INVESTIGATIVE UNIT: Questions raised about new warehouse's state permits
UPDATE: On Friday, March 3 after this story aired, the State Department of Environmental Quality located the permit for this warehouse. It was labeled under an obscure name, and was not filed with the state for the current address. The Investigative Unit will follow up with the State Department of Environmental Quality today (3/6/17).
WALKER- There's more fallout tonight over a massive project that went up in Livingston Parish without following proper procedures.
We've learned tonight, the 142,000 square foot distribution center was built without basic state permits in Walker. Those missing documents are storm water permits, and plans designed to keep the surrounding areas safe.
Did city leaders in Walker break the law when they allowed a massive warehouse to go up without proper oversight? That is the question they aren't answering. The State Department of Environmental Quality is aware of it, and looking into it.
"The city is required to enforce the construction permits, and make sure all the sites that come in for a permit are required to have a construction permit," Diane Baum with Baum Environmental said.
Baum specializes in helping companies starting construction to secure necessary permits. She says the 142,000 distribution center in Walker is not in compliance with state and federal laws.
"If you proceed without a permit, you're in violation from the day that you start," Baum said. "So they were in violation from the day they started and currently still in violation."
Last month, the WBRZ Investigative Unit showed you the massive distribution center was built without a drainage impact study, required in all surrounding parishes. Tonight, the Investigative Unit found there are no storm water permits on file with the state, a requirement for any property on five acres or more. That prompted Baum to file a complaint following our story which states, "there are no DEQ permits or storm water permits and inspections on file. Additionally, there are no erosion controls in place, and no water quality certificates on file for wetlands destruction."
"It's pretty egregious," Baum said. "This is something that is basic, basic knowledge to all construction industries. They know they have to have a stormwater permit."
Because there's no storm water permit or storm water plan filed with the state, the state can file sanctions and impose fines of those involved. In egregious cases those fines can be 36,000 per day, in this case, that could total over $13 million.
When we questioned the Mayor in February about the lack of a drainage impact study, he seemed nonchalant about the entire situation, even though some neighbors south of the development flooded twice last year.
We asked Mayor Jimmy Watson if he was concerned.
"Not really," Watson said in February. "I know of other areas where we've done the same thing with no issues."
Residents like Tom Pettitt say the issues have been far-reaching. He claims he flooded twice because of it, after 26 acres of wetlands were torn down for the warehouse which dumps its runoff into the Hornsby Creek behind his house.
"There's a lot of negligence on their part," Pettitt said. "We want the revenue and the business. But they're not looking out for the residents in this area... south of this development."
Meanwhile, Baum believes the blame can be evenly distributed among anyone tied to the construction planning of the project.
"Basic, basic permits," Baum said. "We're not talking about complicated permits. This is basic stuff. As basic as you file your taxes and pay taxes. You can't say I didn't know I was supposed to pay taxes. Anyone in the construction industry knows this. We've been doing this for years and years and years."
Baum also believes the city of Walker dropped the ball.
We reached out to Walker Mayor Jimmy Watson once again. He never got back to us. The State Department of Environmental Quality confirmed it has no storm water permits on file for this project, but did not say when it would send an inspector out to the site.