LIVINGSTON — After nearly three hours of heated public discussion about gravel pits near residential communities, the Livingston Parish Council voted Thursday to continue debating possible new regulations for the mining operations.
Councilman Jim Norred, who drafted the regulations in response to a proposed new pit next to his Watson neighborhood, was the lone vote against tabling the ordinances and sending them back to committee for more work. The regulations will be republished with amendments and set for another public hearing on Oct. 9.
Mine operators, developers, economic development officials, landowners and a group of residents opposed to the new Watson pit filled the council chambers and lined the hall for a public hearing on a trio of ordinances designed to regulate gravel pits and other land uses.
The pit regulations, as introduced, would require a $3,000 annual permit, 8-foot perimeter fence, increased buffer zones and restricted hours of operation, among other things.
The ordinances came in response to Southern Aggregates’ plans to locate a 238-acre sand and gravel mining operation next to the Oak Hills subdivision.
Oak Hills residents, wearing green shirts adorned with “No gravel pits next to our neighborhood,” said the new pit would cause their property values to plummet and destroy their quality of life with noise, dust and increased truck traffic.
Lynn Dupre, who lives next to another gravel pit off Sims Road, said mining operations are not good neighbors. That pit has no berm, fence or other barrier separating it from her property, and the noise and dust are “pretty bad,” she said.
“Although last week, for whatever reason, they did move the washer so that instead of being 20 feet from me, it’s more like 200 feet,” Dupre said.
Councilwoman Joan Landry said Southern Aggregates Vice President Kevin Black already was endeavoring to be a good neighbor to Oak Hills by agreeing to change some of its operational plans. Those changes include building an 8-foot fence and 20-foot berm on that side of the site and moving the washing equipment farther from the homes.
Black said many of the residents’ concerns about safety and property values were based on a misunderstanding about the nature of his gravel operation and about the landowner’s long-term intentions for the property.
Black said the operation will not include crushing rock, only washing and separating it. The pit will be in operation for six to eight years, after which landowner Bruce Easterly plans to develop a high-end subdivision.
While he acknowledged that the parish currently has very limited regulations for gravel, sand and dirt pits, Black said he “would have appreciated some contact prior to an ordinance being drawn up.”
Karl Mears, whose family has been in the mining industry for decades, asked Norred why he had not met with gravel industry members and implored council members do so before the next meeting.
Developer Calvin Blount said the ordinances will affect more than just the mining industry. All construction projects rely on sand and gravel — for bedding material, foundations and brick-laying — and extensive regulations will drive up costs.
“If we pass an ordinance anywhere close to what’s on the table now, you won’t have to worry about (the gravel pits) being good neighbors. They won’t be your neighbors at all,” Blount said.
Lenny Johnson, of Ascension Ready Mix, said parishes with burdensome regulations drive business away. Johnson said his company does business in Livingston because it is easy to do so.
Oak Hills resident Doug Bowen said it may be too easy, with insufficient regulations favoring business interests over those of homeowners.
“Be mindful that these are people’s homes,” Bowen urged the council. “These are people’s lives. If the pit’s going to be there, then we’ve got to work together and make sure it doesn’t upset people’s lives.”
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