The dumping of flood debris at a landfill in the north Baton Rouge community of Alsen has reawakened contentious debates about where debris should go in East Baton Rouge parish and whose lives are most affected by landfills.
Some Alsen residents are asking the Metro Council to pass a resolution requesting the state Department of Environmental Quality to allow flood debris to go to a different landfill, also in Alsen, located farther away from residential areas. They say it would improve their quality of life.
But city-parish and Department of Environmental Quality leaders say they are happy with the Ronaldson Field landfill that's currently accepting debris.
The Department of Environmental Quality controls where debris goes from the recent August floods. The department has directed the construction and demolition debris, like drywall, mattresses, carpets and furniture, to the Ronaldson Field landfill near BREC's Greenwood Community Park.
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Not every landfill is equipped to handle that type of construction and demolition debris. Some take more household waste and bags of garbage, while others are meant for industrial waste.
Metro Councilman Trae Welch has eyed one of the industrial waste landfills on Brooklawn Drive, owned by Louisiana Land Acquisitions, as an opportunity to spread out flood debris and appease residents complaining about the use of Ronaldson Field. The Brooklawn landfill is just a few miles away from Ronaldson Field and isn't as close to residential areas.
"That is the furthest site away from people's houses of all the sites in East Baton Rouge parish," Welch said of the Brooklawn landfill.
Since the Metro Council has no control over the debris sites, the most the council can do is pass a resolution up for a vote on October 12 asking DEQ to change them.
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Mayor-President Kip Holden's administration, the state's Department of Environmental Quality and the manager of Ronaldson Field say rerouting the debris is the wrong move. They also say it's a moot point, as the city-parish estimates that they have collected 75 percent of flood debris and Ronaldson Field says the amount of debris flowing into the landfill has started winding down.
City-parish Chief Administrative Officer William Daniel has pointed to the local government's troublesome history with the landfill on Brooklawn as another reason that City Hall should not push for debris to go there.
Louisiana Land Acquisitions unsuccessfully applied for landfill permits 1997 and 2008 before DEQ approved an industrial waste permit for the Brooklawn site in 2014. The company promised financial donations to programs in Alsen, splitting residents' opinions on the introduction of another landfill to their community.
Holden, Metro Council members and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network cried foul and sued DEQ in 2014, claiming the agency did not properly consider the environmental cost to the area when granting the permit. The city-parish and LEAN lost their lawsuits, and the Brooklawn Disposal Facility opened to accept industrial waste.
"The mayor has fought this particular landfill for 20 years, so he will not change his mind on it," Daniel said.
Holden did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
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Ronaldson Field has been open since 1997 and has worked with the local government numerous times throughout its history.
Daniel has said they would rather the debris go to the privately owned Ronaldson Field than to fill up their valuable space at the public East Baton Rouge North Landfill.
"We've been working with the city for 15 years now," said Ronaldson Field operations manager Beau Brian. "We work with the city all the time, they know we're the most qualified for the job."
DEQ officials noted that the Brooklawn landfill does not even have the right type of permit to accept flood debris, unlike Ronaldson Field. Brooklawn would have to go through DEQ's permitting process to be allowed to receive construction and demolition debris, as they accept industrial waste.
"There's adequate capacity at Ronaldson Field to handle all of the debris from East Baton Rouge parish," DEQ spokesman Greg Langley said.
Brian said Ronaldson Field has 20 more years until it will be filled up.
Welch disagrees that the Brooklawn facility is not suitable. DEQ has authorized two lots — at 2876 N. Sherwood Forest Drive near South Choctaw Drive and 6180 Joor Road in Central — as staging areas to compact debris before it goes to the landfill.
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He asked how those staging areas are better equipped to handle sewer-soaked, mold-infested debris than an actual landfill like the one on Brooklawn. He said the city-parish ought to make the best use of the Brooklawn site despite losing the lawsuit, meaning they should use it for flood debris.
"Why they're fighting it, I have no clue," Welch said. "It's bad politics. It's got everything to do with whether or not the mayor wants this thing open. Why not open up as many sites as you can to take this material, even if you keep the ones that are open now?"
Some Alsen residents, meanwhile, said they are especially concerned about whether the flood debris will have a negative impact on their health and on the environment.
"We have mold and mildew fanning all over the community," said Alsen resident Donnie Millican, who spoke to the Metro Council about the problem on September 28. "We know that the debris has to go somewhere."
The Metro Council is expected to vote on Welch's resolution October 12.