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Water discharge permit focus of DEQ public hearing

BY ELONA WESTON
LEESVILLE -- Around 25 people attended a Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) public hearing on May 20 that centered on a draft water discharge permit application filed by local company, Westin Services LLC.

Westin Services, on Ida Stephens Road in Vernon Parish, is a waste disposal and processing business. The company's water discharge permit is up for renewal.

"The principal discharge from this  source is made into an unnamed drainage ditch, thence into Bayou Castor, waters of the state classified for primary contact recreation, secondary contact recreation, and propagation of fish and wildlife. Under the SIC Code 4952, the applicant proposes to discharge treated wastewater generated from the processing of sewage sludge received from residential, commercial and military base customers," the public notice states.
 
"During the preparation of this permit, it has been determined that this discharge will have no adverse impact on the existing uses of the receiving waterbody. As with any discharge, however, some change in existing water quality may occur," it continues.

Nearby property owners, James and Tonya McKee, have concerns about the discharge from the company's existing oxidation ponds. They voiced them during the hearing.

"We continue to be directly -- and adversely -- affected by these oxidation ponds and runoff," James McKee said.

The McKees claim the discharge has led to a pine beetle infestation that has killed some of the timber on the portion of property closest to Westin. Freddy Dahliem, a forester who helps manage the McKees' timber, spoke at the hearing and said the ground is "soaked" where the timber is located.

"Pine beetles may have helped the trees to die, but they didn't cause the trees to die," Dahliem said.

The permit application says the discharge from Westin is made into an unnamed ditch and then into nearby Bayou Castor, but James McKee maintains there is no "unnamed ditch." He said the runoff goes directly into Bayou Castor after traveling a half mile on his property.

McKee also claims an oxidation pond is located 111 feet from his property line. He said state law mandates a 200-foot buffer.

However, Rupert White, owner of Westin Services, said his company has only had one discharge in five years. He maintains the McKees' property is in a flood zone and that could have led to ground saturation outlined by the McKees regarding their reported timber damage.

White said the McKees filed a complaint over the discharge and it was investigated by DEQ in March. He said officials found nothing.

"And when it was said and done, DEQ's comments were his (McKee's) problem is not caused by these ponds," White said.

White said the state law governing the buffer zone applies to sewer sludge facility -- not an oxidation pond.

Several residents, in addition to the McKees, last week also expressed concern about the company's filing of a permit to compost human waste for fertilizer. DEQ officials told the West Central News Center that the permit is handled under a separate, "biosolids permit."

White said the application has been several years in the making and the project is "way down the road" and is a "completely different issue."

"It's a year -- a year and a half off from having a public hearing on it," White said.

White said Westin has been in business for nearly 30 years. He said he works closely with DEQ to make sure his company is in compliance with state law.

"And when we have a problem, we fix it right away," he said.

The public comment period on the draft water discharge permit application was extended to June 26. It had been set for May 27. The McKees, through their attorney, requested the extension and DEQ officials granted it.

See the original public notice HERE.
Filed Under :
Topics : Environment
Location : Vernon Parish
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