Land swap to give landfill longer life – Council expected to approve proposal
Times-Picayune, The (New Orleans, LA) – Tuesday, December 10, 2002
Author: Manuel Torres West Bank bureau
A private West Bank developer and Jefferson Parish officials have negotiated the exchange of equally sized plots of land near Waggaman, in a deal they said would expand the capacity of the parish landfill and the private River Birch Landfill, and would help the parish keep residents’ garbage disposal rates low.
River Birch co-owner Jim Ward and Parish President Tim Coulon are calling the land swap “a win-win situation” as it goes for Parish Council approval Wednesday. Most council members said Monday they would vote in favor of the proposal because it’s expected to extend the capacity of the parish-owned landfill by 10 years or more.
“It’s a good deal,” Coulon said.
Representatives of Waggaman neighborhoods were not available for comment Monday.
But Councilman Donald Jones, whose district includes Waggaman and the two landfills, said he expects no controversy over a plan that would affect only land next to the landfills. He also said that any expansion of the landfills would need a state environmental permit, a process that involves further studies and public hearings.
“Those tracts are eligible only for landfills because of their location. This land swap will simply make these landfills more contiguous,” said Jones, who last year requested a zoning study of the area. Results of the study are expected next year.
The land deal, however, could launch a debate over whether the Jefferson landfill should accept more trash from other parishes, a controversial option some officials said could be considered in coming years to raise money for mounting public needs.
The council is scheduled to hold a hearing on the land swap before voting on it. Jim Ward is the brother of Councilman T.J. “Butch” Ward, who said he will abstain from voting on the land proposal.
Under the plan, Jim Ward and the parish would exchange two 78-acre lots next to the landfills in an area roughly bounded by U.S. 90, Live Oak Boulevard and South Kenner Road.
Jim Ward said he approached parish officials with the proposal about eight months ago, after he purchased a strip of land along the southern edge of the 620-acre Jefferson Parish Sanitary Landfill. The parish landfill stands between those lots and the 324-acre River Birch Landfill. Meanwhile, an old parish sludge pit, holding the muck-like residue from sewerage plants, is in the eastern side of River Birch .
“It’s a perfect match,” Jim Ward said. “We can use their old sludge pit to expand River Birch , and they can use our lot to extend the parish landfill.”
Appraiser Wayne Sandoz and Associates, who was chosen by the parish, valued the parish sludge pit at $747,000, and Ward’s lot at $786,000. The parish would not pay the difference in value if the land exchange is approved. Parish officials said they also completed an environmental assessment of Jim Ward’s plot and found no signs of contamination.
By contrast, Jim Ward and parish officials said the parish would rid itself of the potential liabilities involved with land the parish used to deposit sludge until 1986. The state has required the parish to fence the pit and install monitoring wells. Ward will dig 20 feet deep, remove the sludge and then put it in the River Birch site before he can use the land.
The biggest gains for both sides would come by expanding the landfills. Because of the garbage’s weight, landfills can pile trash higher if they extend their width. By adding the new lot, the parish landfill would gain room for an additional 5 million tons of garbage, enough to add another decade to its expected life of 40 years. The landfill takes in an average of 2,000 tons of trash a day.
Jim Ward would consolidate the sludge pit with two other lots he owns around it to total 175 new acres for River Birch , extending its expected life from 17 years to 43. His landfill handles an average of 3,000 tons of garbage daily.
The extra capacity, parish officials said, will help Jefferson residents keep one of the lowest garbage rates in the region. Because the parish owns its own landfill, residents pay only $16.76 per ton to dispose of their trash. By contrast, New Orleans, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, St. Bernard and Lafourche parishes pay River Birch Landfill $28 per ton.
“There are communities out there that don’t have anywhere to put their trash and are looking at paying $100 a ton to incinerate it,” Coulon said. “This landfill is one of the reasons for our good rates.”
More room, more trash?
But the extra room, some worry, could also lead parish officials to consider accepting more trash from outside Jefferson to raise money for other needs, such as massive sewerage repairs. In 1996 the Parish Council authorized accepting 300 tons in industrial waste a day to pay for improvements to the landfill instead of charging residents through garbage fees. Those tons generate about $800,000 a year.
Several parish officials, including Coulon and Jones, said the landfill could be an option to generate revenue, though they said that’s probably a decision a new council and parish president, who will be elected next year, will have to make.
But other council members said they would oppose taking more trash from outside Jefferson.
“I would fight that with every possible resource I have,” said Councilman Lloyd Giardina, adding that accepting waste from other areas could reduce the expected life of the landfill, risking higher rates for Jefferson residents in the long run.
“It’s an idea that has been talked about, but down the road you’re going to pay,” he said.
The council’s Wednesday meeting starts at 10 a.m. in the Parish Council chambers at the Gretna Courthouse, 200 Derbigny St.
This Times Picayune story was reprinted with permission.