Support is growing in favor of keeping the contained burn chamber at Camp Minden.

Project manager for Explosive Services International, Dean S. Schellhase, spoke to the Lunch Bunch Friday at the American Legion Hall on Pine Street, with several community leaders in attendance to hear Schellhase state his company’s case.

Schellhase presented a video detailing the history of Explo and M6 at Camp Minden, construction of the one-of-a-kind contained burn chamber and data from environmental tests run on-site.

Similar meetings have been taking place in neighboring cities and political leaders are preparing to take their stance, many in favor of keeping the chamber.

Minden Mayor Tommy Davis, in attendance Friday, did just that while speaking to the Press-Herald Wednesday. Following Davis’s lead at Friday’s meeting was Webster Parish Sheriff Gary Sexton, who stood to announce his support of the project after hearing remarks from Schellhase and Environmental Toxicologist, Dr. Robert Flournoy, of Ruston.

“It was said that this opportunity is a diamond in the rough for our parish,” Sexton said. “I have to disagree. This diamond is polished.”

In his presentation, Schellhase addressed what he perceived as false information about the burn chamber, namely concerns about upholding state and federal laws, cancer-causing pathogens, the safe transport of hazardous or explosive materials and ESI’s safety measures in place for employees. Schellhase shared reports from stack emissions tests conducted during burns to show the quality of the air being reintroduce to the environment. Tests showed less less than 0.01 ppm of Nitrogen Oxide, Carbon Monoxide and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC). Allowable environmental limits for Nitrogen Oxide are 250 ppm, 20 ppm for Carbon Monoxide and 10 ppm for VOC’s. Principal Organic Hazardous Constituents (POHC’s) were non-detect during testing.

Schellhase also pointed out ESI’s commitment to local companies throughout the construction of the site and for its future.

“Upon contract award ESI committed to hire and source locally,” Schellhase said. “Local companies did everything from the dirt work to the electrical on the site, and ESI today uses Reynold’s Industrial to support our process. All of our support services today are local from ACE Hardware to Wayne Avery catering meals three time per day for our employees.”

ESI has already spent close to $7 million in surrounding communities on this project, according to an ESI newsletter given to the Press-Herald by Schellhase.

Despite the data and growing support, not everyone is coming around.

The Webster Parish Police Jury passed a resolution against keeping the burn chamber at their December meeting; however, at this month’s meeting, Jury President Jim Bonsall said the Police Jury, “acted too soon.”

People from Minden, Haughton, Bossier and beyond have expressed their anti-chamber sentiments as well, but residents of Doyline have been the most vocal about their opposition, with over a decade of explosions as evidence that laws and promises only matter so much.

Steve Bridwell, newly-appointed interim Mayor of Doyline, said his people have lived in fear for too long.

“Personally, as a citizen of Doyline with children who attend Doyline High School, I’m not a fan or supporter of it,” Bridwell said. “In regards to the data provided by the burn chamber itself, all that looks good…they’ve done a good job of presenting data, but the fact of the matter is we don’t have any concrete answers about what materials they will or won’t take and it’s subject to change at anytime. The citizens of Doyline that I hear from, don’t like the idea of our village being the target for hazardous waste disposal in the southern half of the country.”

Bridwell added that concerns of Doyline residents should carry more weight than those of people in communities located further away from Camp Minden.

“We’re ground zero,” Bridwell said. “At these EPA meetings, people are sounding off on this and they’re from Ruston; they couldn’t be more removed for us. If you’re sitting over on the North side of Minden or in Arcadia, and maybe you have stock in a company that may have potential to get revenue from contracting services out there, you’re going to be supportive of it because it’s not happening 2 miles from your house.”