Belle River residents and St. Martin Parish officials will get their chance to voice opposition to a proposed injection well transfer station, a planned heavy industrial facility that doesn’t meet parish zoning laws, during a public hearing Thursday night.
The objections aren’t about the business, FAS Environmental Services, that has been operating a mile from the proposed facility location since the 1980s.
Instead, most objections stem from the fact that the land the company wants to use was denied a rezoning request by the parish, but the company applied for the needed state Department of Natural Resources Office of Conservation permit anyway.
“All the rest of us have to follow our zoning,” said Lee Hines, longtime Belle River resident.
FAS Environmental Services takes in trucks and barges and then uses a shuttle barge to take the material upstream from Morgan City to Port Allen. After a short trip, the material is then off-loaded from the barge and injected into a well for final disposal.
In February 2014, the company requested to rezone the property directly across the canal from the well site for closer access. The land is zoned woodland/residential, and the company wanted it rezoned to heavy industrial.
When the St. Martin Parish Planning and Zoning Commission denied the request in April, the typical next step would be to appeal the decision to the St. Martin Parish Council. Instead, the company went directly to DNR with a permit application in June.
Calls and emails to the company were not returned by deadline.
Shortly after the permit application was turned in, the St. Martin Parish Council asked the Office of Conservation to deny the permit request because it would be disruptive to the residential area and the heavy industrial activity is not allowed at that location.
“We have parishwide zoning, so we try to place businesses in business locations,” St. Martin Parish President Guy Cormier said. “FAS has chosen to ignore that. We told them they can’t do what they’d like to do on that property.”
He said the parish is business friendly but zoning was put in place in 1995 to protect residential and business interests.
If the permit goes through, FAS Environmental Services will still have to get a parish building permit, he said.
“They’re still not finished with us,” Cormier said.
Wilma Subra, a chemist and owner of Subra Co., has been working with the community on the issue and said there isn’t any heavy industrial zoning in lower St. Martin Parish, while the upper parish has quite a bit of heavy industrial work going on.
The only heavy industrial facilities in the lower parish , such as FAS Environmental Services, were in place before the zoning took effect.
One of the big concerns is the added traffic the facility will put on the road in front of the residential area and near a well-used boat launch. Unlike La. 70, which has new pavement and generous shoulders, La. 977 is an older, two-lane road with no shoulders.
“I think the state should be against it. We have no highway,” said Hazel Cavalier, a resident on La. 977 opposed to the permit. There are no sidewalks, school buses regularly use the road and make stops, and even walking to the corner store now can be dangerous.
The residents were adamant they are not trying to shut down the existing FAS operations.
“Zoning is our parish’s way to balance residential and industry,” said Sandra Crochet, another resident opposed to the permit application. “It’s just ridiculous to think of that many trucks coming up and down this road.”
Residents also are concerned about government oversight, noting that a report noted a sheen in the water around the well site in 2014 and there also have been trucks overturning, as reported to the state Department of Environmental Quality.
There also was the case in 2013 when a former operations manager for FAS Environmental Services was sentenced in federal district court after he took $22,000 in kickbacks in 2011 and 2012 from a wastewater brokerage firm to dispose 380,000 gallons of industrial wastewater into the injection well, according to EPA. EPA officials determined the owners of FAS were unaware of the deal and didn’t profit from it.
“They didn’t know. That’s scary,” said Julie Hines, a Belle River resident.
Patrick Courreges, spokesman for DNR, said while a permit order would include a requirement that the applicant follow federal, state and local laws, DNR doesn’t automatically consider zoning requirements when considering a permit. If a facility and parish disagree about what’s allowed in an area, the courts would need to decide, he said.
When a public hearing is held, those kinds of concerns can be placed into the record for consideration. It’s up to the Office of Conservation Commissioner Jim Welsh to decide if conditions will be put in that permit order, Courreges said.
“That’s a huge reason to hold a public hearing. If you’ve got concerns, that’s where you bring it up,” he said.
A public hearing on the permit application will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Belle River Volunteer Fire Department, 1207-A La. 70.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.