Complex began with the purchase two years ago of the old Homestead Building, later Guaranty Bank. The mayor thanked First Guaranty for allowing the use of the rear of the building for detectives for only the cost of utilities. The first phase of this project is $950,000 with $726,000 of that amount from state capital outlay. This will involve the complete renovation of the building, ie., mechanical, electrical and handicap accessibility. Senator Bodi White and Representative Steve Pugh worked diligently to get another $250,000 from the state, and advertising for that project should start by the end of the year.

Also, the Wagner property behind the building was purchased and will be used for law enforcement’s parking along with a facility for storage, evidence and stolen goods. The city has also filed an application for a million-dollar city-wide sewer rehabilitation project which will involve the city’s matching one million dollars.
Two other ways the city is able to see so much progress is that Mayor Zabbia serves on the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission, enabling the city to learn early on about upcoming funding. Because of his forty years of experience in his personal profession, he saves the city both the engineering and administrative costs because he performs those duties for the city for free.

The Planning Commission opened a whole new realm of funding for transportation which involves several lighting projects. The city has secured grants to replace lighting and broken poles at the intersections of I-55 and LA 22. This will be done in a year to a year and a half, fast for approval of most projects as the lighting from along Highway 22 from Hoover Road from the east to U.S. 51 at RaceTrac on the west has been in the works since 2013.

“We’re told it seems no state highway has LED lighting and it was prolonged as it has ‘never been done before’. We’re also looking at a grant for LED lighting from West Pine Street down U.S. 51 to I-55,” Zabbia said, adding, “I’m negotiating with Entergy to get the rates.” Also since 2013, the city has worked to get funding for sidewalks from North Fifth Street to Wayne Street on the north side of East Pine. This will be $330,000 with the city’s part 20%.

Working with Regional Planning, the mayor’s long-wanted project of a sidewalk from Seventh Street/Barringer Road corner to U.S. 51 has already had the preliminary study. This sidewalk would then connect to the U.S. 51 widening project which is about four years away.

The widening involves an environmental study (underway now), followed by a public hearing, then a survey for identification and location of utilities to be relocated. The Downtown Pedestrian Project will be done in phases and involves $6 million of which the city will pay $2 million. As a result of studies done on the high volume of traffic and its speeding on the main street, reports show that having a median in place reduces speed.

Mayor Zabbia reported on projects out of sight such as the Waste Water Project of which the Aeration Project part ($320,000) the city is funding. A grant from FEMA is changing the disinfection systems and outlets, building higher levees and installing curtains to separate the ponds to slow the process to get the full treatment from each.

Reporting on the big ditches at South First and Esterbrook, the mayor stated that project has been underway for some seven years with the city’s complying with FEMA laws that continue to change. The next exciting news Mayor Zabbia was happy to share is the upcoming After School Program to coincide with Tangipahoa School System year. Having worked several years to bring this about, he proudly announced May Stilley as the director, having thirty years’ experience as teacher and principal. He, Stilley and city Human Resources Director, Lisa Jones, have visited other after-school programs for ideas while developing Ponchatoula’s.

“We won’t be copying other programs but making ours unique to fit the needs of our local school children who need extra help,” he said. “Teachers from D. C. Reeves, Martha Vinyard, St. Joseph and Ponchatoula Junior High will select the students who will ride school buses to the Community Center. Students will be greeted with a snack and social time before going to one of three classrooms, seating up to twenty each, for help with homework and tutoring. “Teachers hired will come from the three schools and know the curriculum and how to help. Because Mrs. Stilley wants parents involved and face-to-face, they’ll be expected to pick up their children.”

The cost will be $150 per child and already donations are coming in from businesses and individuals to help with supplies, food, and salaries.

As Mayor Zabbia concluded his presentation, he expressed with emotion how rewarding it is to serve as mayor of Ponchatoula.

City Clerk – Jeff Douglas

Jeffrey Douglas’ office is set by law and, serving as administrator for the City Council, he keeps each member informed and updated on a regular basis and well prior to meetings.

