SORRENTO — Louisiana environmental regulators have signed off on a permit that will extend the life of a controversial Ascension Parish landfill, allowing the owners to accept more garbage and trash.
But in approving the permit for the Colonial Landfill, the state Department of Environmental Quality is requiring new gas collection and flaring technology regulators say should help with chronic odor complaints.
The solid waste permit renewal, which allows for a 27 percent increase in the capacity of the 44-year-old landfill, comes after opposition last year from local officials and residents who voiced concerns about the landfill's foul odors and raised other environmental questions. They note further that the permit renewal was granted despite continuing enforcement actions DEQ has against the operation.
SORRENTO — Russel Honoré, the retired Army lieutenant general who is now an outspoken environmental activist, has called on the state Departme…
The new permit won't expand the footprint of the 287-acre landfill off La. 70, but allows the landfill to pile waste higher to hold an additional 6.5 million cubic yards of material.
The Colonial Landfill was previously authorized to accept residential, commercial and nonhazardous industrial waste, including oil and gas exploration and production waste.
The solid waste permit renewal and modification issued by DEQ allows the landfill to continue to accept that type of waste and adds construction and demolition debris and wood waste. The landfill is expected to receive a maximum of 1.3 million wet tons of waste per year, the new permit says.
During public debate last year and early this year, the Ascension Parish Council and Sorrento Town Council called on DEQ to deny the permit renewal as did environmental activist and retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who told DEQ "to do your job."
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DEQ officials explained their rationale for approving the new permit in interviews and in what is called a “basis of decision” document that was issued along with the permit and posted online.
The requirements under the new permit will improve the situation at the landfill in several respects, DEQ says. The landfill will have the latest in groundwater protections and rainfall runoff management systems, DEQ officials say, as well as a new gas flaring system.
Moreover, DEQ says, it made more sense to expand the existing landfill surrounded by many of its residential and industrial customers than to try to find an alternative site farther away to meet the growing demand for trash disposal in fast-growing Ascension.
The expanded landfill, the environmental agency said, will add 67 temporary jobs during construction and, on an annual basis, is expected to have a statewide economic impact of $15.97 million.
"Based on this review, LDEQ concludes that the social and economic benefits of Colonial's facility outweigh the environmental impacts," the basis of decision document says.
Asked in an interview why DEQ approved the permit before issues were resolved about the landfill's pending enforcement actions and continuing complaints of odors — some filed as recently as last month — regulators pointed to the potential for odor improvements from the planned flare and continuing monitoring.
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They also noted the agency's mandate to weigh environmental protection against other factors. The state constitution does not hold environmental protection as an "exclusive goal" but requires a balancing process in which environmental costs and benefits are measured against other societal factors, the basis of decision says.
"Obviously, the landfill is there. There is a need for the landfill. This is detailed in the basis for decision. We're balancing things," said Elliott Vega, assistant secretary for DEQ's Office of Environmental Services. "That's really all we can do.
"We have to accept the fact that there is disposal capacity that is necessary. We have to address that. At the same time, we have do everything we can to try to address those issues."
Vega, who signed the permit Dec. 1, said the pending enforcement matters weren't outside the norm for a large complex facility like the Colonial Landfill that is inspected regularly.
The general manager for the landfill, which is owned by BFI, a subsidiary of Republic Services, did not return a message for comment.
The permit renewal for Colonial Landfill was unwelcome news for residents who live near it.
Gene LeBlanc, 66, and his wife, Genie, who live on 176 wooded acres on the western border of the landfill, have long complained about the ongoing stench they say comes from the facility, at times forcing them from their home.
"Man, that's like devastating for us," LeBlanc said about the new permit. "Everything we got tied up is right there."
The LeBlancs and other landfill neighbors in a sparsely populated and mostly wooded area southeast of Sorrento say that more toxic smells began to emerge in late 2015 after years of far less significant odors. They have contended a shift in the waste stream is the cause.
Marylee Orr, executive director of LEAN, said DEQ shouldn’t be granting a permit to extend the life of Colonial Landfill until agency officials determine the source of the odors and resolves the problem.
"DEQ needs to figure this out,” Orr said.
Last year, Colonial officials pointed to the neighboring Gator Landfill, as well as surrounding industries, as possible sources of at least some of the odors residents have complained about.
The two Ascension Parish government bodies have called on state environmental regulators to deny a proposed capacity expansion of a 43-year-ol…
Mark Algero, DEQ surveillance administrator, said state inspectors have found odors emanating from both landfills — both by smell and with equipment that detected chemical air emissions.
Algero said inspectors have not determined what kind of trash is causing the odors, but he noted trash volumes in many area landfills have increased because of the August 2016 flood, including drywall, which can produce a rotten egg smell.
A state Office of Public Health report found — based on DEQ air testing earlier this year — that both landfills are generating gases that produce "unpleasant and strong nuisance odors" but also that the emissions aren't at levels that would create long-term health effects.