LIVINGSTON — Big holes, small holes, many holes, few holes, holes in dirt, holes in sand, fishing holes, mining holes. A Livingston Parish committee discussed recesses in the ground of all types for nearly an hour Monday night only to reach a stalemate.
“God, I hate this job some days!” Committee Chairwoman Sonya Collins quipped amid the debate.
Last year, the Parish Council signed off on an ordinance that set restrictions on mining after a company proposed digging a gravel pit near a councilman’s neighborhood.
However, the rules apply not only to large-scale mining corporations but also to people who want to dig a half-acre pond near their house.
On Monday, the parish Ordinance Committee set out to delineate between official “pits” that would have to comply with the ordinance and private “ponds.” The difference remains unclear.
Is a 2-acre hole a pond? What about 5 acres? What if a landowner tries to dig many small holes instead of one big one? Should holes in dirt be exempted from rules governing holes in sand or gravel? Should the depth of the hole matter? What about distinguishing between commercial and private holes? But then, would that impede the ability of a landowner to sell his own dirt?
Eventually, Collins tabled the issue and said she’d talk to the parish attorney for guidance.
“My first question? ‘Fix this damn thing,’ ” she said in an interview after the meeting.
The chairwoman said she wants to do away with the whole ordinance, and when a new council takes office next year, she expects that whoever gets elected will overturn it entirely.
The problem is that the ordinance was drafted to target a large corporation’s gravel pit, but “it blanketed everything,” said Lance West, owner of Cash Sand & Gravel, a Denham Springs company.
“I may not be able to afford getting a new property. … For a small operation, I just can’t afford it.”
The government takes its first cut with a $500 application fee for any new dig, which the ordinance states does not cover parish engineering fees. The operator also has to pay for traffic studies if any sites connect to a parish road and drainage studies if the parish and drainage district demand it. They’re also in charge of building a minimum 12-foot vegetative berm along the border of any other residential areas.
“I really believe (the ordinance) hurts you, and that’s not our intention,” Collins told several owners of local mining companies who attended the meeting.
It also can restrict landowners by saddling them with all sorts of regulations when they just want to build a fishing pond for their kids or raise the value of their property.
West said it wouldn’t be fair for the parish to selectively enforce the ordinance by writing in exceptions. He suggested dissolving the whole thing.
If the parish does decide to draw a line, he isn’t sure where it should go.
“I don’t know what to tell them,” he said.
Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.