While developing agendas, he reviews regulation request forms for public input which must be submitted ten days prior to the meeting. With the mayor, he determines if the matter in question can be handled within the government itself. If so, he contacts the correct department to assist the person. If it is indeed a matter for the council, the person’s name is added to the agenda and he will be given five minutes to speak.

He has responsibility for the council room, its security and its sound system as every meeting is recorded by equipment sensitive enough to pick up audience comments. By law, he is required to document who is present, each item and what action takes place. Afterward, he transcribes the minutes, saving and backing up everything in various locations, including online security.

Other parts of security Douglas oversees are service contracts and computer systems, assisting in the coordination of repairs, upgrades in the purchase of hardware, software, peripherals, website design and administration and email and internet administration.

He coordinates office services, ordering of materials, keeping the code of ordinances updated and distributed to all departments and to Clerk of Court’s office when required.

He is available to answer questions from the public, oversee public records requests, also seeing each is documented and filed.
Briefly put, he is responsible for work on and reporting the official journal, reviewing state purchasing contracts for savings on services, then requesting bids for city service contracts, meeting with the mayor and other department managers regarding the selection of bids.

In insurances, he reviews and manages policies for general, liability and property. For city equipment, Douglas maintains a list of all city vehicles, their titles and vital information plus completes renewals and registrations for each.

While responsible for handling all advertising and sales for surplus properties, he also coordinates elections with Secretary of State and Clerk of Court, keeping information updated on elected officials and notices regarding tax millage and affidavits.

He is expected to maintain credit cards and track their use, review bank reconciliations provided by the Financial Advisor, research outstanding items and file year-end unclaimed properties with the State, coordinate special projects with City Hall as needed, all the while protecting confidential information and upholding all city policies. Crediting his predecessor, longtime City Clerk Tomlyn Poche, for her meticulous and official documentation of records, Douglas says his transition into the role of providing assistance to the citizens has been made easier.

A graduate of Ponchatoula High School, Douglas brings to City Hall ten years of experience in mechanical seals, afterwards earning degrees in Accounting and Economics. To stay current in his field, he is active in the Louisiana Municipal Association of which Ponchatoula is a member, The Louisiana Municipal Clerks Association, its national and its International Institute of Municipal Clerks Association.

Loving his home community and wanting to become more involved in it, he turned down offers from larger cities to take the position of City Clerk, became president of Jaycees and treasurer of the Chamber Board and serves now as Jaycees state president.

In his spare time, Douglas enjoys hunting, traveling and road trips to find the “real” people off the main highways.

USS Ponchatoula Shipmates Reunion off to Great Start

Hugs and handshakes, memories and musing, laughter and longing – the scene behind the scenes as USS Ponchatoula shipmates from across the country began their reunion in the Strawberry Room of Microtel the day before the official ceremonies at City Hall.

If it hadn’t been for the bright shirts with USS Ponchatoula embroidered on them, these folks are so much a part of Ponchatoula, one couldn’t tell the shipmates from the residents in their greetings. Some said they can’t make every reunion but are sure to make every Ponchatoula reunion, that the people are so friendly, it feels more like home!

One tall guy with a big smile, Kenneth “Smiley” Lawson, said he started out in Chicago and enlisted in the Navy at 18, retiring to Hawaii after 26 years as Chief Boatswain’s Mate. Another crew member joked, “Lawson wins the prize every reunion for coming the farthest.”

President Phil Rehlander of Dallas said the core group numbers 45 with some 150 in membership, but due to medical problems, not all can travel. Rehlander was on the ship from late 1964 through 1967 and did three tours of Vietnam. He paid tribute to former Tangipahoa Tourism Director Betty Stewart for first bringing the reunions to Ponchatoula, saying upon arrival, some of the crew had gone to Stewart’s to offer condolence in the loss of her husband, Roy Harris. Pointing over to effervescent Emily McKneely Matise, greeting and being greeted, it was evident before he said it, that she’s also been a long-time help in bringing them here.

