The foul-smelling debris piled up at the end of driveways after the 2016 flood didn't just disappear; it got shipped to Ronaldson Field, the landfill about a mile and a half west of the Baton Rouge Zoo, and just across the street from residents in the community of Alsen.
After the storm, neighbors raged that soggy carpets and drywall were decomposing in their backyards. The landfill was temporarily permitted to receive those materials at a site that ordinarily only accepts only limited construction and woody material. But the problems with Ronaldson Field go back years, even decades farther, Metro Councilwoman Chauna Banks said.
The dumping of flood debris at a landfill in the north Baton Rouge community of Alsen has reawakened contentious debates about where debris sh…
The landfill's 10-year permit comes up for renewal this year. Alsen residents and environmental groups are taking the occasion to launch a campaign to convince the state to clamp down or shut down Ronaldson Field.
They worry about the smell, the fire risk, the possibility of chemicals being released into the air and water and the attraction of snakes and other vermin.
Officials at the privately-owned landfill declined to be interviewed but issued a statement saying their facility fills a public need.
"Ronaldson Field fulfills a vital role in ensuring that the growth of East Baton Rouge and its surrounding parishes are not hindered due to a lack of landfill space for the economical disposal of construction and demolition debris materials," operations manager Beau Brian wrote.
"The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality conducts compliance inspections at Ronaldson Field on a routine basis. Literally dozens of compliance inspections have been conducted at the facility during and since the August, 2016 flood."
State environmental officials confirmed that Ronaldson Field is currently in compliance with all their requirements, and there hasn't been any enforcement action against the site in recent memory.
Banks doesn't dispute that the facility is in compliance. She's focused more on the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, which she described as being "negligent" in performing its regulatory duties.
In a Feb. 5 letter to DEQ secretary Chuck Carr Brown, she said the department's response to odor complaints, water and air monitoring, pest control, fire safety and waste inspection is inadequate.
"Something is wrong, and we just need to get to the bottom of it," she said in an interview.
The Louisiana Environmental Action Network and the local chapter of the Sierra Club have also taken up the fight.
In Devil's Swamp, even the crawfish are poisonous.
Residents feel ignored as Ronaldson Field has expanded even as they worried about potentially hazardous run-off or contaminated dust blowing off the site, said Michael Orr, who wrote to DEQ on behalf of LEAN.
Willie Fontenot, of the Sierra Club, contended that storm waste was disposed of improperly, putting the site at a risk of fire. Also, no one has thoroughly considered if an alternative site would be more appropriate to safeguard the health of residents and the environment, he continued.
The environmental organization and local councilwoman have called on DEQ to host a public hearing so they can air their grievances. They appear to have secured at least that much.
A three-way argument has broken out among the owners of an industrial waste site in the Alsen community north of Baton Rouge, a local nonprofi…
"I can pretty much guarantee there will be a public hearing," on the permit application and that the department will respond to all concerns, DEQ assistant secretary Elliott Vega said.
The department and the landfill operators are still collecting all the necessary documents to review the permit application, Vega said, but he anticipates hosting a public forum within the year.
Vega said the department "is pretty doggone good" at ensuring landfills comply with environmental regulations.
He and press secretary Greg Langley pointed out that the state limits how much space can be open to dumping before it must be covered over with dirt to mask the smell and prevent vermin.
Ronaldson also must submit water each month to be tested for pollutants. However, Banks, in her letter, points out lapses in discharge reports since the August flood that she finds suspicious. DEQ officials say sometimes when there isn't much rain, water just doesn't run off the site so there's nothing to test.
DEQ may also monitor the air, although they haven't done so recently at Ronaldson Field. The department may also tell a landfill to use deodorants or burn off or redirect noxious gases, Langley said.
Residents may report a complaint by calling (888)-763-5424. Banks said residents of Alsen and St. Irma Lee report that complaints are handled slowly and inconsistently.
There are also some restrictions that apply to some landfills but not to Ronaldson Field because it ordinarily is limited to construction and demolition debris and woody waste — "sticks and bricks" in DEQ parlance. Ronaldson was temporarily permitted to take furniture, carpets and drywall after the 2016 flood.
A general use landfill would now have to include 200 feet of buffer zone between waste and the property line. But because Ronaldson Field usually handles less foul-smelling material, it must only be set back 50 feet, Vega said.
As the permitting debate rolls on, Ronaldson Field is losing a noteworthy client — the East Baton Rouge government. Under a new contract starting March 1, Waste Management will begin to accept the city-parish's vegetative waste at the North Landfill, said environmental services director Adam Smith.
The city-parish has yet to strike a contract with a firm to haul debris from demolitions, such as when public works employees tear down a condemned building. However, the last firm also took their debris to the North Landfill, and whoever eventually wins the contract may select their own landfill.
East Baton Rouge remains without a contractor to haul off debris when a condemned building is knocked down.