The Jefferson Parish Council has asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to extend the public comment period on a proposed expansion of a fleet of barges moored on the Mississippi River near Waggaman.
It is another attempt by the council to slow or reverse the bureaucratic process that companies use to increase activity on the river, but it was not immediately clear whether the resolutions passed Wednesday will prove too little, too late.
The council asked both the Corps of Engineers and Louisiana's congressional delegation to extend the Corps' public comment period and to schedule a public hearing to allow residents to sound off on the project. The resolutions also request a Corps representative to come to the council's May 22 meeting to explain the permitting process.
American River Transportation Co., known as ARTCO, is now allowed to moor 17 barges near Waggaman. According to its request filed with the Corps, the company wants to add another 13. The current configuration has two rows of eight barges extending into the river, plus a single barge by itself; the proposal is for three rows of 10.
ARTCO is a subsidiary of Archer Daniels Midland.
The permit application is only for "fleeting," essentially the parking of barges in a particular area. It wasn't clear whether the expansion would lead to an increase in other operations on the river, such as dredging or barge cleaning.
But nearby residents in Harahan, River Ridge and Waggaman, already concerned about the overall level of industrial activity on the river, say they don't want any additional expansion of operations without a better understanding of what the consequences could be.
Harahan resident Lisa Karlin said in an interview that people who live along the Mississippi River have had to endure noxious odors, loud banging noises and unidentified particulate matter falling from the sky at night. They are not in the mood to let industry expand without scrutiny until the sources of those problems have been identified, she said.
"We are concerned about how much is happening on the river so close to us," said Karlin, adding that residents "are so alert for anything that could affect our environment, we are taking action right away."
A spokesman for the Corps could not say late Wednesday whether the office had received a request to extend the 30-day public comment period, which began on April 8. He said permit applications are typically approved or denied between 90 and 120 days after the comment period closes.
Councilman Ricky Templet, who suggested the resolutions Wednesday, said he does not necessarily oppose the expansion, but that residents who are concerned about increased industrial activity along the river deserve more time to submit their opinions and a chance to air them in a public forum.
In April, the council reversed its own approval of a proposed cyanide plant expansion at the Cornerstone Chemical Co. complex in Waggaman. That project is still awaiting state approval, but residents became aware of it several months ago — and also that the council had signed off on it unanimously in January 2018. That prompted council members to rescind the earlier action by a 6-1 vote. Cornerstone sued, and the matter is now in court.
That action followed more than a year of complaints about noxious odors descending upon residents of Waggaman, Harahan and River Ridge at night, causing respiratory problems and burning eyes, noses and throats.
The parish has admitted to problems with the gas and liquid containment systems at the parish-owned landfill in Waggaman, though it has always contended it is not the sole cause of any odor problems. Repairs at the landfill began last year and are in the final stages of completion.