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Ascension Parish plans to cover red dust with dirt, waiting on state approval

3 months 3 weeks 4 days ago Wednesday, February 28 2024 Feb 28, 2024 February 28, 2024 5:29 PM February 28, 2024 in News
Source: WBRZ

GONZALES - It was windy on Tuesday. That, coupled with the drought conditions, caused red dust to fly in parts of Ascension Parish.

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The dust comes from a closed aluminum plant that people have been complaining about for years, but all parties involved say they have been working on a plan since October to make changes. Several parties involved tell 2 On Your Side it's waiting on a signature from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.

Armando Keller lives about a quarter mile away from the dust site and says when the wind blows in their direction, the sky turns an orange-red color.

"You can taste it in your throat," Keller said.

It's like a cloud moving through Gonzales.

"It makes it kind of difficult to breathe and it gets all over everything," he said.

When the dust settles it gets on everything - vehicles, furniture, patios, and in pools.

"It just causes a problem for everyone in the area," Keller said.

The red dust is bauxite, the product left over from processing aluminum. There are several bauxite mud ponds on an elevated area in Gonzales off of Highway 22 that is supposed to be mitigated with sprinklers.

This story has been covered by 2 On Your Side since 2019. Complaints about the dust are logged by DEQ since 2017. LAlumina once said that the sprinklers run 24/7 to keep the dust wet, but 2 On Your Side later found out that wasn't the case and many sprinklers were broken. Following questions by WBRZ, DEQ investigated and ordered LAlumina to install dozens of new sprinklers. The job was completed but those sprinklers aren't getting the job done.

On Wednesday, 2 On Your Side learned from LAlumina spokesperson Aaron Templet that the sprinklers are not operational. The pipe carrying water to the area is corroded with scale and needs to be replaced. It's an expense that could cost about $400,000 and not one the company is interested in taking on.

"We know that the plants in this area are required to maintain their areas and if they were doing what they were supposed to be doing we wouldn't have this issue, somebody's got to be accountable for it," Keller said.

There has been so much trouble and lack of control with the dust that the parish has decided to get involved. In October, the parish met with state leaders and LAlumina about a plan to move dirt from dug retention ponds into the bauxite area. There is enough dirt to cover the space and future plans include planting grass.

The project would use funds set aside by LAlumina for mitigation purposes. The LAlumina representative says there is about $4.6 million in a fund to cover the costs. The parish says it's ready to get to work. The dirt is available and the equipment and manpower is standing by.

The parish says the job can't happen and the funds can't be released without the state's approval.

"Once the Cooperative Endeavor Agreement is signed by LAumina, parish government, and DEQ then we are ready to go to work," said Ascension Governmental Affairs Director James LeBlanc.

Keller says it's about time.

"Whether it's got to be approved by the city, the state, the parish - whatever - somebody has to step in and make something happen," Keller said.

At one time, LAlumina was working with a company called Elementus to move the bauxite by-product out of the area, but the plan to haul in dirt and cover the dust is much faster.

On Wednesday, 2 On Your Side asked LDEQ about the hold-up and why it hadn't signed the Cooperative Endeavor Agreement. An answer was not provided at the time this story aired.

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