Steve Van Meger of St. Louis said he’s been to every reunion here and served aboard the ship from 1963 to 1966. Last week he had lunch with a friend of Ponchatoula’s late Raoul Laurent who could be seen each year in dress uniform at the annual July Fourth flag-raising. His friend asked him to call Raoul’s widow, Carolyn.
So, a meeting within a meeting took place in the lobby as the two met for the first time. Mrs. Laurent said she and her husband had moved here from Destrehan and he’d been in service three years on ships Mellette and Cambria then in the Reserves for 25 years. So, she fit right in.

James and Carol Ball, originally from Sacramento came from Sierra Vista, Arizona. He was on the ship from 1964-1967 as a ship fitter, working in the laboratory testing oils and fuel. John Hearn of Texas said he served aboard the USS Ponchatoula from 1964-1967, in the “early stages of the Vietnam Conflict”, expressing beautifully what a ship is all about:

“When the Navy brings in a newly-commissioned ship, it’s just a piece of machinery until the ‘plank owners’ come aboard. For it is first officers like R. P. Miller and Tom Davis who bring heart and soul and the ship stops being just machinery. Those of us later rejuvenated the heart and replenished the soul.

“When the ship is decommissioned, it goes back to being machinery. But when you folks made a home for it, your city rejuvenated its heart and replenished its soul.”

Hearn went on to say, “When 9 July 1955, I. N. Kiland broke the bottle of champagne on the ship, the USS Ponchatoula was released and slid into the water and into service. The remnants of that bottle have remained in that family for 52 years and they have decided that the City of Ponchatoula be its repository.

“Our organization is preserving history – that we preserve the history and teach our kids that these artifacts actually existed and for a purpose.”

And, so it is, that the artifacts entrusted to our city are also entrusted to our hearts and souls that we never forget, nor let future generations forget, what the USS Ponchatoula represents.

Quick Festival Cleanup – Ponchatoula Reveals the Secret

With so many compliments to the Ponchatoula Street Department for the record-breaking quick festival cleanup after the Strawberry Festival, a frequent question is “How do they do that?”

In a recent interview, Street Supervisor Charles Zweifel explained the difference between a typical day and Festival time.
“On a regular day, our crews head out at 7:00 a.m. to fill work orders from City Hall, for example, ‘A ditch needs to be cleaned out.’ Our crew that handles culverts and ditches investigates, determining whether trash has been thrown out and stopped up a culvert or dirt has filled in and needs digging out.

“Another crew is over tree and grass-cutting and as summer progresses, we often have to use men from other crews to keep up. Back in the ‘yard’, someone handles repair from the bucket truck to playground equipment saving the city money by not having to send work out.

“Someone else picks up the parks and areas around bar rooms, bringing trash to dumpsters as well as sorting through recycling materials.”

Nine years ago, the city purchased its own Mad Vac, a four-wheel vacuum cleaner designed to pick up litter five-times faster than one worker. Its daily driver, David May, is especially adept at grabbing paper with the vac’s long elephant nozzle. As Zweifel added, “These are all things we do every day.”

It Takes A Team

Then comes Strawberry Festival time and the entire city crew goes into fired-up cleanup mode! The Festival board signs a contract with a garbage company and the two groups meet with the mayor, the chief of police and Zweifel to make plans. Mayor Bob Zabbia, ever litter-conscious, contracts a private company to have a huge street sweeper scheduled to clean the city streets each night of the Festival instead of just at the end as many festivals in the parish do.

Hours are immediately increased for all the yard guys. Festival weekend, the crews leave their regular work to start Friday at noon opening time and work until 11:30 p.m., Saturday from 8:00 a.m. until 1:30 a.m., and Sunday 8:00 a.m. until 12:00 midnight, putting in some 42-and-a-half extra hours of work in that weekend alone. They work non-stop picking up litter and emptying garbage cans.

Zweifel said the city owns 175 trash cans, putting 100 in the park and 75 downtown. The city saves traveling time during Festival weekend by having 15 workers set up in Sewer and Water Department Dave Opdenhoff’s yard across from the park. But even that close, it’s a chore.

