Belmont fleet application meets local opposition

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 2, 2000

DANIEL TYLER GOODEN / L’Observateur / December 2, 2000

CONVENT – Belmont Fleet of Metairie ran into a chorus of “No’s” at the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality public hearing at the Convent Courthouse in St. James Thursday, to give Belmont Fleet a chanceto describe their company, as they are applying for a mid-stream barge cleaning permit.

Twenty people living and working in St. James Parish told DEQ why thepermit application should be denied. Most were upset that the companywants to locate their new facility just upstream from the East Bank water treatment intake valves. Belmont Fleet owns the land on either sideof the valves and are to use the land for parking barges.

Belmont Fleet is applying for a permit to handle products that are not listed as hazardous, said Richard Wright of Wright and Associates.

What is non-hazardous to some may be very hazardous to others, stated Richard Burton Jr. of Convent, with his opinion backed by nearly everyresident present. Polluting the river, and especially the parish’s drinkingwater was the concern of the people the speakers stressed.

“It’s a sin and a disgrace, the pollution in the river,” said Emelda West.

Rosanne Roussel agreed, saying, “I’m sick of all this pollution. Pleasedeny this permit.”Some speakers called for more strict testing of the Mississippi River around the water intakes. Patricia Melancon told DEQ that to grant thepermit would be undermining the purpose of the parish government, who work to provide clean water and keep its citizens healthy.

St. James Parish President Dale Hymel Jr. was also opposed to thelocation of the proposed facility. Barge companies have damaged the westbank water treatment intake valves, knocking them out at low tide. TheEast Bank intake valve is in the center of the Belmont Fleet property. WithBelmont proposing to run a parking lot for waiting barges, the same damage may be incurred to the east bank valves, Hymel stated Roy Lambert had worked on the river before, and was concerned that the permit allowed for ballast water to be pumped into the river. Whenever atugboat has unwanted waste, it pumps it into the barge ballast tanks, said Lambert. Those tanks could hold anything, he added.Parish Councilman Wilson Malbrough also voiced his opposition to the company and location. Wilson noted that law and pollution monitoring isless stringent on the river side of the levee. Malbrough asked DEQ to listenclosely to the concerns of the citizens of the parish.

Parish Councilman Elwyn Bocz also felt that there was a double standard for regulations. Industry is under strict standards, he said, yet KaiserAluminum was told by the DEQ they couldn’t put bauxite directly into the river. They spent millions of dollars building holding tanks and ponds todispose of bauxite properly, said Bocz. The permit, if granted would allowBelmont Fleet to flush bauxite directly into the river, he added.

No one spoke in favor of Belmont Fleet save for their representative, Wright, who was vilified at times for his representation of another mid- stream cleaning company that tried to move between the Lutcher and Gramercy water intake valves.

There are two or three other barge cleaning companies in the parish, Hymel said. The problem with this one is the many unaswered questions ofwhat the facility will do to the water intake system, he added.

The deadline for public comment on the matter is Dec. 7, at 4:30 p.m.Anyone who desires to submit a written comment may send it to Toni Booker, LDEQ-OES, Permit Division, P.O. Box 82315, Baton Rouge, LA.70884. DEQ will notify anyone who submitted a public comment of theresults of the permit application.

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