LEAN and the chairman of the Ascension Parish Council have brought a legal challenge to the expansion of a Sorrento-area landfill that has drawn controversy over foul odors coming from the decades old dump, critics say.
Filed by the Louisiana Environmental Action Network and Councilman Bill Dawson, the new lawsuit alleges the state Department of Environmental Quality did not reasonably address hundreds of complaints about the “offensive, frightening, repeated odors” nor considered BFI Colonial Landfill’s past track record of complaints and permit violations when the agency granted the expansion last month.
The lawsuit says the agency did not consider the impacts to the surrounding community in Ascension Parish from the "serious odor and airborne industrial chemicals emanating from the landfill" nor whether alternative sites or mitigation could have lessened the harm.
“In response to complaints about odor affecting enjoyment of property and quality of life, LDEQ instead made unsubstantiated assertions that health and safety are not at risk, which is no response at all,” the suit says.
The suit was filed Jan. 16 in the 19th Judicial District Court in East Baton Rouge Parish, the state court where, by law, plaintiffs can sue for judicial review of DEQ regulatory actions. The suit seeks to have the permit thrown out and DEQ ordered to reconsider its decision.
DEQ issued a solid waste permit Dec. 1 to allow Colonial Landfill to expand its capacity by 27 percent, or roughly by 6.5 million cubic yards of material. The expansion does not add land area to the trash pile, east of La. 70 and south of I-10 and Sorrento, but allows more of the trash to be stacked to 186 feet. Prior to the new permit, trash could only be stacked that high in a smaller section of the landfill.
Also, under the permit, the landfill will be allowed to accept construction and demolition debris and wood waste while taking in residential, commercial and nonhazardous industrial waste, including oil and gas exploration and production waste.
When DEQ sought public comment on the solid waste permit in the fall of 2016 and early 2017, the proposal drew strong criticism and resolutions of opposition from the Ascension Parish Council and the Sorrento Town Council. Residents who lived or owned land near the facility claimed the smell had worsened over the past few years.
Dawson, whose Parish Council District 2 includes the landfill and Sorrento area and who lives a few miles from the facility, said the odor is the major issue behind the lawsuit. He said it is not reasonable that people who live near the landfill must leave their homes and properties, at times, to escape the smell. DEQ's response to his and residents' pleas for help has not been enough, he said.
"We have been trying for two years to get them even to identify where the odor is coming from and have not been able to get DEQ to do that," Dawson said.
In the suit, Dawson is formally named as a private plaintiff who lives and recreates near the landfill, though he is also identified as a councilman who represents hundred of constituents who have complained about the facility. Parish government is not involved in the suit. DEQ is the only defendant.
Greg Langley, DEQ spokesman, said Monday the agency does not comment on litigation.
Officials with the landfill and its corporate parent, Republic Services, have previously contended that at least some of the smells may have come from a neighboring landfill on La. 70, the Gator Landfill, and from surrounding industries. A Republic Services official did not respond to a request for a comment by deadline Monday.
In the permit’s basis of decision as well as in interviews, DEQ officials have said previously that expanding an existing landfill near many of its residential and industrial customers made more sense than trying to find a new location farther away from fast-growing Ascension.
The new permit also calls for the landfill to expand its system to capture and burn off biogases produced by the breakdown of trash. Also in the permit’s basis of decision, DEQ officials say expanded flaring will reduce emissions by 75 percent.
In the days after the permit was issued, Mark Algero, DEQ surveillance administrator, added that state inspectors found odors emanating from both Colonial and Gater landfills.
But a state Office of Public Health analysis of the DEQ air testing found that while both landfills were generating gases producing "unpleasant and strong nuisance odors," the gases were not at levels that would create long-term health effects.