Local officials object to DEQ permit for north BR landfill

A state agency’s green light for an industrial waste landfill in north Baton Rouge is prompting city-parish Councilman Trae Welch to seek Metro Council approval to pursue possible legal action to stop the permit.

Welch said further that he wants representatives from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality to appear before the council to explain why the agency approved the application for the landfill when “every single elected body went on record saying they did not want it.”

At issue is a permit DEQ granted to Louisiana Land Acquisitions for an industrial waste landfill along Brooklawn Road. Two previous attempts to obtain a permit had been unsuccessful.

Welch was joined by other elected officials and environmental groups whose reaction to the decision to grant the landfill permit ranged from angry to bewildered to disappointed.

Welch said he plans to bring resolutions to the council dealing with the landfill issue once he gets official confirmation the permit is approved.

Although DEQ has yet to release anything publicly about the permit approval, Sam Phillips, DEQ assistant secretary, confirmed Friday afternoon that the agency approved the permit April 4.

The Louisiana Land Acquisitions site was built years ago along Brooklawn Drive in anticipation of accepting hazardous waste from the nearby Petro-Processors of Louisiana Superfund site.

However, before the pit could be used, the agreement to clean up the Superfund hazardous waste site was changed and the landfill pit was no longer needed.

Since then, the pit has been empty and filling with rainwater. The pit is across the road from the Petro-Processors of Louisiana and next to a lead recycler with its own landfill areas and a facility that creates calcined petroleum coke used in making aluminum.

Louisiana Land Acquisitions first applied for a landfill permit in 1997, under a slightly different name. However, DEQ denied it in 2000 after finding the application to be technically deficient.

The company applied for a permit again in 2008, but it was denied because DEQ determined there was already enough capacity in industrial waste landfills in nearby parishes.

The company sued. But before the case could go to trial, the company asked for a chance to resubmit its application.

The current permit addressed problems cited in the previous permit by including changes to the proposed landfill service area and in the landfill’s capacity.

Tim Hardy, attorney for Louisiana Land Acquisitions, Inc., said the company’s owners are pleased by DEQ’s decision to approve the landfill permit.

He said the company owners believe “it’s important that they operate this facility within all the rules and regulations and with respect to the community.”

The area is zoned correctly for use as the industrial landfill, Hardy said, adding that the landfill is a mile from the nearest residence and the material it will accept will be nonhazardous.

As long as industrial waste is generated, there has to be a place to put that waste, Hardy said.

Although the city-parish landfill is permitted to take industrial waste, he said, it has a written policy not to do so, which means the newly permitted landfill will serve that role.

“It’s the only landfill in the parish that will accept industrial waste,” Hardy said.

The city-parish once had a policy statement that it wouldn’t accept industrial waste at its landfill, but the language was changed to say industrial waste could be taken on a case by case basis, as approved by the director of public works.

However, that wasn’t enough to satisfy the legal definition of whether that landfill capacity was “available,” said DEQ’s Phillips.

Phillips said DEQ determined after lengthy legal investigation that the city-parish landfill rules are in conflict on whether they can accept industrial waste. As a result, he said, DEQ had no choice but to approve permit.

“This is a situation that I did what the law compelled me to do,” he said.

However, the city-parish disagrees with that interpretation.

William Daniel, chief administrative officer to Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden, said there is no conflict within the city-parish rules, contrary to DEQ’s claims.

Krystal Perkins, solid waste manager for the city-parish, said the city-parish landfill’s permit allows it to accept industrial waste on a case-by-case basis. She said that fulfills the legal definition that there’s already landfill capacity available if it is needed.

The issue is there never has been a need, she said.

State Sen. Sharon Weston Broome, D-Baton Rouge, said she is disappointed that DEQ approved the permit application especially given the number of residents who spoke out against the landfill and the history that the north Baton Rouge area has had to endure with industrial waste.

“It’s not a good thing for our city and it’s not a good thing for north Baton Rouge,” she said.

Public meetings last year showed a division among residents on granting a permit for the landfill.

Some favored the landfill because the company seeking the permit promised to contribute financially to the community. But many residents and political representatives opposed it, saying the area already has too many environmental burdens.

“This area in north Baton Rouge is already overburdened with (pollution/emissions/waste) and now an open toxic waste pit is being added,” Marylee Orr, executive director of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, wrote in an email.

“The way these kinds of facilities work is that all of the volatile hazardous material will evaporate into the air, just 5,000 feet from the nearest homes on Springfield Road and even closer than that to parts of the Louisiana State Police’s Joint Emergency Service Training Center.”

State Rep. Dalton Honoré said he wants an explanation as to why the permit was denied twice before, but approved this time.

“What changed?” he asked.