Saturday is the most stressful day with the crew frequently making their way through thousands of people to replace full cans with empties. Then they try to get back out, often a long ‘way around to the corner of North Sixth and Willow where two garbage trucks with two men await them.

Meanwhile, at North Sixth and West Hickory, another garbage truck awaits the crew downtown with their barrels of trash. It takes 1-3 city workers to assist at each truck. By Saturday, two garbage trucks have already been filled and sent off to the landfill.

If an average Festival goer hung around after the loudspeaker announced each day’s festivities officially closed, he would see the city crew swarm the park grounds like hungry mosquitoes picking up everything from beer cups to uneaten onion mums. And, of course, David May is all over the place with the Mad Vac.

Experience Matters

What a lot of citizens don’t know is that the man in charge, Charles Zweifel, brings 32-and-a-half years of experience to Ponchatoula from Jefferson Parish where he helped supervise the work crews that cleaned after their Mardi Gras parades. He started as a laborer with the parish right out of school and worked his way up to Supervisor 3, over maintenance yards, concrete, asphalt, heavy equipment, and drainage. (One of the tips Zweifel brought with him is to blow the debris onto the streets for easier pickup by street sweepers with their brushes and vacuum units.)

So now Ponchatoula’s secret to spotless Festival cleanup is out of the bag. With all of this going on, it’s no wonder residents awake on Monday morning to a city seemingly untouched by the weekend crowds of 250,000 visitors.

On a side note, Zweifel and his wife, Shirley, moved to Ponchatoula early in 2005 to get daughters Erica (Viola) and Casey in the school system. He has been Superintendent of Streets and Parks since 2009. Humbly, Zweifel gave credit and appreciation for the cleanup success to the cooperation of Mayor Bob Zabbia and Executive Assistant Rhonda Sheridan, Police Chief Bry Layrisson and the Strawberry Festival Board.

Recycling – Public Notice

Waste Management of Louisiana, LLC announces the purchase Livingston Waste’s residential services. Waste Management will immediately begin servicing all residential garbage and trash customers as well as residential recycling customers previously serviced by Livingston Waste.

Service days for all Livingston Waste customers will remain the same unless otherwise notified.

“Waste Management of Louisiana is proud to service our valued customers throughout Louisiana. We look forward to providing safe, reliable and environmentally friendly service to our new residential customers in Livingston, Tangipahoa and St. Tammany parishes,” said René Faucheux, Waste Management manager of government and community affairs.

Current Livingston Waste customers can email or call 1-866-604-5062 for additional information.

Governmental Agencies Work Together to Accomplish Much

Few people know that interdepartmental parish and city agencies often come together in cooperative agreements to solve problems and make improvements, saving considerable time, effort and expense for both.

Little did Jeff Daniels know he was in training for Ponchatoula City Councilman when he saw first-hand how interdepartmental agencies of the parish and the city came together to solve a major drainage problem in his Millville neighborhood over a year ago.

Neighbors grew concerned when each rain brought more standing water than ever before, over the streets and finally inches from houses. The city does not have the manpower or equipment for clearing canals, so working with Mayor Bob Zabbia and the city crew, and knowing so many people from his years with Entergy, Daniels contacted District Administrator Kylie Bates of the Tangipahoa Parish Gravity Drainage District Number 1.

Bates was joined by Chuck Spangler of Spangler Engineering to investigate. Walking every inch of ditches and canals, Spangler found blockage from erosion in a canal. (Constriction in a channel creates backwater which increases velocity causing more erosion.)

Further investigation showed the canal didn’t belong to the city or the parish, but to each homeowner along it.

This meant getting signed permission from each homeowner to do what was needed to clear the canal. Daniels collected the signatures for Parish Councilmen Bobby Cortez and Harry Lavine to present to the Parish along with a request for assistance. After approval, work was begun.

The parish did the work, the city assumed the responsibility and the canal was cleared, aiding drainage from properties even north of Millville.

It was because of his interest and help that Daniels was approached by numerous people asking him to run for City Councilman to fill an upcoming vacancy which he won.

