Environmental groups allege the builders of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline left a mess across a swath of the Atchafalaya Swamp, as sections of pipeline remain poorly covered, mounds of dredged earth are piled up across the land, and a series of sloughs and other waterways have been dammed with waste material.
Atchafalaya Basinkeeper and two other groups, in a federal administrative complaint, accuse Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC of a series of U.S. Clean Water Act violations across the swamp in southern Louisiana during the company's construction of the 163-mile crude oil line.
The pipeline opened after extensive opposition and a series of lawsuits from environmental and fisheries groups failed to halt the pipeline's construction. The 24-inch line, which starts in Lake Charles and is an extension of preexisting line that begins in Nederland, Texas, was finished in late March and has been delivering oil to facilities in St. James Parish along the Mississippi River for months.
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In the new complaint, the environmental groups claim the disruptions to the land will alter the natural flow of water through huge swamp, degrading aquatic habitat for important fisheries, harming waterfowl habitat and inhibiting access for fishermen in violation of the company's permit with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"Despite the Corps permit prohibiting more than minimal damage to the hydrology of these wetlands, as Basinkeeper has observed and described herein, areas in and around the pipeline right of way have suffered major hydrologic impacts," the complaint says.
The Basinkeeper, Gulf Restoration Network and the Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association-West filed the administrative Clean Water Act complaint Monday with the Corps and the state Department of Environmental Quality. They ask that the agencies enforce the Clean Water Act, inspect the area, issue a cease-and-desist order and revoke the company's permit with Corps.
Ricky Boyett, a Corps spokesman in New Orleans, said he could not immediately comment on the complaint Tuesday. Greg Langley, a DEQ spokesman, said the issues raised in the complaint should be addressed by the Corps, not DEQ.
A spokeswoman for Energy Transfer LP, the majority partner in the project and its operator, said she was preparing a response midday Tuesday to the complaint, which The Advocate supplied to her earlier in the day. Phillips 66 Partners is the minority partner in the line.
The $750 million project has had support from an array of state and local officials, including Gov. John Bel Edwards. Backers had said the work would generate 2,500 construction jobs, $17.6 million in sales tax revenue and $1.8 million in property tax collections during its first year of operations. They argue the pipeline would be safer at moving crude oil than by rail, truck or vessel.
In past statements and on Energy Transfer's website, the company has touted its environmental stewardship and the care the company has taken to have the least possible impact on the environment. The company has also said that the area where the pipeline has passed would be restored to pre-construction status and that no new spoil banks, or piles of waste dirt, would be created to ensure natural water flow is retained.
"The Bayou Bridge Pipeline was built to protect Louisiana wetlands," Energy Transfer says in the question-and-answer section of its website.
The Basinkeeper and other groups had said they feared the impact of destroying ancient cypress in the swamp and the disruption of the swamp's natural water flow from new spoil banks, deep ruts and other consequences of digging and clearing to install the line.
The groups have also been parties in prior lawsuits over the pipeline and the permitting process. In their latest complaint, the groups said they uncovered the alleged violations through a series of boat trips in the basin between Sept. 11 and Sept. 27 and supplied coordinates and photographs of some of the alleged violations.
"During the monitoring trips on both sides of the Atchafalaya Basin, the occurrence of the ... observations were too numerous to count," the complaint says.
The groups' complaint says they had been warning the Corps during the construction phase about the problems they were spotting, but only since water levels have dropped in the basin after the summer have the magnitude of the alleged violations become apparent.
"Despite Basinkeeper’s many concerns raised during pipeline construction, the destruction is even worse than anticipated. The receding waters have exposed severe impacts necessitating immediate action to remediate and repair impacted areas," the complaint says.
The groups supplied photographs purported to show spoil banks lacking areas through which water could flow, a man standing in a 6-foot rut and an earth-blocked slough. The complaint noted that members of the environmental groups spotted Bayou Bridge excavators attempted to fix some of the damage on Sept. 27.