ZURIK: Environmental scientist questions asbestos remediation in Jefferson Parish Subdivision

Published: Jun. 29, 2023 at 11:17 PM CDT
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JEFFERSON PARISH, La. (WVUE) - More than 100 families could soon be living in a new Jefferson Parish subdivision, but some neighbors have concerns about possible contamination in the soil, and one environmental scientist agrees.

Many say the area near the intersection of Acre Road and Garden Road in Marrero was previously used as a dumping ground.

“And as a little boy, as a child, I knew that they were dumping asbestos on this land,” said Jefferson Parish School Board member Derrick Shepherd. “This was a dump site that was from John Mansfield. As an asbestos site, an old abandoned asbestos site in Westwego on Fourth Street. The trucks used to use this as an off-site for asbestos shingles. People would see it all the time. It was just a dump that they would use, quite frankly, in the black neighborhood, [and] would just throw the material on the side in the grass.”

Environmental scientist Wilma Subra reviewed documents related to the land and says it is clear some hazardous material was dumped on the land.

“There are a number of people, some of which don’t want to be identified, that say that they know that that company brought waste with asbestos and dumped it on the headland roads and helped people make driveways out of it,” Subra said.

Houses are springing up on the tract of land, but a neighborhood wasn’t the first plan for the site.

In 2017, Jefferson Rise Charter School had an interest in moving to the property and planned to pay $100,000 for the land. Neighbors voiced concerns about possible contamination and an Environmental Site Assessment and asbestos testing were performed on the site.

Southern Earth Sciences tested shingles and roofing material on the land, but that testing did not detect asbestos in the items. However, the company’s report notes not all areas of land were accessible for testing.

The deal for the school eventually fell through. The school declined to tell FOX 8 why by email, but there’s no indication that potential asbestos concerns played a role.

Shepherd says what happened next could only be pulled off with political connections.

In late 2018, a business called The Acres Group bought the property for $70,000 - a $30,000 price cut compared to what the school planned to pay.

Records show the owner of The Acres Group is Diane Borne. Shepherd says Borne is the sister of longtime Jefferson Parish Politician Byron Lee. Online records from LexisNexis show Borne is a 73-year-old with an employment history in home health. The profile doesn’t list any experience in real estate development.

Months after purchasing the property, The Acres Group submitted an application to make the property a subdivision. A company called The Maxima Group paid the nearly $5,000 application fee. Records show the owner of The Maxima Group is Byron Lee.

Related: Land deal netted politician’s family nearly $500,000

In October 2019, the Jefferson Parish Planning and Zoning Board approved plans to make the property a subdivision.

In November 2019, then-Jefferson Parish Councilman Mark Spears brought forward the motion for council approval. Shepherd says Lee is Spears’ political mentor. Since 2004, the District 3 Council seat has been occupied by either Lee or Spears.

Lee held the seat from 2004 until 2012, Spears from 2013 until 2019, and Lee from 2020 to the present.

When Spears brought the motion forward to make the property a subdivision, the council unanimously approved it. The approval came at Spears’ last council meeting before he left the council to be Justice of the Peace, and Lee reclaimed the seat.

After winning approval to build the subdivision, The Acres Group put the property back on the market. After purchasing it for $70,000, the property sold for $550,000.

FOX 8 reached out to Spears and Lee for comment on Shepherd’s allegations. Both men declined requests for an on-camera interview but sent statements.

Spears’ statement is as follows:

Lee’s statement is as follows:

Even after the first round of testing, neighbors still had some concerns about the land. In 2021, River Oaks Development, which bought the property from The Acres Group and is developing the land, had more extensive asbestos testing performed.

Environmental Consulting of Louisiana took 60 soil borings, about two feet down, from around the property, as well as four bulk samples near Garden Road.

The report notes all four bulk samples contained more than 1% of asbestos, and are therefore considered asbestos-containing material. Four of the soil borings also found much lower levels of asbestos, below the accepted industry regulatory standard. The other 56 samples had no traces of asbestos.


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A group called Ranger Environmental then performed remediation at the site, removing about a foot of topsoil and dumping it at Riverbirch Landfill, which is standard protocol for addressing and remediating asbestos.

Ranger says it removed the asbestos-containing waste material and retested the area to verify the removal of the material. Ranger Environmental’s full statement is below:

The developer followed the rules and regulations laid out by the state. However, Subra believes those standards aren’t strong enough. She worries the remediation didn’t go far enough and believes more topsoil should have been removed and that more follow-up tests should have been performed.

“So according to the information, there will be 107 lots in the subdivision, and they took 60 samples down to two feet. So that’s just a little over half of the lots. But when you look at the map, they didn’t do each individual lot. They did a lot around the borders. So … if you’d asked me, should I buy this lot? I would say there needs to be quite a difference in the concentrations that they found in these samples versus what is on your lot, or what’s on the lots in the area around and what’s on the road,” Subra said.

River Oaks Development also sent a statement to FOX 8 which says environmental professionals made follow-up visits to the site to observe excavation and trenching activities and didn’t observe any asbestos-containing waste material during construction. River Oaks’ complete statement is below:

When inhaled, asbestos fibers can scar lung tissue and Subra says even small amounts can be harmful. She believes anyone buying a home in the neighborhood should be aware of the site’s history and what testing and remediation have been performed. She bases her evaluation on the documents filed with the State Department of Environmental Quality, documents she reviewed for this story.

“We know, it has had asbestos deposited on the property … We know there’s some that exceed the standard, and we know there’s some that’s below the standard. So do we want to come 20 years from now and say, we should have required them to do more sampling, and we should have required them to do more remediation? And therefore, the citizens may not have been harmed?” Subra asked.

River Oaks has followed the rules set by the state for testing and remediation, and the state is allowing River Oaks to build there. However, Subra believes the state should have pushed the company to do more to make sure the land is clear of any hazardous materials.

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality confirmed to FOX 8 that it also visited the site. A spokesperson issued a statement that reads, “LDEQ did visit the site. Our inspector noted no asbestos that would be subject to LDEQ oversight. The developer provided us with documentation of removal and disposal of asbestos-containing waste material (ACWM) at an appropriate disposal site.”

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