While concerns remain about a proposed barge cleaning facility on River Road, some say a proposal to move it about a half mile further downriver from where they live, work and study could ease many of their worries.
Opponents argued that a state permit should be denied the facility because it isn’t compatible with the surrounding uses of homes, a university and a public park, but the state Department of Environmental Quality looks to local zoning when deciding where a particular facility can or can’t be located.
And in this case, the property where Tubal-Cain Marine Service wants to put its new barge cleaning operations is zoned appropriately even though some people may have concerns about air quality.
Alvin Raetzsch, board president of the Riverbend Lakes Home Owners Association, said the company’s proposal to move the barge cleaning operation 800 meters south of where it originally proposed to put it — which is about a half mile— could ease the concerns voiced by many residents.
That distance from the nearby BREC Farr Park Equestrian Center and residential areas could be all the answer some residents need, he said.
Randy Cooper, operations manager with Tubal-Cain Marine Services, said the company had no comment, but local homeowner’s associations said the company agreed to meet with their representatives to answer questions and discuss their concerns last month.
Tubal-Cain Marine Service applied to DEQ last year for a permit that, if approved would allow the facility to release air pollution in amounts that would qualify it as a “minor source.”
These minor source air permits don’t require any public notice. However, a law firm representing a nearby landowner with an interest in the case notified neighbors of the pending permit and that sparked numerous letters and phones calls to DEQ asking for a public hearing.
Community concerns range from not knowing what the facility will include, the closeness to residential areas and a popular BREC park and the potential impact on a bald eagle nest located close the proposed facility and almost adjacent to where some of the barges will be parked while waiting for cleaning.
Kevin Cope, president of the LSU faculty senate, said they still have concerns about traffic, air pollution and contingency plans in case of an accident so close to the university.
“A good deal of the campus is within four miles of the facility,” Cope said.
Cheryl Michelet, a spokeswoman for BREC, said her agency’s superintendent and staff still have questions about the facility, including the possible impact to horses and people at the park, whether there will be daily testing of air pollution and, if so, if that information will be reported to the public. Other questions include what chemicals will be handled at the facility, how an accident would be handled whether there is an evacuation plan.
Bryan Johnston, senior environmental scientist in the air permits division, said there are already a number of industrial facilities in the area that residents may just not know about so the barge cleaning facility isn’t unusual. As far as an evacuation plan or an alarm system, Johnston said, that’s not necessary.
“This facility is not like a chemical plant where there is material under pressure,” he said. “This is not a process that lends itself to some really nasty incident whether it be a shelter in place or something like that.”
As to what kinds of chemicals the facility will handle, that will depend on what they can take in to still meet their permit limits.
“So Tubal-Cain isn’t free to clean as many barges as it wants to clean no matter what,” Johnston said. In following the limits of air pollution set through the permit, the facility needs to take that into consideration when taking on business for certain chemicals.
In addition, although the facility plans to release types of air pollution that provide the ingredients to produce ozone, the amounts are small enough that they won’t make a difference on the readings of the ozone monitor at LSU, he said.
Louisiana Environmental Action Network will hold a question and answer meeting on July 7 to bring residents and scientists from LSU together and to help prepare residents for an official DEQ public hearing to happen just one week later.
The LEAN meeting about the barge cleaning operation will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the LSU coastal building auditorium, while the DEQ public hearing will be at 6 p.m. a week later, on July 14, in the Oliver Pollock room of the Galvez Building, 602 N 5th St., Baton Rouge.
The LEAN meeting was called in response to a number of phone calls to the environmental organization from people who live in the area or have horses at Farr Park nearby, said Marylee Orr, LEAN executive director.
The LSU Superfund Research Center will also have experts on hand to answer more technical questions about the process, said Margaret Reams, professor of environmental sciences at LSU and leader of the LSU Superfund Research Center Community Engagement Core.
The center operates under a National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences grant, and one requirement is to have a partner that can help provide a two-way street of communication between communities and institute researchers.
“One of the mandates is to be responsive to our community partner,” Reams said, noting that LEAN is the LSU Superfund Resarch Center’s community partner.
The objective, Reams said, is to connect researchers with community residents “to bring scientific data and expertise to the community to help sort out some of these questions.”
For LEAN, the meeting is a more informal way to see what concerns and questions people may have and to get them prepared for the public hearing where formal comments will be accepted by DEQ.
“We want to tell them about the process they’ll be using and what chemicals they’ll be allowed to have in the barges,” said Wilma Subra, chemist and advisor to LEAN.
According to the permit, the facility will bring in barges and pump out remaining liquids into 10 storage tanks on site. Many of the vapors would be sent to an enclosed flare on the property to be mostly burned off.
The facility expects to release 10 tons of nitrogen oxide, 49 tons of carbon monoxide and 15 tons of volatile organic compounds. The company has asked for flexibility from DEQ to accept the entire list of chemicals including toxics, carcinogens and reproductive disruptors, Subra said.
“Even though they say they’ll be a minor source, it will be significant quantities,” Subra said.
If granted a permit, the company will be required to report once a year on the amount of material released to the air, she said. However, she added, there is no requirement for constant monitoring that could be used to alert nearby communities, she said.
“The location right next to the homes and right next to the park is not an appropriate location,” Subra said. “It’s very, very toxic chemicals they’re dealing with.”
Other residents are concerned about the pair of bald eagles that have made a nearby tree their home for the past several years, while others point out there is a walking and biking trail planned for the top of the levee.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter @awold10.