Wastewater ditch causes St. Charles stink

Published 11:45 pm Friday, June 6, 2014

By Richard Meek

LULING — Residents living near St. Gertrude Catholic Church in Des Allemands are unlikely to experience relief anytime soon from a pungent aroma permeating their neighborhood.

All agree the stench is being emitted from a ditch filled with wastewater from a nearby crab factory, which at least one St. Charles Parish councilman claims should have never been allowed to be built in its current location, but there is little agreement on the solution.

The controversy raised a stink of its own during the St. Charles Parish Council meeting Tuesday, creating moments of uneasiness involving councilman Paul Hogan and Parish President V.J. St. Pierre. Sparking the discussion was a proposed ordinance by Hogan and Carol Schexnaydre directing St. Pierre to secure servitudes so as to complete subsurface drainage along the western side of the church from the Louisiana Highway 631 Spur to the Grand Marais.

However, parish attorney Sunny Vial said the ordinance was “absolutely illegal” because it “directed” the president to take a course of action. He said the legislative branch cannot order the executive branch on what to do.

St. Pierre said even if approved, the ordinance is unconstitutional so “who would enforce it?”

A lengthy discussion followed, with public works director Sam Scholle maintaining subsurface drainage would only exacerbate the odor. He said the problem appears to be coming from wastewater originating at the factory in an area where the crabs are apparently washed. He said the water appears to be draining from the factory into a nearby ditch, in turn creating bacteria that is the odorous culprit

He said public works crews are taking bacteria samples and having them sent off for analysis in the hope of developing a solution. He said final results might not be received for up to six weeks.

“(Installing the subsurface drainage) would not do anything to improve this,” Scholle said. “We are sampling (what’s in the ditch) and deciding what to do about it.”

On several occasions Hogan accused St. Pierre of ignoring the needs of the residents in that area.

“This has been going on for four years,” Hogan said. “We’ve been begging to do something for four years. The parish president has done nothing.”

He also said what he perceives as St. Pierre’s “refusing to solve the problem” a “disgrace.”

Hogan added the problem is rooted in a vote by the previous council to allow industrial zoning in a residential neighborhood.

St. Pierre said in the past four years he has not had one call regarding the problem, but Hogan, Julia Fisher-Perrier and councilman Jarvis Lewis said they had received several calls.

“It’s a horrendous smell,” Lewis said.

St. Pierre disputed Hogan’s claims, saying “to say I am doing nothing is incorrect.”

Scholle said the water in the ditch was septic and posed a health hazard to the public.

“There are children at that church,” he said. “There are a lot of ways it can be solved. We will have to work with the owner (of the crab factory).”

Hogan pulled the ordinance, at least temporarily.

In other action, the council denied a request by Stacey Williams to change the zoning at a location in the Booker T. Washington subdivision from R1 to C3 so she could open a bar. Previously, a bar has been located in the building but has been closed for more than six months, which made it nonconforming, thus requiring another variance.

Greg Williams appeared before the council representing Meyer and said neighbors were “70 to 1” in favor of the bar. However, St. Pierre and other council members disagreed with Meyer’s claims based on own community input.

Councilman Terrell Wilson said “the neighborhood was doing well without that bar. When the bar went away, (complaint) calls stopped coming. I’ve heard about as much as I want to hear about Black’s Corner Bar.”

“I am going to hold to my position and will not support rezoning,” he said.

The council voted unanimously to deny the variance.