Wood Companies has asked a Jefferson Parish judge to block an attempt by the Harahan City Council to restrict the operation of the Mississippi River dredging, sandpit and composting facility that has drawn intense opposition from nearby residents.
The company filed a petition for declaratory judgment in 24th Judicial District Court, saying the city is not giving it due process as the council prepares to vote on an ordinance that would restrict the facility’s hours of operation, would declare that it cannot be a nuisance to nearby residents and would force the company to stop stockpiling limestone after the nearby federal “Pump to the River” drainage project is completed.
The petition, which was assigned to Judge Ellen Shirer Kovach, also emphasized a point the company made earlier this year when the city cited it for illegally composting, saying it has been allowed to compost there since 2010 and is listed in the city’s own debris management plan.
The petition also says that under state law, the city cannot prevent the company from composting there because it’s been more than five years since it began doing so, meaning the activity is “grandfathered in.”
Wood Companies’ composting has drawn complaints from nearby neighbors, who say it contributes to swarms of flies. Residents also say the sandpits produce dust that regularly coats their houses and cars, even getting inside their homes, while trucks to and from the facility rattle their walls and shelves.
A group of nine residents filed a lawsuit against Wood Companies last week, and the growing chorus of complaints since last year prompted the city to begin the process of curbing activities at the site by revising its zoning law.
Wood Companies, however, contends the city cannot legally amend its zoning ordinance until its Planning and Zoning Commission issues a report, which it has not done.
The City Council voted last month to put the issue on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting after City Attorney Gilbert Buras said the council didn’t need the commission to weigh in on it first.
In addition to saying composting is a legal activity at the site, the petition asks the judge to find that stockpiling limestone is allowed as an accessory use to its mooring operations, which are allowed by the city’s zoning ordinance.
The petition also asks the judge to declare that Wood Companies has the right to operate at any hours it chooses, regardless of any time restrictions the city may try to impose.
Mayor Tina Miceli said Buras is reviewing the petition.
In a letter to Miceli and the council, Wood Companies principal Sarah Louise Wood Ham noted that Wood Companies is not the only operation on the levee batture.
She said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ “Pump to the River” project not only kicks up sand but also hampers Wood Companies’ ability to keep sand, dust and dirt from leaving its site.
She repeated earlier statements that the company has been rerouting truck traffic and creating landscape buffers and berms to try to reduce its impact on neighbors and that it has applied for permission to move the road its trucks use to transport sand.
Ham said the company considers the court filing unfortunate but necessary.
“Please know that this action was not taken lightly but is merely being taken to protect our legal rights and extensive investment in the city of Harahan, as well as the interests of our 110 employees and hundreds of customers both in and outside of Jefferson Parish,” she wrote.
“Notwithstanding the lawsuit, we remain committed to amicably resolving our differences with the city of Harahan and its citizens,” she added.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.