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More controversy over proposed coal handling terminal

Myrtle Grove Marina in Plaquemines Parish. Myrtle Grove Marina in Plaquemines Parish.

Myrtle Grove, La. — There is a new controversy over a proposed coal-handling facility.

First, people in the community of Ironton voiced fears that the facility would force them to be displaced. Now, some people in Myrtle Grove, along with environmentalists, believe the proposed site for the facility could interfere with a planned Mississippi River Diversion Project.

"That black you see on here is actually the coal dust," said Warren Lawrence, a resident of Myrtle Grove.

He lives by the water and would have it no other way. But he is irked by the coal dust that migrates to his property from a coal facility nearby, and now he is concerned about plans to build another coal terminal close to his community.

"My deck upon the boathouse constantly gets dust on it, and you're constantly cleaning," stated Lawrence.

Ram Terminals plans to build a coal terminal just up the road from the tiny community of Ironton, adjacent to Myrtle Grove.

But some residents and environmentalists believe having the coal facility built at the proposed location will adversely impact plans for the diversion project, which is designed to divert river sediment to wetlands in Barataria Bay.

"They're inherently dirty facilities. They're constantly running off into the river, the existing terminals.  We're seeing that in the wake of Isaac.  We saw a lot of pollution escaping from the site," said Aaron Viles of the Gulf Restoration Network.

Viles said pollutants from the coal site would stunt the growth of the wetlands.

"The idea that you want to put a river diversion where you're looking to build a marsh at the exact same spot, where you're going to have a consistent input of this coal pollution into the river, is a bad idea," he said.

"We would never support something that's going to hurt the environment. You know we're dealing with the same thing for our coastal plan, building ridges... Is that going to kill the marsh?" wonders Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser.

Nungesser said he has asked the state to work with Rams Terminals, the owner of the proposed coal facility.  "There's ample space there for the diversion and there's a lot of wooded area between there and the Ironton community, so I believe there's ample space there to accommodate everything they want to be done," Nungesser stated.

In July, the state Department of Environmental Quality gave final approval to an air permit for the particulate emissions which may result from the handling of the coal.

Wednesday, in response to the concerns about the wetlands improvement project being negatively affected by the coal facility Garret Graves, issued a statement:

The Master Plan includes a project to reconnect the Mississippi River with the Barataria Basin in the vicinity of Myrtle Grove.

This project has been in planning and development with the Corps of Engineers for well over 10-years. It was authorized for construction by Congress in 2007 for approximately $400 million (including inflation adjustments). The Master Plan was not developed in a vacuum and we don't live under rocks. We understand that having the best hurricane protection and a restored coast is great, but we must also have jobs to support our communities. We are working together with the river terminal project sponsors to balance economic development with safe, protected communities and a strong coast. We are hopeful that a balance can be struck, but will not sacrifice this important project or the federal funding."

"They are working to make sure there's safety on the river, the position of the project in conjunction with the state's master plan," Nungesser said.

And while Nungesser is not downplaying concerns he said he hopes everyone will just take a deep breath because he said a lot of ground still has to be covered before the coal facility can be built in Plaquemines Parish.

"They've got to get permission from the Coast Guard to build that facility… All that has to go through the procedures, everyone else has to approve and then it goes to the parish for approval," said Nungesser.

Controversy aside, residents said saving the coastline is paramount.

"We have to do something to save the coastline," stated Lawrence.

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