Kiley Bates continues to be of valuable assistance from the parish in consulting due to his experience as well as his Industrial Technical education at Millsaps and engineering degree from Southeastern and LSU.

This example is one of many in which the city of Ponchatoula has partnered with other agencies.

To further illustrate: Each hurricane season since Katrina, Ponchatoula Fire Chief Rodney Drude and Mayor Bob Zabbia sign intergovernmental agreements with St. Bernard parish officials that should the lower parish need to evacuate, officials can bring their equipment, offices and important records here. (And they have, being housed at the Fire Department.) If needed, they will provide additional help to our community.

Another help is having Parish President Robbie Miller, Mayor Zabbia and neighboring leaders hold positions on the Regional Planning Commission which meets monthly in New Orleans, allowing area officials to know the latest in works and funding available.

Through this commission, the parishes of Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. John, St. Tammany and Tangipahoa get certain allotted funds each year for projects such as transportation which include items such as feasibility studies and reports for sidewalks.

Just recently, the Barringer Road Sidewalk Project has been included in the Tangipahoa Improvement Program (TIP). Also, this commission has aided the city in hastening the widening of Highway 51, a project which has been anticipated for twelve years.

At the parish level, bids for road improvements and overlay require such a volume of work and expense that the city can “piggyback” onto the parish to obtain high quality work at a lower price through a co-operative agreement, allowing the city to stretch its dollar rather than bid out on its own. Thus, when a parish road and a city street meet, the work continues all at one time.

Another example is the way the parish Council on Aging and the city have worked together to provide daily bus transportation, allowing more Ponchatoula citizens to get employment, shop and get to medical appointments.

Ponchatoula city government and parish government continue to work hand in hand in mutual agreement resulting in major accomplishments for both.

Ponchatoula Projects, Progress and Capital Outlay Funds

Often, visitors and even leaders of other municipalities are astounded at the number of projects completed, underway or planned for the future by the City of Ponchatoula, asking how so much can be accomplished by a town this size.

A simple “It’s a lot of work by a lot of people” is offered and true but doesn’t begin to answer the question even in just one area, that of state Capital Outlay Funds so beneficial to Ponchatoula.

Recently at City Hall, Executive Assistant to the Mayor, Rhonda Sheridan, shed light on what goes on behind the scenes as she described the importance of keeping up-to-date with the latest government requirements. Two agencies all cities must register with are System for Award Management ( and DUNS (Dun and Bradstreet), major hubs for grant projects.

“State agencies assign each municipality certain codes that are required for a city to stay in the state database. Password changes are ongoing and required from every thirty to ninety days,” she said. “One cannot even ‘talk’ to someone at state level without proper codes.”

Pointing to work areas and file cabinets stacked with project folders, Sheridan continued: “Just keeping up with those codes and passwords could be a full-time job. Numerous municipalities seeing our successes call for our office’s help in getting started but when they see the tremendous amount of work necessary to try to get help from the state, many soon give up. But it’s necessary. Another necessity, along with the gigantic amount of paper work, is a good respectful working relationship with the people in each organization or department at the state level. We are fortunate to have this.”

Sheridan used two current major projects to explain further – the new downtown parking lot and the Consolidated Law Complex.

“For each of these, we work with the Division of Administration Office of Facility Planning and Control to apply for capital outlay funds.”

For background on the two properties, Sheridan told about the good working relationship the city has had with First Guaranty Bank along the way, how the former bank on North Sixth for some two or three years was already housing Ponchatoula detectives and evidence room in the west side of the building for one dollar a year and their utilities while the bank was fully operational on the east side.

“The goal of the city has been to have all Law Enforcement under one roof and First Guaranty was helpful in offering to sell each property for less than appraisal value, the second being the vacant lot at the corner of West Hickory and North Sixth, which when completed will park some ninety vehicles along with charging stations for electric cars,” she continued.

Her example: “The appraised price of the parking lot was $666,000 and First Guaranty asked $500,000. The city applied for capital outlay funds for this amount, was approved, and pays only 25% of that amount.”

