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Sprinklers not working properly at closed plant causing red dust to fly

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GONZALES - People living in Ascension Parish have had to deal with red dust flying in the air when the wind picks up. It turns out the company responsible for maintaining the area is in violation.

As residents continue to move into and build in Pelican Crossing in Gonzales, they're surprised to find that their neighbor isn't being very neighborly. After 2 On Your Side started looking into it, the Department of Environmental Quality found that to be the case, too.

Shelita Bailey moved to Pelican Crossing a couple of years ago. She's seen the red dust more than once.

"It really just started with a big cloud in the neighborhood," she said.

That big cloud was red dust is being kicked up into the air by wind. It's coming from a closed aluminum plant next door.

What's left of the LAlumina Burnside Refinery are bauxite mud ponds — non-hazardous waste generated during the processing of aluminum. When the plant closed down, they had a permit to uphold, which included keeping that red dust wet with sprinklers so it doesn't blow around the parish.

Some residents contacted 2 On Your Side last month after they noticed all that red dust landing on their properties.

"I know they say they have sprinkler systems, and I know they have water cannons," said Pelican Crossing resident Jodie Crandall. "Our patio overlooks all of that, and we see what's not running, what's not happening. We don't see them ever running now."

After multiple complaints and questions from 2 On Your Side, DEQ investigated and found that there are violations that need addressing. DEQ said the LAlumina investigated the conditions of the site and found that some of the existing sprinklers are not working properly and need to be repaired. There is also a need for additional sprinklers to prevent the red dust from blowing.

The violations aren't exactly new. According to the state's database, DEQ has known about the sprinkler system issues for at least a year. The red dust complaints go back to 2017.

"We're hopeful that it will clear up, and we don't have to continue going through this over and over again," said Bailey.

Brittany Weiss contacted the LAlumina Burnside Refinery plant superintendent, Aaron Templet. He told 2 On Your Side in March that the red mud area has a sprinkler system that runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In an email, Templet said the sprinkler system helps keep the area wet to help prevent that dusting, according to the permit with DEQ. Templet said Thursday that they're working with DEQ and getting quotes for more sprinklers.

If the sprinkler issues are not cleared up, DEQ says fines could be coming. The state is currently reviewing the company's proposal for the sprinklers and hopes to have it completed within the next two to three weeks.

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