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Webster Parish Police Jury addresses air quality concerns

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District 8 Webster Parish Police Juror Nick Cox, center, explained he asked for a special meeting to clear up myths and confusion regarding the contained burn chamber at Camp Minden. The jury is discussing hiring an independent company to test the air quality around the burn chamber. Jurors Vera Davison, District 10, left, and Jerri Lee, District 9, right, listen during the meeting.

The Webster Parish Police Jury is looking into hiring an independent company to test the air quality at the burn chamber site at Camp Minden.

After much discussion, Juror Jerri Lee, District 9, moved to “go forward with the feasibility of a study by an independent testing firm with the approval of all pertinent agencies and with legal review.” District 8 Juror Nick Cox seconded, and the jury unanimously approved.

Jury President Jim Bonsall said they must first find out if it is legal to do such a test, and then they will put together an advisory committee to move forward.

“Just because we want to do it and John Madden wants to pay for it doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen,” he said.
The committee would then come forward with its recommendation to the jury.

Bonsall said the meeting came about because LSU-S Professor of Chemistry Dr. Brian Salvatore raised concerns that Explosive Service International, the contractor disposing of the M6 propellant at Camp Minden, might be covering up data in regards to two chemicals: benzene and toluene. Both are side products from the thermal treatment of M6.

John Madden contacted the jury about hiring an independent contractor to test the air quality from the stack emissions connected to the contained burn chamber. Madden said he would reimburse the jury for the cost of the test.

“There is more to doing this than just saying we’re going to do this test,” Bonsall said. “Personally, I think there’s always going to be some question about what’s going into the air. I would be really disappointed if someone so important to this process put out bad information. For me, to try to find out if the testing is correct is important.”

District 12 Juror Dustin Moseley said he isn’t against the test; however, it will not change his stance against the burn chamber.

“They’ve already said that in the future they would be burning a lot of different things besides M6,” he said. “I think it would give us peace of mind on what’s been done, but I don’t think it’s going to give us any assurances on future burning.”

Cox said there is mistrust and confusion among citizens.

“If we go forth with this testing, don’t be surprised if it’s high security,” he said. “Don’t be surprised if we try to keep this thing between the police jurors and not release anything until after the testing is done. We want to be sure that this is done unbiased.”

Jenny Reynolds, director of the Webster Parish Office of Homeland Security, said the points of contention are some citizens don’t trust the data and some say it is illegal for the burn chamber to stay, citing House Concurrent Resolution 172.

HCR 172 directs the Louisiana Military Department not to accept any more waste explosives for demilitarization or disposal at Camp Minden “in order to prevent a similar occurrence and risk from being repeated in the future.”

The resolution is nonbinding, which means it does not have the effect of law as would an act passed into law.

“It’s the Legislature’s means of issuing regulations and decisions to state agencies,” she said. “Because it’s specific to the LMD, this is a ‘law,’ if you will, that they have to adhere to.”

Another issue stems from the redaction of data in the comprehensive performance test conducted by ESI, she said. Members of the Camp Minden Citizens Advisory Group felt they weren’t getting enough information to make “complete determinations.”

Cox said time is of the essence, hence the reason for the meeting.

ESI has made their stance clear in that they want to amend the contract with LMD so the burn chamber can stay at Camp Minden. Madden approached the jury in February to discuss a proposal to go into business with ESI and add a rotary kiln to demilitarize and dispose of small munitions. The Maddens would share 40 percent ownership with ESI if the chamber stays.

More discussion will take place in the Camp Minden Steering Committee meeting on March 7.