Barging in On Destrehan
Pollution concerns scare residents away from barge expansion
|Shonna Riggs/Herald Guide|
More barges could soon creep into the Destrehan area if the Corps allows Magnolia Fleet Barge Company to expand.
Residents are against increasing that number because they believe that additional barges will create noise pollution, air pollution and create creeping commercialization and industrialization into the historic Destrehan area.
David Weidner, owner and spokesman for Magnolia Fleet, says that the additional barges will have very little impact on the community.
“What we're doing is not even going to be noticed,” he said. “Yes, we're adding additional barges to keep things stationary compared to tying our barges to the buoy structures we have now, but that's the only change and it will occur on the water itself.”
Weidner says he's currently permitted for 63 barges and the new expansion would allow him to increase that number to 77.
“It's not that we're against new development,” Attorney Alfred Barerra, an Ormond resident, said. “But they shouldn't be allowed to expand without a public hearing.”
Weidner says that the quality of life won't change for the residents living in Ormond because none of the changes he's implementing will occur on the land.
However, some residents have complained that a ramp was constructed over the levee by the company without permission from anyone.
Steve Wilson, president of the Pontchartrain Levee District, says Weidner had a permit to build the ramp.
“He did have a permit to build a ramp,” Wilson said. "What we realized once the ramp was built was that he was doing other things, like clearing trees and laying down limestone for a road. We put the cease and desist order in place, which stops someone in violation of a permit from continuing certain activity.”
Wilson says Weidner owns the land underneath the levee along the East Bank. The Pontchartrain Levee District has jurisdiction over the levee itself and the footprint of the levee on the River Road side. Because of that, Weidner has to get their permission to make any changes.
“Their barge operation started in the early ‘90s,” Wilson said. “You couldn't tell until a year ago that the barges were there because of the trees. He has to get permission from the Pontchartrain Levee District, and several other governing bodies, before he can do anything.”
Wilson says he met with Weidner in March. The parish's Planning and Zoning Department, the Louisiana Department of Transportation, and representatives from the Corps and the Coast Guard were also on hand at the meeting.
“The public notice issued July 14 by the Corps indicates that Mr. Wiedner has met the criteria of the Coast Guard and the Corps so far. The Corps now wants public input about any safety concern, noise, etcetera," Wilson said. "Mr. Widener has told me that he will be more than happy to host a town hall meeting and to meet with the Parish Council.”
Wilson says Wiedner will try to answer questions and eliminate resident concerns.
The expansion would allow 14 stationary barges, which would help to stabilize the fleet.
“The barge fleet that sits out there now is a floating fleet," Wilson said. “It has the ability to come off with the tides.”
Parish President V. J. St. Pierre and Councilwoman-at-large Carolyn Schexnaydre are working to get public input, a council resolution and involvement from the state representatives and government officials on this issue.
“I wrote letters and made phone calls yesterday (July 24) to the Corps and the Environmental Protection Agency regarding the expansion,” St. Pierre said. “I am asking that a public hearing be held on this before any permits are issued. Citizens should be sure to write or call the EPA and Corps to voice their objections and concerns.”
There's a rush to get a public hearing so that the community will get a chance to be heard before the issue is brought in front of the council.
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