Alarmed Riverbend residents and Baton Rouge parks officials want answers from the state about why they have received no information about a proposed barge cleaning facility planned for near Farr Park Equestrian Center.
The state Department of Environmental Quality, while not legally obligated to hold a public hearing on the proposed permit for the facility, on Tuesday announced that it would hold such a meeting — although the time and date have not been decided.
Mostly known as a vantage point where people try to glimpse a pair of bald eagles nesting on the Farr Park Equestrian Center along River Road, the location is now the potential site of a barge cleaning facility.
“We found out about it late last week,” said Cheryl Michelet, director of communications for the East Baton Rouge Parish Recreation and Park Comission, which runs Farr Park. “Our stance on this is we should have been contacted and we weren’t.”
Although there was a joint-public notice from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the DEQ issued on June 16, 2014, for wetland permit issues, that notice went largely unnoticed.
Then Tubal-Cain Marine Services turned in a permit application to DEQ to allow the facility to release air pollution in amounts to qualify it as a “minor source” site. That still went unnoticed because there are no requirements for public notice or public comment when a “minor source” facility is involved, DEQ spokesman Greg Langley said.
Last week, an email from an attorney with the Liskow & Lewis law firm was sent to homeowner’s associations in the area alerting them to the proposed permit under review by DEQ.
“This proposed facility proposes to operate an open flare in relative close proximity to your neighborhood, where it will be receiving and emitting into the environment a number of volatile organic compounds, hazardous air pollutants and toxic air pollutants that could impact the air quality of your residential neighborhood,” says the email signed by Louis Buatt.
In comments to DEQ, Buatt laid out a number of concerns about the permit and asked DEQ for a public comment period. BREC representatives and state Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, who lives in a neighborhood near the proposed facility, requested a public hearing.
“We would like to emphasize that BREC should have been given specific opportunity, as a stakeholder, to comment on this proposed action,” BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight wrote in a letter to DEQ and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Residents hope this will be a chance to get some answers about the facility and what it will mean for the nearby residences and park.
“Our biggest concern is what is it going to be,” said Alvin Raetzsch, board president of the Riverbend Lakes Home Owners Association. He said the association isn’t objecting to the project right now, it’s just that there are so many unanswered questions about whether it will mean significant air pollution, will there be odor problems, will there be increased noise or light pollution.
Residents also want to know why would an industry like a barge cleaning facility be allowed to locate at this site when large residential developments, recreational centers and parks exist nearby, Raetzsch said.
“I understand why it’s possible to put it there zoning wise,” Raetzsch said, because the area is zoned for heavy industrial use. “We get it that it’s industrial, but that doesn’t mean it’s a compatible use.”
The facility will include a dockside mooring area, two working deck barges with 10 storage tanks that can hold 15,000 gallons each, transfer pumps, transfer piping and a truck loading station.
As a minor source, the facility expects to release 10 tons of nitrogen oxide, 49 tons of carbon monoxide, 15 tons of volatile organic compounds and 29,754 tons of carbon dioxide equivalents. The company also expected to release almost 8 tons of materials considered toxic air pollutants, which the company said would be burned up in a flare, according to the permit application.
“The proposed flare is not an ‘open flare’ flare, but rather an ‘enclosed’ flare,” said Randy Cooper, operations manager with Tubal-Cain Marine Services. “The flare will not be visible.”
The Texas-based company had hoped to start construction on this first facility in the state by April or May and be operational by the end of the year.
“It surprises me there’s a sudden rush for this story considering we’ve been working on this project for almost a year and a half,” Cooper said.
Michelet, with BREC, said there are unknowns on what the facility could mean to the 197-acre park, which hosts day camps for children and therapeutic horse riding programs for the disabled. BREC also plans to build a path that would better connect the Riverbend neighborhood park to the levee.
“All of this we would have liked to talk about,” Michelet said.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter @wold10.