121516 BFI Colonial Landfill

A vocal critic and next-door neighbor of the BFI Colonial Landfill south of Sorrento was arrested Monday morning after she yelled at workers about the noxious smell from the dump and fired her shotgun into the air, sheriff's deputies said.

The landfill is seeking a major expansion of its storage capacity as neighbors and residents of nearby Sorrento have complained over the past year and a half about foul odors from the landfill.

Ascension Parish sheriff's deputies booked Eugenia R. LeBlanc, 66, of Sorrento, on a single count of illegal use of a weapon and released her after roughly two hours without requiring bail, online jail records show.

Chief Deputy Bobby Webre said landfill workers told deputies it did not appear that LeBlanc, who goes by the nickname "Genie," was firing at them.

Webre said workers reported that she yelled, "Stop, y'all are poisoning me," before firing the 20-gauge shotgun about three times from across the Panama Canal around 6:30 a.m. 

LeBlanc, who owns the 20-gauge shotgun and fired it from her property, lives across the canal from the 287-acre landfill with her husband on a large tract of wooded land. Webre said she has filed several complaints in the past about the smells from the landfill.

When questioned, Webre drew a distinction between this incident, which happened as LeBlanc was yelling about the landfill, and firing a gun for hunting, which is prevalent in that area.   

"She can protest all you want to, but she just can't do it this way. I know she didn't mean to harm anybody, but she probably meant to scare somebody," Webre said.

Reached at home Monday, LeBlanc said the emissions from the landfill the past few days have gotten to be too much, making it hard to breathe, burning her eyes inside her home and making it difficult to rest.

"I have not been sleeping. I have not been eating, and it has been taking a toll on me. I mean, this thing needs to stop," she said.

LeBlanc acknowledged she yelled at the workers and fired the gun but said the smells and lack of sleep have left her in an emotional state. She said deputies spoke with her about being willing to conduct a more peaceful protest in the future.

Karla Swacker, a marketing official with BFI parent Republic Waste, has acknowledged there were some problems with landfill odors in the spring — DEQ issued a compliance order over them — but she said the most recent odors are not from the landfill.

Swacker and other BFI officials have also been quick to point out that the facility, which has been at the location since 1973, is next to another landfill and around sewage treatment plants and other facilities that can produce smells.

Residents who have endured what they say are regular odors have been skeptical of that claim. In response to residents' complaints, the councils of Sorrento and Ascension Parish have called for the state Department of Environmental Quality to reject permits needed for the expansion.

According to DEQ officials, the proposed expansion would increase the landfill's permitted capacity, though not its land footprint, by nearly 27 percent. The more massive trash pile planned would not exceed a previously approved maximum height of 186 feet but much more of the pile would end up at that high. 

The public comment period for the landfill's permit request ends Tuesday afternoon, after which DEQ is expected make a decision.

In a written statement issued Monday evening, BFI said: "The incident in question occurred offsite. Landfill operations were uninterrupted, and we are cooperating fully with the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office as part of their ongoing investigation. At this time, we are referring all inquiries about the matter to the Sheriff’s Office.

"As a responsible landfill manager, we are committed to operating Colonial Landfill in a safe and environmentally responsible manner, and we take any questions about our operations seriously. We have multiple engineering systems in place to responsibly manage waste and control odor. And we work closely with regulators to meet local, state and federal requirements."

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.