More than 200 people showed up Tuesday night at the state Department of Environmental Quality for a public hearing, most to express their opposition to an air permit that would allow a barge-cleaning facility to locate on the Mississippi River in south Baton Rouge.
Due to the opposition, Tuesday’s public hearing to provide more information in DEQ’s permit decision process was sandwiched between two parish-level efforts to keep the facility from opening at the Port of Greater Baton Rouge site.
On Monday, the city-parish Planning Commission voted 6-3 to recommend rezoning the property from heavy industrial to commercial. That recommendation will go to the Metro Council on Wednesday for a decision on the property owned by the port and leased to Tubal-Cain Marine Services.
In response to the Planning Commission vote, and the anticipated agreement by the Metro Council, the port commission will meet Thursday to discuss how to react to the rezoning decisions and whether that will involve legal action.
On Tuesday night, residents and elected officials spent several hours voicing their opposition to the state air permit on the basis of air quality concerns, a need for more details on the operation, wastewater concerns and proximity to parks, schools and homes.
“You’ve heard the saying ‘not in my backyard.’ I’m here to say not in my front yard,” BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight said about the proximity of the proposed operation to the Farr Park Equestrian Center.
At issue is an air permit Tubal-Cain applied for last year to build and operate a barge-cleaning facility on the river side of the Mississippi. The facility would bring in barges, remove any remaining liquids into temporary storage tanks on-site and then clean the tanks for future use.
Fumes from the process would be sent to a closed flare to be burned off, but there would still be some pollution released as covered by the permit, including 15 tons of volatile organic compounds a year, which includes a wide range of chemicals.
Tubal-Cain Marine Services Operations Manager Randy Cooper said concerns about the facility have been overblown, that residents have been living next to marine operations for years already without a problem and that noise concerns have already been addressed.
“There has been much discussion about the location of our facility. It has been reported that we are located across the street from the entrance to Farr Park and close to residential neighborhoods. This is inaccurate information,” Cooper said.
The facility is more than 4,000 feet away from the nearest home and more than 5,600 feet away from the Farr Park Equestrian Center, he said.
The facility has already received approval and permits from the U.S. Coast Guard, Pontchartrain Levee District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies.
Public comment on the DEQ air permit will be taken until 4:30 p.m. Aug. 31.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.