Citizens speak out over burn chamber’s future

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DOYLINE — Frustration fueled the comments of Doyline residents at Monday night’s Camp Minden Citizens Advisory Group in Doyline, which was created two years ago as an advisory board to find solutions to rid Camp Minden of 18 million pounds of M6, an explosive propellant.

The improperly stored and hazardous material was left when Explo Systems Inc. abandoned the property on Louisiana National Guard’s Camp Minden. Explo filed for bankruptcy, leaving many government agencies and residents footing the bills for damage done during an October 2012 explosion.

“We are tired of being guinea pigs,” said Doyline resident Gaytha Bryant. “When the explosion happened, I ended up having to have repairs done to my house- twice. And ended up losing it. I had so many bills and lost wages because of this. Where is my recourse? Where is my check for damages? Where was ATF and OSHA? We do not need another Explo.”

The solution to destroy the hazardous waste, including 200 thousand pounds of Clean Burning Igniter was found when ESI Inc. was awarded a contract to dispose of the waste with an incinerator or burn chamber, which was designed to be as environmentally friendly as possible over an idea to burn the material in an open pit- an idea that sparked public outcry leading to the creation of CAG.

Now, many CAG members and residents are upset that ESI has begun discussions continuing operations at Camp Minden after the M6 disposal project is complete. While the vast majority opposed to ESI’s desires to continue business at Camp Minden applauded the project and the efforts of Jason Poe, ESI Vice. President, they are bewildered as to why the idea is being discussed. CAG members reference a stipulation in the contract, which states after the completion of the M6 cleanup project that ESI is to dismantle and remove all equipment and operations from the site.

Poe acknowledged the contract and said that was the intention of ESI.

“What we found was this issue created the most effective and environmentally friendly hazardous waste destroying method in the world,” Poe said. “That is not an exaggeration. The emissions from our stack come out cleaner than the air around it.”

The EPA has been monitoring the superfund site project and their tests have not yielded any negative result on the environment.

“I give tours all the time, to other businesses, to elected officials – anyone who wants to see our operation, because we want to be transparent and have tried very hard to have an open line of communication,” Poe said. “When the tours wrap up, people inevitably ask about emissions and environmental impact, when we will have the project complete, and what will happen to the chamber when we are done.

“When they learn the plan is to dismantle and cease operations, conversations about other applications and discussions about how to preserve the equipment and the jobs here inevitably are had,” he continued. “And that’s why we are here, bringing this discussion to CAG, trying to be transparent about what we have been thinking.”

Senator Ryan Gatti and Representative Gene Reynolds spoke to the CAG group saying they understand and empathize with community members.
“This is near and dear to my heart because I grew up on a superfund site,” Gatti said. “As a lawyer, I’ve been chasing Explo through the court system and as a Senator I was initially very skeptical that ESI could hit the lowest standard with this project.

“People here are frightened and it will be along time before people here trust again,” he continued. “But this CAG has changed the way we address issues. It is hard to get people on the same page, but this group was vigilant in researching and finding a solution- the best solution in the world right now. I trust this group will continue to research and make the best decisions.”

CAG member Rick Broussard agreed with Gatti, but said the CAG was not intended to be a permanent oversight authority.

“Trust is what got us into this mess,” Broussard said. “Explo may have got caught- but there were other people who knew this material was out there.

“It’s nice for people to brag about the work the CAG started two years ago, but over the past year and half participation has gone down. We can hardly get a quorum and meetings have been empty – until tonight,” he continued. “What will happen to CAG? Who will hold the agencies involved years from now – DEQ? The AFT? No. These agencies do not effectively hold companies responsible and CAG can’t. Once the M6 is gone, CAG is gone, and ESI should be gone too.”

Representative Gene Reynolds said the process of community input and concerned citizens directing desired outcome begins again if ESI attempts to continue at Camp Minden.

Because of the superfund status of the site, ESI’s contract was expedited without obtaining permits. Should ESI desire to continue operations, their next step would be to file for permits.

“I will stand by what the people I represent want,” Reynolds said. “The process starts over if they apply for permits. We will have to come back and go through the process and I don’t see why we can’t find another successful ending should that happen. I am confident we can do the same thing again.”
Several ESI employees attended the meeting and said they would not work at the site if they felt it was unsafe.

“This operation is a good thing,” said Darryl Gill. “I have the utmost respect for our managers and the owners. Things are good out there. I can understand people being afraid, because of what has happened in the past. But I’m a Doyline resident too and I’m telling you- this company cares about us and is not going to put us in harms way. So when you’re talking about being afraid because someone else did you wrong, try and remember that’s food taken off my table if ESI leaves.”

While employees at the meeting stated they wish to keep their jobs with ESI, they did acknowledge they were told upon hiring the jobs would be temporary due to the contract stipulation.

“But now that this has proven to be so effective and safe… Now that we have Louisiana company that cares about families and is trying to do its best to be transparent, why can’t we continue to work with them to thrive and put our area on the map for something great?” another employee said to CAG.

At this time, ESI does not have any contracts or discussions with companies regarding other applications for the burn chamber.

“We’ve been focused on this emergency response job,” Poe said. “We have not yet put any hours into research or development for other applications. We have a few ideas, but we felt like it was important to begin communicating and continuing to be transparent first.”

Poe said any material brought to Camp Minden would meet current guidelines and laws for transporting hazardous or toxic waste.

“Things we would be transporting are already on the road ways,” he said. “The reason the chamber had to be brought here, was because the M6 was to unstable to be transported out. Any materials we bring in would be stable and would be stored and handled properly.

“Our site would continue to be transparent because I care about my employees, I care about this community,” he continued. “This is my state too and I have kids just like many of you. I wouldn’t do anything that would put someone’s child or the families in this community or my employees at risk. And it is honestly an insult to me that anyone would insinuate otherwise.”

CAG member Rebecca Sherrard said she witnessed employees not wearing gloves and respirators while viewing a televised report filmed at ESI.

“I’ve met with former Explo workers who had health issues because of the M6,” she said. “And it worries me for the health of people who work near hazardous materials. I’ve worked at Camp Minden, my father worked at Camp Minden and it is so important that safety for the employees be taken very, very seriously.”
ESI has more than 200 days without reportable incidences. Only one workplace accident has occurred, when an employee cut his hand while cutting a string from around a box.

More than 8.5 million pounds of M6 and all CBI has been destroyed. The project is halfway complete, with expectations that it all material will be destroyed by May 2017.

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