Pumping station placement disputed

Residents of White Oak Landing subdivision in southeast Baton Rouge say they will fight plans to put a 16-foot-tall sewage pumping station at the entrance to their upscale neighborhood, a decision city-parish officials say is final.

To assist them in their fight, the White Oak Landing Civic Association has hired Alvin Fairburn & Associates LLC, a Denham Springs-based engineering firm, to help persuade the city-parish to choose an alternate site, said Gehl Davis, the president of the civic association.

The new pumping station is part of the city-parish’s Sanitary Sewer Overflow project, a $1.4 billion, federally mandated upgrade of the parish’s sewer system’s infrastructure.

As part of the project, the Department of Public Works plans to upgrade the current pumping station now operating near the south end of Woodlake Bridge on Woodlake Drive, DPW interim Director David Guillory said.

White Oak Landing experiences sewer overflows almost every time it gets a hard rain, Guillory said. When overflows occur, raw sewage runs into Jones Creek and the subdivision’s lakes, he said.

Because of federal regulations, the new pumping station must be elevated above ground level in order to protect it from potential floods. The new station is to be constructed on a platform standing 10 feet high, Guillory said.

Structures on the platform, including the pump and a generator, would add another 6 feet to the height of the installation, Guillory said.

But Davis, leader of the homeowners association, said the completed pumping station would ruin the look of the entrance.

“We call it a drilling rig,” he said, referring to the proposed structure.

“We are not unhappy if they put it on the ground,” Davis said. “Our problem is that they are going to put it in the air.”

Erecting the pumping station atop a 10-foot platform would dwarf the subdivision’s entrance sign and obscure the view of one of the neighborhood’s five lakes, he said.

Davis asked DPW to consider an alternate site for the pumping station adjacent to four homes near Beaconwoods Drive on a walking trail that is owned by the civic association.

However, the property owners near that proposed site have objected to having the new pumping station installed close to their houses, Guillory said.

In an attempt to ease community concerns, DPW personnel met with the homeowners and revised the design of the Woodlake pumping station, Guillory said. The original plans called for a structure about 20 feet high, he said.

Trees and bushes will be planted around the pump station to help obscure it from sight, Guillory said.

In a Dec. 7 report, the engineering firm CH2M Hill, which is the contractor overseeing the Sanitary Sewer Overflow project for the city-parish, analyzed the current location and the proposed location, concluding that building the station at the subdivision entrance would be the preferred solution, according to a copy of the report.

The report listed six disadvantages of the civic association’s proposed site, among them the finding that changing sites would require the addition of a pump station and force the city-parish to upgrade the pump station at the current location anyway.

Access to the Beaconwoods site would be difficult from Woodlake Drive, the report said. The report also said that the land for the site would have to be purchased and the site currently consisted of a “walking trail with many trees.”

In a Dec. 17 letter, Ted York, of Alvin Fairburn, urged DPW to reconsider.

Easy access to the homeowners’ preferred site is available from Beaconwoods Drive, York asserted.

“Since it has been stated that the recommended location for the new pump station is covered with trees,” York wrote, “it is clear that no one has actually been to the site to look at it. We suggest that we meet someone out there so that they can actually see the site.”

Further, the construction of a second pumping station would mean that the current one could be downsized when it is upgraded, and it may not have to be placed on a platform, York wrote.

The homeowners association has said it would be willing to donate the land for the pumping station and that the walking trail could easily be routed around the station, York said.

Joseph Young, of CH2M Hill, said engineers did examine the homeowners’ proposed site before they created their report on the issue.

The proposed project is one of 16 pumping stations to be upgraded during an 18-month phase of the Sanitary Sewer Overflow project, which is expected to begin in the summer, he said.

William Daniel, Mayor-President Kip Holden’s chief administrative officer, said in a written statement that a pumping station or a treatment plant had existed at the current location since the subdivision was accepted for city-parish maintenance in 1978.

“We have few options as to the location of the upgraded pump station,” Daniel wrote. “The original placement of both the pump station and treatment plant were sited so as not to be located among the subdivision homes and were placed at low points in the subdivision to take advantage of gravity.”

DPW had taken homeowners’ concerns into account and was working to build “a very attractive building,” Davis said in the statement.

The civic association is ready to bring the fight to the mayor and Metro Council, Davis said.

“If you think this will totally destroy our entrance,” Davis wrote in an email to the civic association’s members, “please begin making waves with all of the people listed below.”

The email included the names, email addresses and phone numbers of all 12 Metro Council members, as well as the numbers and email addresses for Guillory, Mayor-President Kip Holden and Daniel, the Holden administration’s CAO.

“Call and email more than once,” Davis wrote. “We need to make this into the bad idea it is with those who will make the final decision on this monstrous project.”

Davis’ email encouraged the residents to “get political help” to stop the project.