The bids brought in Duplantis Engineering with Chad Danos and Civil Design, Tommy Buckles. Foret Construction of Thibodeaux is in charge of building the parking lot.

Sheridan said another help to the city is that from Mayor Bob Zabbia’s forty-five years’ private practice with engineering firms, he is able to do some of the preparatory study and work with a savings from $1,500 upward on each project that other municipalities have to pay outsiders to do.

When Mayor Zabbia joined the interview, he said, “A big help is that Ponchatoula is one of few municipalities that is debt free.”

He added, “Unfortunately, part of this was due from the misfortune of others. When so many Katrina victims relocated here, they had to buy everything to start over. Taxes soared from their purchases. So, being debt free, when we are approved for capital outlay funds, we are able to pay our 25% immediately.”

He credited former State Representative Tank Powell, Senator Bodi White and State Representative Steve Pugh for their assistance at the state level for Ponchatoula’s progress.

Asked about City Council monthly meetings, Sheridan said that agendas go out to each member the Wednesday before the regular Monday evening meetings.

The mayor added that because immediate action is sometimes required when members cannot meet, the Council passed a resolution authorizing the mayor to act, signing to expedite or complete a project rather than wait until the next meeting.

For the future, one of the biggest and most expensive proposed rehabilitations for which state capital outlay funds will be sought is the major sewerage renovation when a “leak” test (smoke test) will be run throughout the whole city and an engineering firm will evaluate and put a price tag on the project. This could be one million dollars.

The mayor says that with the state finances in their current condition, only time will tell how much money can be available to municipalities.

Ponchatoula City Hall Reveals Changes Outside and Inside

A recent tour of Ponchatoula City Hall showed just how large the physical facility is along with changes made to utilize every foot of space while offering protection to the property.

The “Hardening Project” is the result of the FEMA-funded grant’s goal of protecting any open areas of glass and utility systems with reinforcement.

This grant came through bids taken by the parish for many parish buildings and is probably the first extensive local improvement project since City Hall moved in. The total cost was $360,000 with the grant’s share 80% and the city’s, 20%.

Called “hardening” or “thickening”, double-paned windows replace traditional ones and thick, impact-resistant material protects the air-conditioning units and generator. For further safety, a large fire escape now reaches from top floor to ground.

The building was originally Bohning’s Supermarket and, little known to the shopping public, had a large second floor overhead. Early in the current administration, a sturdy, wide inner staircase was added and, more recently, a secure climate-controlled record-retention room built to house documents. (Regulations for retaining documents are strict as some must be kept for months, some for years and some, forever.)

Included in Ponchatoula’s 20% part of the project, the city furnished new doors, gutters, and painting.

Outdoor landscaping had already been included in the city’s budget. Left to do in the city budget are improvements to the employee parking lot and painting.

Three new offices have been added for the building official, human resources and finance departments and new faces have joined the existing staff to assist the public.

Ponchatoula Takes Water Seriously

Long known for its good water, Ponchatoula took it seriously last year when reports of isolated incidents of discoloration reached City Hall, ordering tests as well as reviewing the entire system’s history.

To update the public on what is being done, Superintendent of Ponchatoula Sewerage and Water, Dave Opdenhoff, recently gave a behind-the-scenes tour of the department’s operation and history since his hiring in 1988.

His career Navy background brought years of study and experience concerning water. One area of his work onboard ships was that of converting sea water to drinking water.

He continued adding to his certifications in this field when, upon retiring from the Navy, he and his wife, the former Barbara McMurray, settled in Ponchatoula, her hometown.

The State of Louisiana certifies in five categories: water production, water distribution, water treatment, wastewater collection and wastewater treatment.

Ponchatoula does not require a water treatment certification because it uses ground water only. Based on population, Ponchatoula requires Class Three certifications. Opdenhoff went beyond in his studies, earning Class Four certifications which qualify him to work in larger cities such as New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

At the time of his employment, there were two water towers – one on Tower Road and one at Athletic Park. Water in the system flowed from east to west with that from Athletic Park mingling with water from Tower Road.

