Residents oppose Multi-Chem permit for wastewater permit

Residents packed into a cafeteria at North Vermilion High School Thursday night to speak out about the Multi-Chem chemical plant that opened near Maurice last year following a 2011 explosion that destroyed the company’s facility in New Iberia.

Multi-Chem, which is owned by Halliburton, blends chemicals for use in the oil and gas industry.

The company already secured the permits it needed to begin operating, but the state Department of Environmental Quality hearing on Thursday was for a new permit the company seeks for the discharge of what Multi-Chem says is non toxic wastewater into a nearby ditch.

Such permits generally attract little public attention, but more than 20 residents took their turn at a lectern to let DEQ officials know they were not just opposed to the permit application but Multi-Chem in general.

“We are a rural community. We are not set up or zoned for an industrial business like Multi-Chem,” said Rhonda Foreman, who lives about a half-mile from facility.

Foreman said the local volunteer fire department cannot handle a major industrial accident and that emergency officials have not given residents a clear evacuation plan in case of an explo sion or other incident.

“If they have another explosion or any other emergency, we are unsure how we will be notified or if we will be notified,” she said.

Her comments were echoed by Charlotte Lege, who said she has asked for an evacuation plan and has received no response.

“We are not and do not want to be an industrial parkway,” she said.

Farmer Randy Stutes talked of concerns about possible chemical contamination of the area’s sugar cane crops, and Suzanne Byrd, who lives next to Multi-Chem, said that beyond health and safety concerns, the industrial facility has destroyed her once-peaceful rural life.

“At night, the lights are so bright, you can’t see the stars,” Byrd said. “Their lights also shine right into our house, all night, every night.”

Multi-Chem has argued the facility is safe and that the wastewater the company seeks a permit for is non hazardous.

“The discharge consists of city water mixed with trace amounts of commercial water softeners,” said Scott Janoe, an attorney for Multi-Chem. “The water softeners are no different from what any of us could buy at a hardware store and use at our own homes.”

Janoe said the discharge is from a water-softening treatment that occurs before the water is used in chemical blending operations.

DEQ staff have determined the discharge is not expected to harm area waterways.

The reassurances from Multi-Chem and DEQ did little to satisfy the residents on Thursday.

“I feel that whatever this permit is for, this company should not be allowed to operate at their current location,” Foreman said.

Many of the residents who spoke referenced the June 2011 explosion and chemical fire at Multi-Chem’s former facility in New Iberia.

No injuries were reported, but the incident forced a large-scale evacuation while the fire burned for some 24 hours.

DEQ did not fine Multi-Chem in the incident, but the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration assessed $49,000 in penalties against the company, which negotiated a settlement for half of that amount, or $24,500, according to OSHA records.

An earlier air permit for the facility’s location near Maurice has been challenged in court by Citizens Against Multi-Chem.

A state district judge in Baton Rouge and the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal have ruled against the residents, but Citizens Against Multi-Chem member Marcella Manuel said the group plans to take the case to the state Supreme Court.

DEQ took no action on the water discharge permit at Thursday’s hearing.

DEQ spokesman Greg Langley said the agency has a Dec. 10 deadline to make a decision on the new permit.