West Bank permit for levee dirt approved

Published 10:21 am Saturday, March 11, 2023

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LAPLACE—A proposal to allow a company to dig a dirt pit in the Wallace area on the West Bank was narrowly approved by the St. John the Baptist Parish Council on Feb. 28, although it required two votes and a reversal by one council member for approval.

Only four council members initially voted to approve the project with two objecting and two abstaining. Councilman Michael Wright was not in attendance, so with four votes the measure did not gain a majority and appeared deemed for failure.

However, Councilwomen Tonia Schnyder, who initially abstained, told Council Chairman Thomas Malik she had voted in error and when Malik called for a second vote, she flipped to approval, earning the required majority.

The resolution granted D. Hayes Enterprises LLC a permit to dig on property located in the Formosa Subdivision in Wallace. The company is planning to dig a 214,5-acre dirt borrow pit on Greenfield Louisiana LLC’s industrial site.

A resolution from the council was required because the pit is more than five acres.

Company owners are hoping to help supply dirt to contractors who are working on the West Shore Levee Project.

But several residents voiced their opposition, with Descendants Project co-founder Joy Banner perhaps the most vocal. Similar to the concerns she voiced to the council in the fall, Banner said the project would pose flooding and draining problems to West Bank residents.

Descendants Project attorney Pam Spees reminded council members that the property is part of the Greenfield site, which is the subject of ongoing litigation that also involves the parish. She raised the possibility that if the suit is successful, the land in question could be rezoned back to residential.

Proponents were equally as vocal in defending the pit, which has been in existence since 2011, although it was closed for a period of time. Supporters also pointed out on several occasions that D. Hayes was only seeking renewal of the original permit.

Former St. John Assessor Whitney Joseph said the pit has been there for nearly 15 years, and he could not understand why anyone would be opposed.

“If you vote against this you are voting against the people of St. John Parish,” he said. “All the council has to do is give them a permit.”

He called the pit a revenue opportunity that will benefit the parish.

  1. Hayes co-owner Michelle Davis of Atlanta said the pit has been approved and certified by the U.S. Army of Corps of Engineers, meaning the company is on an eligible list of providers contractors can use. She stressed the company cannot contract with the Corps, only the contractors involved with building the levee.

She said dirt from the original pit was used to help build levees around two parish subdivisions, including Foxwood.

Council Lennix Madere, addressing concerns that were presented, said he does not believe the pit will increase flooding, create drainage issues, negatively affect air quality in the area and reduce property values.

“I see more dust in the air from the sugar cane fields,” he said.

Malik said he visited residents in the area who related to him their strong opposition, which convinced him to vote against the resolution.

Madere, Tammy Houston, Kurt Becnel, Tyra Duhe-Griffin and ultimately Schnyder voted in favor of the permit. Malik and Warren Torres voted against and Robert Arcuri abstained.