Bonfire permit denial ends tradition

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 14, 2013

By Richard Meek
Contributing Writer

LAPLACE – Bonfires along the Mississippi River have been a tradition in the Bourgeois family for generations.
Apparently, many of those bonfires may have been illegal, and now this year the flames have been extinguished before the first match was struck.
Garyville resident Tommy Bourgeois appeared before the St. John the Baptist Parish Council Tuesday night to protest his being denied a permit to build the fire, a tradition that dates back at least two generations in his family.
“My 5-year-old grandson asked us to put the bonfire on the levee,” Bourgeois said, adding he remembers his grandfather building the fire, which is a cherished tradition in the River Parishes. “This year they won’t let us build a fire”
Director of Public Safety Works Jobe Boucvalt said Bourgeois’ site was found to be in violation of an ordinance stating that any bonfire cannot be on property adjacent to a petro chemical or chemical plant and must be at least 2,500 feet from the outer perimeter of a plant. Boucvalt said Bourgeois’ fire would have been well within the 2,500 feet guideline of NALCO Chemical, even if it were measured to the actual plant and not the fence line. Additionally, the Bourgeois property is adjacent to the plant, Boucvalt said.
Bourgeois produced a letter saying NALCO had no objection and said he has witnessed some of the bonfire structures being constructed closer to gas stations than he is to the plant.
“We have permits dating back to 1983,” he added.
Boucvalt admitted he made a mistake last year, his first year in his position, in issuing Bourgeois a permit. But he said the mistake cannot make up for the fact that the fire would be in violation of the code, thus the denial.
Councilman Ranney Wilson, whose district includes Garyville, asked if the permit could be granted this year on the condition that the permit guidelines would be addressed before the 2014 fires.
“I have to be consistent,” Boucvalt said, adding that two others residents were originally denied permits for similar violations, but those families have agree to move their fires to fit the code.
“I made a mistake last year,” he added. “I have to comply with the ordinance. I was well aware this is a change. This is where we are today.”
Parish legal counsel Jeff Perilloux said the council has “no legal right to allow this tonight. (The council has) no right to take action that would overturn the ordinance.
“I would proceed with caution,” he said.
When questioned by council members Boucvalt admitted Bourgeois would have to go “quite a way” to find a suitable location to meet the 2,500-foot stipulation.
Councilman Lucien Gauff said part of the problem is the Bourgeois family has been allowed for years to build the fire even though it appears to be in violation of the code.
“This year, it was being enforced,” he said “That’s why we are where we are.”
On its website, NALCO portrays itself as an Ecolab company and says the company is the “global leader in water, hygiene and energy technologies and services.” Additionally it says the company “provides water treatment, process-focused programs and emissions reduction across a broad range of end users.”
A lengthy discussion regarding NALCO ensued, with some council members saying NALCO is not a chemical plant, therefore the ordinance restrictions should not applicable to the plant Boucvalt, however, said he contacted company officials and was told petroleum products are on site.
He added that the company representative said the plant is classified as a chemical facility.
“Number one, is no bonfire can be built on a site that is adjacent to a chemical facility,” Boucvalt said. “NALCO is extremely hazardous.”
The council took no additional action, and the denial of the permit will be enforced.
In other council news, there appears to be some confusion about money that was originally dedicated to build a park in Lucy. Councilman Art Smith said the money was dedicated in 2002, which preceded him being office, but no park has been constructed.
A clearly frustrated Parish President Natalie Robottom, who said she was answering the same question for the sixth and hopefully final time, said the previous District 1 councilman agreed to shift that money so that it could be used for other projects.
“That’s why it never came to fruition,” she said.
Smith inquired about the possibility of identifying parish funds in the current budget to build a park, but Robottom quickly pointed out there is more than adequate money that will be available in the bond that parish voters recently approved.
Robottom and Gauff each said some Lucy residents have voiced opposition to the park, a point with which Smith did not agree. Gauff suggested a walking path would better serve the small community, which is made up of many elderly residents.
The council also voted to award the contract to construct a farmer’s market on the west bank to Double E Construction Services LLC. The Reserve company submitted the lowest bid of $134,985, with the total construction cost coming in at $139,285.
The cost is being covered by a $99,999 United States Department of Agriculture grant, with the remainder coming from the parish’s economic development fund, Robottom said.
The market will basically consist of a 4,200-square foot metal building with five stalls on each side.
“It’s been a long time coming,” council member Cheryl Millet said. “I’m happy.”
Discussion of the 2014 budget, which must be approved by Dec. 31, was tabled again at the Tuesday meeting. The item was also tabled at the council’s previous meeting.
“There are still issues that I am not comfortable with,” councilman Larry Snyder said. “I would like to put it back on the table.”