After asking pointed questions about the Mike Yenni administration's oversight of the parish's landfill, the Jefferson Parish Council voted Wednesday to take the first steps in creating a parish air quality office and to study installing a series of air-monitoring stations around the parish.
The two votes, both unanimous, came several hours after council members quizzed administration officials about whether the parish has attempted to recoup penalties from the landfill operator and whether the landfill should be shut down while repairs to its gas- and leachate-collection systems are completed.
Neither the new office nor the air-quality monitoring stations are likely to happen anytime soon. The council will still have to vote to fund the new staff position within the Department of Environmental Affairs, and for now, the parish is going to study air monitoring solutions to see if one makes sense.
"I think this is a foot in the right direction," Councilman Chris Roberts said. But, he added, "I don't want to give anyone the false pretense that we are going to have something up and running anytime soon."
Earlier in the meeting, parish Environmental Affairs Director Mike Lockwood said that even temporarily closing the landfill — considered the likely source of foul odors plaguing Waggaman, Harahan and River Ridge — would trigger enormous costs and burdensome layers of additional regulation.
The landfill collects 1,000 or more tons of garbage every day, he said. Finding another place to send that waste, plus paying extra transportation costs to the companies that pick up the trash, would be extremely expensive, he said. He added that new levels of federal and state regulations would kick in if the landfill is closed for 30 days.
And it probably wouldn’t even help alleviate any odor problems, Lockwood added.
“Closing the landfill will have no impact on eliminating fugitive emissions,” he said.
It also would not speed the repairs that are currently ongoing at the site, Lockwood said.
Those repairs include installing a new system to remove leachate, which is the water that comes in contact with buried waste. The existing leachate collection system is not working, which has flooded the wells that collect gases from the decomposing waste, in turn rendering many of them inoperable.
Eight gas wells that were not functioning in the landfill’s active section, known as Phase 4A, have been brought back online since the work at the site began, Lockwood said.
In addition, one leachate system that was emitting hydrogen sulfide fumes has been sealed.
Councilman Mark Spears, whose district includes the landfill, asked Lockwood whether the parish is working to collect penalties based on provisions in the parish’s contract with the operator, Waste Connections Inc., formerly known as IESI.
Not yet, he was told, but Chief Operating Officer Keith Conley said the parish is “posturing for litigation.”
Spears said more time seemed to have been spent on telling him why the landfill couldn’t be closed than on recouping the costs the parish is incurring as it tries to fix the problems.
Two other council members — Paul Johnston and Dominick Impastato — asked Lockwood to pass along any reports from the state’s Department of Environmental Quality as soon as they come in.
Lockwood agreed, noting that DEQ has been making “frequent” trips to the site.
Update (2:30 p.m. Thursday)
Also on Wednesday, state Rep. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, said that the House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing to discuss the landfill at the state Capitol in Baton Rouge at 1 p.m. Sept. 12. He said the hearing, which will be open to the public, will give legislators the opportunity to question DEQ about the landfill and air quality issues.
Talbot isn't a regular member of the committee but will participate in the hearing. He said officials with the Department of Health may attend to answer questions about health concerns, though that is not confirmed yet.
Talbot arranged the hearing with Reps. Pat Connick, R-Marrero, and Robert Billiot, D-Westwego.