Proposed industrial facility has Belle River residents concerned about safety _lowres

Advocate file photo by AMY WOLD -- This January 2015 photo shows FAS Environmental Services operation in Belle River using a barge to transport oil and gas exploration and production waste to an injection well for disposal. The company is currently applying for a permit that would move the truck offloading area up river which would take the trucks through a more residential area.

Environmental groups and a Belle River community group filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Natural Resources alleging that the departments should never have granted a permit for an injection well.

FAS Environmental Services has operated in lower St. Martin Parish for years, even grandfathered into its current location after the parish passed zoning regulations in the 1990s. However, in February 2014, the company applied for the rezoning of property closer to the well it has been using for woodland/residential. The new land use would be heavy industrial and allow the company to build a new transfer facility.

The St. Martin Parish Planning and Zoning Commission denied the request, but instead of appealing to the parish council, the company decided to apply directly to the Department of Natural Resources for a permit. Following a public hearing in February, the Department of Natural Resources approved the permit in May, saying it could preempt local zoning when it deals with oil and gas issues. The injection well primarily handles production waste from oil and gas exploration and production.

“We did our part,” said Julie Hines, member of the Concerned Citizens of Belle River.

Members of the group involved in the lawsuit testified at the public hearing about their concerns, but in the end couldn’t convince the Department of Natural Resources to deny the permit.

“The community lost,” Hines said. “There was nothing more we could do.”

The lawsuit filed June 30 alleges that the state department erred in granting the permit because it disregarded local zoning in making the decision, didn’t do a good enough cost/benefit study on the proposal and didn’t look broadly enough at alternative locations for the facility.

On Monday, a Department of Natural Resources official said the department hadn’t been served with the lawsuit and couldn’t comment.

Adam Babich, with the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, said the Department of Natural Resources cited a court case that said it could supersede a local government’s ability to control a specific type of business, such as oil and gas operations. However, Babich said, that doesn’t apply in this case because there is zoning for everyone, not just one industry. The courts have been specific in saying that state agencies need to consider local zoning when evaluating permit applications.

“This is a typical example of the challenges at the heart of LEAN’s work. We have always believed, and continue to believe, that communities need to have the authority in decisions that may impact their environment, health, safety and quality of life,” wrote Marylee Orr, executive director of Louisiana Environmental Action Network.

Residents are concerned the road that would lead to the new facility, La. 977, is too small to accommodate the number of trucks that could service the new location. Residents are also concerned about additional noise and the potential environmental risks from spills because the facility is in a flood plain.

Department of Natural Resources officials have said that each of the concerns has been examined and addressed during or before the permit application process.

The case has been assigned to state District Judge Wilson Fields.

Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.