Nothing sweet about smell around refinery

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 4, 2012



CONVENT – Council members in St. James Parish spent part of Wednesday’s meeting discussing a handful of resident complaints over foul smells in the Gramercy area near the Louisiana Sugar Refinery.

Emergency Preparedness Director Eric Deroche told the council the parish’s Emergency Operations Center was notified of the smells some time around the middle of December. He said that a discharge of sugary water ended up in the refinery’s hot water ditch and into drainage canals along Airline Highway and Louisiana 641. The discharge produced a foamy residue that sat atop the surface of water. As the sugar broke down, the smells emanated.

“The release was not a hazard but more of a nuisance,” Deroche said. “There were several complaints from residents and also some complaints from the St. James Welcome Center.”

Deroche said the incident in December was the second such discharge from the refinery. He said a similar incident occurred around the same time in 2010. He said both times, the state Department of Environmental Quality was called out to investigate the problem and monitor cleanup of the water and residue.

“The refinery admitted guilt and started the cleaning process,” Deroche said. “We saw vacuum trucks out sucking up the water.”

Deroche said the EOC notified the DEQ this week, and the parish is now waiting on a response regarding the result of the investigation.

DEQ spokesperson Jean Kelly said the agency had issued a consolidated compliance order and notice of potential penalty to LSR on Dec. 22 as a result of the discharges. The compliance order revealed a large area of the surface drainage ditches extending from Airline Highway southward to the east side of the refinery was covered with the whitish foam.

An inspection conducted Dec. 19 showed the refinery allowed the unauthorized discharge of process wastewater into the canal through an outfall drain on the refinery grounds.

Kelly said representatives from the refinery received the notice and sent a response. The refinery also requested a hearing on the compliance order, which has not been scheduled. She said the refinery could face penalties as a result of the incidents.

Councilman Ralph Patin invited representatives from LSR to attend Wednesday’s meeting to discuss the incidents. He said plant supervisor Todd Foutch had agreed to attend, but an emergency at the plant caused him to cancel. The council put Foutch back on the agenda for its next meeting in Vacherie.

In other action, the council elected to table a resolution appointing Michelle Nailor Octave as the parish’s Director of Human Resources. Council members said they wanted more time to discuss the position and candidates who interviewed. Parish President Timmy Roussel released a statement Thursday saying the position would remain vacant as discussions continue.

“This position is one that must be filled with the right candidate and serve as the perfect fit for members of the existing staff to effectively serve the community,” Roussel said. “My appointee, Michelle Nailor-Octave, is the ideal person to lead this department. Michelle will bring a fresh approach and new ideas to the policies and procedures already in place. I look forward to working with my fellow councilmen to arrive at the best solution and anticipate all matters involving the selection process to be clarified in a timely manner.”