There were no government requirements to disinfect water and later, with the Federal Clean Water Act, came the stipulation cities could maintain their systems without disinfecting if testing showed no negative results.

There had never been any negative results in Ponchatoula’s water but “seeing the handwriting on the wall” and learning it was just a matter of time before disinfecting would be required, the City starting injecting chlorine some twenty years ago.

The water was occasionally discolored but it was never a matter of publicity because every municipality had (and has) discoloration at times. Back then, the remedy was a simple matter of opening a fire hydrant and flushing.

After Katrina’s population explosion, Mayor Bob Zabbia made the decision to add an additional water well for storage.

Katrina brought a lot of unexpected things to light, one such, not enough emergency generators. With lessons learned from the magnitude of the storm, the town’s planning included applying for and receiving grants to equip about 90% sewerage pumping stations with emergency backup generators.

The next step at this point, Mayor Zabbia, and the City Council began the search for a site for the new well to help meet the needs of the growing population.

After negotiating with Dr. Melvin Allen, whose dental office was on a tract of land on Highway 51 North, the city procured a parcel of this land to drill the new well and construct a tower at the same location.

After construction began, when it was determined the parcel of land was not large enough to accommodate the tower, no additional land there could be purchased; thus, the city then bought land from Ed Hoover across 51 North with sufficient room to construct the new water tower. With its being built about the time of Walmart’s arrival, many residents mistakenly thought Walmart built or paid for the tower but it was all funded and paid for by the City with State Capital Outlay funds.


New Well Causes Challenges

With the new tower came a couple of problems: 1. Its water flowed from west to east and this “stirring” caused occasional complaints of discolored water. 2. In 2014, the state changed chlorine requirements because of a brain-eating amoeba. This increased the levels from “trace” amounts of chlorine to “0.5 parts per million” at the end of the system. Opdenhoff added he believes Louisiana has the highest mandated residual chlorine amounts in the nation.

This was the beginning of the severe discoloration problem and the old habits of flushing fire hydrants in selected areas no longer worked.

One of the biggest puzzles was (and is) why the water of side-by-side neighbors differs. Neighbor A has discolored water and next-door Neighbor B has perfectly clear water.

Trying to figure this out was running officials “crazy” and they called in a reputable expert, knowledgeable in the field of water who works with the state and numerous municipalities, Bill Travis of Thornton, Musso, and Bellemin, Inc., based in Zachary, La.

After studies and testing, Travis reached the conclusion that the towers at Athletic Park and Tower Road showed “no measurable amounts of manganese” but the new well on Veteran’s (U.S. 51) did.

Also, numerous brown-water samples from residents were tested and showed “measurable amounts of manganese”.

This new tower had been on-line about a year so now the entire distribution had manganese. At that time, the Athletic Park tower was out of service for rehabilitation so the majority of the water was being produced at the Hwy 51 well with the flow going from west to east, stirring the water more.

The question became, “How to treat manganese?” This was not just a Ponchatoula problem but a parish and state problem.


Problem Solving Begins

The prescribed treatment was the use of a “sequestering” agent that is injected into the water.

Manganese bonds with water molecules and cannot be seen or tasted. But, add chlorine, and the molecules come out of suspension and present as discoloration.

Thus the city started with the sequestering agent and phosphate.

Why phosphate?

Our water is naturally super soft. When visitors or new residents come from the North, they are usually shocked when doing laundry with their usual amounts of detergent, they are overrun with suds. Or, when bathing, they can’t seem to rinse well from so much soap. The problem with “soft water” — it can be corrosive to pipes.  The water technicians ran “coupons” – steel/copper based on 30, 60, and 90 days, determining City water could be corrosive to pipes.

Their recommendation was that in addition to chlorine, the remaining two wells have phosphate added. This is currently being done.

Coupon testing continues to see if treatment is having an effect or if it needs to be increased or decreased.

In addition to having water chemically analyzed and performing corrective actions, Ponchatoula has hired a firm to do a “modeling” of the water system based on information provided: pipe size, storage elevations, pumping, etc.

This firm is creating a computer model which the city will be able to use to confirm pressure and flow at any location.

