A new drainage system at the Jefferson Parish landfill could be turned on as early as next week, a move that officials said will greatly reduce odors emanating from the facility that have raised residents' ire in recent months.
Any odors from the parish-owned facility should start to subside in a matter of weeks as the water level in the landfill falls, allowing the facility’s gas collection system to capture and remove gases that have been seeping out of the ground for years, according to a report from the landfill’s oversight contractor presented to the Jefferson Parish Council on Wednesday.
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While parish officials have said they don’t think the parish landfill is the chief cause of the noxious odors plaguing Harahan, Waggaman and River Ridge, they have acknowledged that much of the gas generated by the landfill hasn’t been collected because of the malfunctioning system.
A system of 10-inch pipes will replace the 4-inch pipes that have proved incapable of draining rainwater out of the buried trash at the landfill, said Zia Tammami, project director from the consulting firm PPM, which is leading a team of engineers hired by the parish.
When this water is more than a foot deep, as has been the case at the landfill for years, the wells that are supposed to draw off gases produced by the trash become flooded and cease working.
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This causes the gases produced by rotting garbage to escape by other means.
Once the new pipes draw the water down below a foot, other pumps in the system will need to recharge. It’s not clear how long that will take, though comments from parish officials briefed on the process indicated it would be only a couple of weeks.
At their meeting Wednesday, council members heard from Chuck Carr Brown, the secretary of the state Department of Environmental Quality, who said that despite the ongoing repairs at the landfill, inspectors are still finding problems that should be taken care of.
For example, garbage is not always being covered at the end of the day in the active portions of the landfill as required, he said.
In addition, Brown said that water which came in contact with the trash, known as leachate, has spilled into the Waggaman channel.
Parish officials, as well as the hired consultants, disputed those allegations.
Mike Lockwood, the parish's environmental affairs director, said there have been only two instances when the garbage was not properly covered, and that the parish spoke with the contractor and told employees in charge of that task that they would be fired if it happened again.
Tammami said water was contained and disposed of properly offsite during the spilling incident in question. "We did not allow that water to go into the waterways," he said. "I want to be on the record about that."
Council members also asked Brown about barge-loading operations on the Mississippi River that appear to be kicking up clouds of particulate that is falling on homes in Harahan and River Ridge.
Brown said that LDEQ is trying to get a handle on the issues along the river and has met with representatives from the company that owns the midstream barge-loading facilities near Harahan.
“We have talked with them about best practices,” he said. “We are addressing those midstream loading problems.”
A sample of the particulate matter shown on social media in recent weeks was collected by DEQ, and test results on that sample could be back by the end of this week, Brown said.
The agency can then compare them with what was loaded on the dates the particulates were collected to see if the midstream operators are the likely source, he said.
The company that owns the loaders has promised to audit its operations and appoint a “sentinel” to make sure that proper procedures are followed, Brown said.
Residents continued to express frustration at what they've had to endure with the repeated odors and particulate.
Nancy Pearson, a River Ridge resident, is among those who believe the odors don't all come from the landfill.
She said she had the first bloody nose she can ever remember recently, and that the odor was so bad Thursday night that people left their homes. She said she has left the state four times in recent weeks, “just to get away from River Ridge and breathe clean air in Mississippi."
She said Harahan and River Ridge were once highly coveted places to move to — a way to live in the country but still be close to the city. Now, she lamented, "nobody wants to live there any more."
Advocate staff reporter Faimon A. Roberts III contributed to this report.