Concerned and passionate members of Community Action Group have spoken at recent public meetings, including the November Minden City Council and Webster Parish Police Jury meetings, against an idea suggesting a burn chamber continue to operate outside of the contractual agreement.
“We will not stand for it, we do not want the chamber here,” Rebecca Sherrard said. “While the company has been very transparent and done an excellent job with this project, our community does not want to continue to be put at risk by the chamber operating at Camp Minden.”
ESI was awarded the contract to dispose of millions of pounds of M6, an explosive propellant that was left improperly stored by Explo Systems Inc. after a 2012 explosion. The contract included a stipulation that after all materials at Louisiana National Guard’s Camp Minden were destroyed, ESI would cease operations.
To date, more than 8,187,600 pounds of material have been destroyed and ESI vice president Jason Poe said the company is on target for the project to be complete in May 2017.
“I can understand that community members and families have had their lives disrupted by things that have happened in the past,” Poe said. “But ESI does not operate like Explo and it is of utmost importance to us that communication, transparency and the quality of work we do continue to exceed expectations and set industry standards.”
Poe said ESI is often contacted by businesses and authorities around the world for advice and to see how the operation at Camp Minden works.
“The burn chamber is setting the pace in environmental destruction of materials,” he said. “As a Louisiana native and resident, it’s a wonderful thing to be leading the pack on something, instead of coming in at the bottom. I would love for Louisiana to continue to be on the map for successfully eliminating materials in an environmentally friendly way.”
CAG member Rick Broussard spoke to the Minden City Council and said having more material brought into the area for disposal was unacceptable.
“This was built for M6 and if we allow them to continue, where will the over sight be? What might be brought in? How can we be sure it will continue to be conscious of the environment?” Broussard said.
Noting materials such as air bags and fireworks, Poe explained there are a number of applications for the burn chamber but none would include unstable materials.
“It is illegal to transport unstable materials, that is why the M6 was stuck at Camp Minden,” he said. “Anything brought in would have to be stable for transportation- things that are already on our highways and rail everyday.
“More research and development needs to be done, and I want everyone to feel like we can talk about this and educate one another,” Poe continued. “What I’m looking at is air quality tests from our stack that come back two times cleaner than the air around it. Other applications for the chamber should be explored before we cast aside an opportunity for this area.”
Poe said he has spoken with approximately 30 workers at ESI from Webster and Bossier Parishes.
“They want to keep their jobs,” Poe said. “In addition to the jobs, ESI has put in about 5 million dollars of economic investment into the area. We have our lunches catered by a Webster Parish business, we use local contractors, plumbers, electricians… we are investing in the community because that’s the kind of people we are.”
Poe said he has not formally made any request of any officials to alter the existing contract.
“But I have spoken with my employees and others so the conversations can begin,” he said. “I try my best to be available and want to discuss this. I do not want to take anyone by surprise.”
Police juror Dustin Moseley, for district 12 which includes the Doyline area, said he has had conversations regarding the idea of ESI staying at Camp Minden.
“This is a great company, with great people. I can only sing their praises about how transparent they have been and what a great job they have done,” Moseley said. “But as a resident who’s had his life disrupted by issues surrounding this, I can’t be in favor of it and very, very few people I have talked to in the Doyline community are saying it might be a good thing.”
Moseley said he understands the economic incentive for the area for businesses to locate at Camp Minden.
“But these 30 jobs are not worth the headache we have been through,” he said. “However, once this project is complete and there are no longer hazardous materials at Camp Minden, we stand a better chance of enticing a manufacturing company with hundreds of living wage paying jobs to locate here.”
With ESI being nearly six months away from completing the project, discussion among leaders and community members is expected to continue.
“We would like the jury to hold ESI to the contract and require them to dismantle the burn chamber,” Sherrard said.
Poe said he plans to continue to meet with community members and is available for questions and conversation.