Barge cleaning facility faces roadblock after Metro Council vote

Metro Council votes to rezone site of proposed barge cleaning facility
Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A vote by the East Baton Rouge Metro Council on Wednesday created a new road block for plans to bring a barge cleaning facility to Baton Rouge.

In a vote nine to two, the council voted to rezone the land for the proposed facility, changing the designation from heavy industrial to heavy commercial.

"I do not want to bring something near your family that would harm your family," said Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle.

The land designated for the project is located in the Brightside area along the Mississippi River and near BREC's Farr Park. Council members Joel Boe and Ryan Heck voted against the proposal. Boe cited concerns over property rights for the Port of Greater Baton Rouge, which owns the land designated for the project.

"What the council did tonight is basically say, without the owner's consent, can change your zoning and take away your property rights. I think that's wrong," Boe said.

The Port of Greater Baton Rouge was created by the state of Louisiana. It would then lease the land to Tubal-Cain Marine services, a Texas-based company.

"When you have a government owned property, it is not a private actor. This is a completely different issue," said Councilman John Delgado, who introduced the rezoning proposal and disagrees with Boe's assessment. "We as a city are protecting the community from a state's lease holder."

The process of cleaning barges includes offloading cargo, flaring away leftover toxic chemicals, and releasing any non-toxic chemicals. In order to clean the barge, the facility would thus need a permit from the Department of Environmental Quality. That is now a moot point, unless they choose to pursue building the facility elsewhere.

Concerns of air quality, property values, and future of Farr Park brought dozens of local residents to the meeting.

"It's going to be in the shadow of this large stack, and this huge crane, and this industrial operation," said John King on behalf of BREC.

"If this was your neighborhood, a mile from you, how would you vote?" said another resident.

However, missing from the meeting were representatives from Tubal-Cain or the port. That proved to be influential in the vote count.

"I've been on the fence," said Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel. "That put me on the side of the residents who are here."

Banks-Daniel also mentioned she is not sorry that the barge facility was considered for the site, saying it allowed residents of southern Baton Rouge to understand the environmental concerns of people in northern Baton Rouge and the Alsen area after Rollins Environmental Services moved in.

"I don't want anybody to go through this," Banks-Daniel said.

Many in the audience, including attorney Mary Olive Pierson, said they would be willing to help northern Baton Rouge residents with environmental

"It's not about white or black, rich or poor, it's about right or wrong," Marcelle said with regards to the issue.

Tubal-Cain and the port have not responded for requests for comment.

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