A familiar voice joined the online discussion last week about the odors plaguing Jefferson Parish residents and the role the parish-owned landfill in Waggaman may play in generating them: Sal Perricone, the former federal prosecutor who lost his job after it was discovered he had commented anonymously online about various federal probes.
Ironically, perhaps, it was commenting about landfills – specifically, a federal investigation into the owners of the private landfill next to the parish's dump – that proved Perricone’s undoing in 2012.
Federal authorities had by then spent several years investigating Jim Ward and Fred Heebe, the owners of the River Birch landfill, which sits just west of the parish landfill. No charges had been filed, but it was clear Heebe and Ward were the targets. So their defense lawyers went on the offensive and filed a civil suit that unmasked Perricone as a frequent online poster about the case.
He resigned almost immediately, and the flap eventually brought down his boss, Jim Letten, and ended the probe.
The feds’ working theory appeared to be that Heebe and Ward had snared a windfall by persuading Jefferson Parish officials in former Parish President Aaron Broussard's administration to close down their landfill and send the parish’s garbage instead to River Birch. That deal was canceled amid the investigation.
Last week, Perricone – now using his own name – posted in a Facebook group dedicated to the persistent odor problems that he worried history might be repeating itself.
On the eve of Friday’s special Parish Council meeting, Perricone wrote that the root of the odoriferous problem was the decision to solidify liquid industrial waste at the landfill, "which was not equipped to process" it.
"Tomorrow," he continued, "members of the council will vote to close the JP-owned landfill, which will require all garbage to be dumped in adjacent privately-owned landfills.”
Perricone suggested a plan to divert the parish’s trash to River Birch might already have been drafted with the knowledge of only a few. He hinted obliquely that a movement could be afoot to quietly swap an obvious, malodorous problem for one that is “not palpable to the senses.”
Reached by telephone, he declined to elaborate on his comments.
Ultimately, Perricone’s prediction about the outcome of Friday's meeting wasn’t quite a bull's-eye, but the specter of closure was raised. The council voted 6-0 to look into what it would take to temporarily close the landfill if the parish doesn’t meet its benchmarks for fixing the broken water and gas collection systems there.
For now, it’s worth noting, the Yenni administration says it does not think the landfill should be closed. Officials have also warned that closing it would not be a simple process and wouldn’t immediately solve any of the landfill's odor problems. The council made sure the resolution was clear it would take another vote to close the landfill if that becomes necessary.
But Councilman Mark Spears, who proposed the resolution to begin clearing that path, said there are simply too many credible health and odor complaints flooding into his and Councilman Paul Johnston’s office to tolerate anything less than a prompt solution, whatever form that takes.