Modeling will show things such as these: 1. If an area does not have the desired flow, it could mean a valve is closed or broken or the original map of piping is flawed. This will allow the City to pinpoint the area and take corrective action. 2. It will enhance the fire department’s ability to fight fires plus help homeowners in another way as state insurance will use this in determining the fire department’s rating.


An Electronic Help is Added

Further aiding the City, Ponchatoula is one of a few municipalities in the area to have a SCADA System. (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition)

This computerized system monitors the sewer system every two hours and the water system every two minutes. Instead of the prior countless trips made to twenty-plus locations day and night, now a large screen in Opdenhoff’s office shows each location complete with what each well is doing: how much water is being produced, volume in a tank, pressure, how much chlorine, etc. In addition, it gives the ability for his cell phone to turn a well on or off from wherever he is.

Example: Recently SCADA showed a problem with a chlorine injection system, one that was unable to be done at the tank. Opdenhoff took that well out of service and it was out the entire time of the freeze. The two remaining wells kept volume and pressure exactly where they were supposed to be.

While the well was down for repair to the injector, the City moved ahead with inspection of the tank. That was due this summer but with winter being the lowest use of water, a crew drained and inspected this tank on Tower Road that usually stores 300,000 gallons of water. This was the first time since its construction in 1982. Now it is recommended every five years.

Workers were pleased and surprised at what was found in the tank: There was some accumulation of sand in the bottom, stains on walls, and rust in the roof, less than expected.

While the well is down and the tank drained, a hired company will come in to pressure wash, super-chlorinate, and identify what needs to be done for rehabilitation to that tower. (Rehab is scheduled for 2018 so that is from July 2017 forward. The evaluation will be sent to an engineering firm to design the scope and solicit bids for rehabilitation.)

In the meantime, after cleaning, super chlorination and refilling the tank, it will sit for forty-eight hours before water samples will be taken and delivered to the Health Department in Amite for testing. Twenty-four hours later, a second sample will be taken and turned in. If no problems are found and the results come in early enough, the tank will be put back into service Thursday evening, January 26th – if not, Friday, January 27th.

The SCADA system does calculations and monthly reports on water usage and can compare rainwater and how much is getting into the sewer system. It has taken a year to get this far and only one site is left to be on-line.


Occurrences Minimized

The recent winter freeze came at a time of year when the normal use of water is at a low of 850,000 gallons a day, but customers dripping faucets to prevent broken pipes used over two-million gallons each day of the freezing temperatures. With all this use, the city did not flush any lines and the few reports of discolored water were not unusual in any municipalities after dripping faucets. Next item the City is addressing is a “soft” flush of all fire hydrants to clear the stems of each before the major flushing of the system. This “soft” flush already has begun in the southwest section and will continue across the City by section. The major flushing will be conducted after the modeling maps are completed so the system can isolate areas and flush without disturbing the entire system.

Further learned, no water provider can ever guarantee no discolored water. Such things as a house fire, a broken pipe, filling water tanks from fire hydrants by commercial businesses (without asking) can stir water systems enough to cause discolored water. With the work that has been accomplished over the past couple of years and the final system-flushing, incidents of discolored water should be few and far between.

Meanwhile, Opdenhoff explained the rehabilitation work done on the Athletic Park Tower. From the ground below, the average person can see only the nice shiny paint job, but much more was done. Rusted-out areas of the catwalks were removed and replaced. Ladders inside and out were removed and replaced to meet current safety codes. Workers replaced the rusted-out top vent and enlarged the overflow pipe along with rewelding the fill pipe outside the tank, replaced all threaded fasteners, removed all finishes inside and out to bare metal to ensure no remnants of lead paint remained before priming and painting.

In addition to the tank rehabilitation, the electrical system was upgraded from the 1963 equipment to the most up-to-date electronic equipment.

With normal inspections of the tank at five-year intervals, any minor issues can be addressed and this rehab should keep the tank in service for at least the next twenty years.

The City requests that any citizen with a water problem contact Ponchatoula City Hall at 386-6484.