Tuesday night, Lafayette Mayor-President Joel Robideaux tried to reassure the council and the public about the future of LUS – electric.
“First let me say from the beginning LUS is not for sale, it has never been for sale,” said Robideaux.
He was called to address the Lafayette Public Utility Authority, about reports that he’s considering selling the electric division of LUS.
Earlier this year, he signed a non-binding letter of intent to pursue a deal with the Bernhard Group for more than half a billion dollars. That agreement includes paying for upgrades of LUS facilities, cash payment to LCG and assuming the debt to operate LUS.
The group has ties to Robideaux’s campaign, and the news came as a surprise to members of the city-parish council. At the meeting, members of the council had a chance to express their concerns and frustrations.
LPUA meetings don’t typically draw big crowds, but when it comes to the future of a utility owned by the taxpayers, the crowds show up.
“When info is made available in the manner in which it was, the process appears shady and disingenuous. If this deal is really going to be great for Lafayette, it’s got to be great from the beginning not just after documents have been signed and the agreement has been uncovered by the local media,” said one passionate local.
“Now we hear LUS can be up for sale, and that they’ve been talking about this for a year,” said another resident, audibly frustrated by the potential deal discussed behind closed doors. “That isn’t the openness in government that we need to have.”
Those same concerns, echoed by some city members of the council.
“We were never made aware of the letter of intent. We were certainly never made aware at any point of the negotiations of the conversations that were going on,” said Councilman Bruce Conque.
“What we have just learned is that regardless of what the members of the council that represent the City of Lafayette, there will be outside influence on the ultimate direction and final destiny of LUS by people who do not use this system,” said Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux.
Robideaux maintains it’s a conversation that needs to be had, citing aging infrastructure and a potential cost to taxpayers.
Back in March, LUS paid $1.7 million to LUS Fiber for services they never received. Robideaux also had requested to separate Fiber’s budget from LUS, stating that Fiber was doing well enough on its own.
Later, the Public Service Commission said it would be best for Fiber to give that money back to LUS until an audit is done, ultimately resulting in the LUS director to announce his retirement.
“Terry [Huval] informed me that he was going to retire based on conversations we had related to the 1.7 [million dollars] and the separation of the two departments,” said Robideaux.
But when it comes to any potential deal, the mayor-president says whatever happens will be in the best interest of taxpayers.
“Going forward we need to have a serious discussion about [what] the future of LUS is going to be. Are we going to convert the coal plant? Are we going to build new generation? Are we just going to buy new electricity?” he said to the council.
And whether it’s a sale or management agreement, the council and voters will have the final say.
“There will be no circumventing of the obligation for any proposal to manage, sell, lease of LUS would have to go to the general public for vote. That will be part of the final ordinance,” Conque said, reassuring the members of the public.
Robideaux says three companies have expressed interest in managing LUS electric, however only one – the Bernhard Group – has done its due diligence.
LUS remains without a director after Terry Huval retired months ahead of schedule in the days after this latest news broke.