Levee trail re-design addresses bonfire conflicts: Council backs chloroprene monitoring in letter to EPA

Published 10:55 am Saturday, February 29, 2020

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GARYVILLE – Elevated river levels are delaying construction and buying time for a re-design of a section of the Mississippi River Trail in Garyville to avoid future conflict with Christmas bonfires.

During the Feb. 26 Parish Council meeting in LaPlace, Council members voted seven in favor, two absent, to execute a task order with Meyer Engineers for the partial re-design. The $40,864 expense is being funded through the parish recreation budget, according to Capital Projects Administrator Daron Cooper.

St. John the Baptist Parish officials celebrated the start of Phase IV of the Mississippi River Trail Project with a groundbreaking ceremony at the end of 2019, just before the new administration took office. This is the final phase on the East Bank of the parish, extending the asphalt path along the levee to the St. James Parish line.

Phase III of the project, completed in 2017, brought the trail to West 10th Street in Reserve.

The total construction cost was pinpointed at approximately $2.3 million at the time, with 80 percent of the project funding secured through the Federal Highway Administration.

Parish President Jaclyn Hotard said the project engineer will return to the Parish Council with an updated project cost once the redesign work is complete.

“We have a little window of opportunity to address this because the river levels are high right now, so we’re prevented from doing any work on the river,” she said. “We don’t want to prohibit any bonfires, especially the larger ones that we have had.”

The uniquely crafted, large-scale Blood, Sweat and Bonfires creations drew tourists from across the world to St. John the Baptist Parish in 2019.

When the groundbreaking was announced at the end of 2019, it drew the ire of some community members who worried the trail would take away the opportunity to participate in the Christmas bonfire tradition. During this week’s Parish Council meeting, Cooper confirmed the re-designed section of the trail will come down toward the base of the levee along Highway 44 before looping back to the top to continue toward the St. James Parish line.

The task order involves applying for permit modifications through the Army Corps of Engineers and the Pontchartrain Levee District.

In other St. John Parish Council news, Council members passed a resolution in support of the Environmental Protection Agency continuing the current air-monitoring plan of chloroprene at the LaPlace Denka Performance Elastomer facility.

According to the resolution read at the meeting, the EPA’s current monitoring system of ambient chloroprene emissions is sufficient to inform the community of the concentrations of chloroprene they are exposed to. The current approach involves the weekly collection of air samples at six sites near the Denka plant.

During the Feb. 11 Parish Council meeting, David Gray of the Environmental Protection Agency was met by a crowd of concerned citizens as he discussed a new air monitoring system that would monitor for short term elevations or spikes using a photo ionization detector.

Unlike the current system, it would not provide continuous air monitoring. The new system would not focus solely on chloroprene, but would instead monitor for mixtures of volatile chemicals in the air.

In a resolution backed by the Concerned Citizens of St. John, there was a plea for the EPA to reconsider switching air monitoring methods.

A motion to send the resolution to EPA officials was easily approved by the Council. However, Councilman Lennix Madere said writing to officials on behalf of the community does not guarantee results.

“Understand that this decision (falls) strictly on the EPA, but we definitely are sending a letter to the EPA in support of monitoring the chloroprene at the DuPont/Denka facility,” Madere said.