Livingston proposal calls for strict regulation of gravel pits

Livingston Parish gravel pits could face heavy regulation under a proposed permitting process slated to be introduced at Thursday’s Parish Council meeting.

The proposed ordinance, sponsored by Parish Councilman Jim Norred, of Watson, would require all mining operations not already in production to pay hefty permit fees, perform impact studies, extend their buffer zones, restrict their hours of operation, pave all on-site roads, allow unannounced site inspections, set up environmental and noise monitoring systems and train residents how to read them.

Also, all pits, including those no longer in operation, would be required to erect an 8-foot, solid wood, brick or masonry fence around their perimeter, according to a draft of the ordinance circulated among Parish Council members in advance of the meeting.

The ordinance would require a public hearing for all proposed mining projects and would give the Parish Council the final say over any permit application, even after the operator obtains approval from state and federal regulatory agencies.

The push for tighter restrictions on mining operations comes in response to a proposed gravel pit in Watson. More than 700 residents have signed a petition opposing Southern Aggregates’ plan for a 238-acre mining operation next to the Oak Hills subdivision, where Norred lives. The Tulane Environmental Law Clinic is representing the residents group, named Save Our Hills.

Norred could not be reached for comment Wednesday on the draft ordinance.

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality will hold a public hearing on the proposed pit after Southern Aggregates responds to the agency’s request for more information on the project, DEQ spokesman Greg Langley said. DEQ asked the company for more details on its plans for drainage, storm water runoff and erosion control, as well as detailed site drawings. Southern Aggregates has until Sept. 11 to respond.

Livingston Parish has only a handful of regulations on the books for mining operations.

Commercial dirt pits are required to have a 5-foot wire-mesh fence around their perimeter — a provision Parish President Layton Ricks said he isn’t sure the parish has been able to enforce.

Building Official Chuck Vincent will go out to existing pits this week to see what kind of fencing they have erected, Ricks said Wednesday afternoon.

Current parish codes also prohibit mining operations from digging closer than 300 feet to a road right-of-way or closer than 50 feet to an adjacent property line.

Norred’s proposed ordinance would require much deeper buffer zones: 500 feet from neighboring residential property and 1,000 feet from schools, libraries, hospitals, houses of worship, nursing homes “or other entities where the dust, noise or increased traffic can become a nuisance.”

Ricks said that requirement may prove prickly. A Parish Council proposal in 2004 to deepen the setback requirements to 300 feet met with such staunch opposition from gravel pit operators that the idea was dropped.

Southern Aggregates’ proposed operation in Watson would put the site within 200 feet of some Oak Hills residents’ properties.

In addition, while parish ordinances regulate noise levels by time of day, Norred’s proposal would limit each pit’s hours of operation from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., prohibiting any machinery from running during off-hours.

Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen.