Nine Harahan residents have filed a lawsuit and are seeking class-action status against the owner of several sandpits along the Mississippi River batture, claiming the operation regularly sends billows of sand into their neighborhood, covering their yards, homes and cars.
Wood Materials Inc., which operates on the river side of the levee within the city limits, has been the subject of increasing complaints from nearby residents this year.
The company was cited by the city for illegal composting, and its operations were the impetus for a proposed tightening of zoning requirements that is expected to be approved by the City Council this month.
The suit filed Thursday in 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna claims Wood Materials, Wood Resources and Wood Dredging have violated federal and state rules, along with local nuisance laws because of excessive sand and vibrations.
The suit, filed by the law firm Quinn Alsterberg, states that the Wood companies dredged 914,073 cubic yards of sand last year, far more than the 225,000 they were allowed by permit. It also alleges the company’s sand-filled trucks weigh more than they should and the operation blankets “area residences and businesses with sand, causing significant property damages and loss of enjoyment of life.”
The suit’s claims echo those often made by residents at City Council meetings. It says sand covers neighbors’ cars, homes, buildings and patio furniture and gets inside buildings through air-conditioning and heating vents, sometimes damaging the units.
The suit says the sand sometimes makes it impossible to gather and entertain in backyards and that some homeowners have even had to remove their gutters because they fill with sand.
The sand also is blamed for eye, nose and throat problems, respiratory issues and skin irritation.
Another source of irritation is the sandpit’s hours of operation. Residents say trucks can be heard lining up at the site as early as 3:30 a.m.
It says the vibrations from trucks have caused cracks in drywall.
“Defendants have failed to exercise reasonable care to prevent further damage to petitioners despite clear knowledge that their actions and inactions have caused and continue to cause … significant damage,” the suit says.
Greg Beuerman, a spokesman for Wood Materials, said the company could not address the specific allegations in the suit until officials had a chance to review it.
However, he said the company has made “significant and costly” improvements to the site that were requested by neighbors, including constructing two earthen berms, planting fast-growing bamboo and adding sod to reduce blowing sand and dust.
He said Wood has bought a new water truck to further dampen any sand and dust on the property and a new vacuum sweeper truck as “voluntary investments … in an attempt to be a good neighbor.”
Wood also has said it will seek expedited approval for a new haul road along the river side of the property that would reduce the operation’s effects on neighbors.
Wood has worked hard to communicate with the neighbors and city officials, Beuerman said. “Regrettably, many of the more active and vocal opponents of the company have refused for the past many weeks to engage Wood owners in a constructive and solution-driven dialogue, choosing instead to litigate rather than communicate,” he said.
Beuerman said the company is filing a request for an injunction to prevent Harahan officials from taking “arbitrary actions” that could impact the site. He said the company regrets having to do so but must protect its legal right to operate as permitted.
The neighbors’ petition, which was allotted to Judge Stephen Enright’s court, asks that the suit be granted class-action status and ultimately seeks a jury trial for compensatory and punitive damages, costs and attorney fees.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.