Harahan officials have cited a company that operates sand pits on the Mississippi River batture for illegally composting at the site, saying the zoning regulations for the property don’t allow it.
The city issued the misdemeanor summons Tuesday to Wood Materials, which has pleaded not guilty. The two sides will meet in Harahan Municipal Court on May 10.
Residents have complained on and off for years about vibrations from heavy trucks at the site and about the sand that invades their homes, yards and cars every time the wind the wind blows off the river.
About five years ago, however, the company also began composting at the sand and gravel operation. Residents have complained the company is not permitted to do such work, and they blame the compost for a proliferation of flies in the area.
Greg Beuerman, a spokesman for the company, said the city’s decision to cite the company is “disingenuous” because it has known about the composting operation since 2012 and even listed the company as a designated provider in the debris management plan it filed with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“We strongly believe that not only is the facility conducting a permitted activity but that the facility also provides a community service and value-added products that … reduce the amount of materials that go into landfills,” Beuerman said.
City Attorney Gilbert Buras, however, said mulching and composting are clearly not allowed at the site. The city’s zoning code allows only park space, barge mooring, sand extraction and public utilities on the batture. It specifically prohibits manufacturing.
Nearby residents who attended a special meeting of the City Council on Thursday night weren’t pleased that they’ll have to wait two months for the Municipal Court hearing.
Evelyn Riehm, who has worked with her husband to bring attention to problems at the site, said the company shouldn’t have the right to continue doing something the city does not allow.
City Prosecutor David Courcelle, however, said patience not only is required by law but is in everyone’s best interest.
“All of us in this room, we are afforded due process under the Constitution,” he said, explaining that it is important not to “violate those notice requirements and those due process requirements” if the residents want to win their case.
Buras said the problems with the blowing sand are a separate issue that the city will have to decide whether to take up.
In the meantime, he urged residents to begin collecting specific, quantifiable evidence of how the sand and trucks qualify as a public nuisance.
“You’re going to be required to show to a judge that what you’re suffering from is something that qualifies as a nuisance, and you’re going to have to testify to something more than, ‘Well, I see sand on my car,’ ” he explained. “You’re going to have to demonstrate how much sand it is. You’re going to have to demonstrate over what period of time it accumulates, that a reasonable person wouldn’t put up with this. … That’s what the judge is going (to use) to make a determination.”
Mayor Tina Miceli has said the city may have to beef up the zoning ordinance to achieve proper balance between the facility and its neighbors, and Buras noted that the current ordinance says nothing about the hours the company may operate or how much sand is allowed.
He said the state Department of Environmental Quality has said it cannot shut down the facility and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is concerned only with the facility’s impact on the levee, “not you good people.”
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.