Yenni criticizes landfill operator over foul odor; company fires back

Updated: Jul. 23, 2018 at 8:27 PM CDT
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(WVUE) - Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni said Monday that a company running the parish's landfill in Waggaman is in breach of its contract, and he accused the previous parish administration of executing a side letter or agreement in addition to the contract which lets the company ignore some critical steps in collecting liquid garbage known as leachate.

And the ongoing problem cost a parish engineer his job. Yenni said the worker who was tasked with overseeing the landfill submitted his resignation Monday.

Yenni's press conference follows months of complaints from residents of the west bank and on the east bank about foul odors coming from the landfill.

"We've been dealing with this for about a year now. I'm a born and raised River Ridge resident, I've been there my whole life and it's never been an issue," said Craig Guillot.

Guillot showed up at the parish's Emergency Operations Center where Yenni and other officials discussed the problem with the news media.

"It's gotten progressively worse in the past few months, it gets in your home," Guillot said.

He is not alone in complaining. So did Jefferson Parish Councilman Paul Johnston.
"I have been woken up at night with my nose burning, couldn't breathe at four o'clock in the morning," said Johnston.

"Persistent, off-site odors are not standard operating procedures for a landfill and are not acceptable to me," said Yenni.

Yenni said the problem is what's not being done at the landfill. He said the parish hired an outside consultant and has been working to nail down the problems related to the foul odor.

He said IESI, the company managing the landfill has been notified that it is in breach of its contract with the parish and Yenni wants the inspector general to investigate.

"Leachate is the liquid that drains or leaches from a landfill," said Yenni.

He said IESI was contracted in 2012 to manage the landfill by the previous parish administration.

"If the leachate system is not maintained, that substance obstructs their ability to capture and move the methane gas out of the landfill. This is a problem because the methane gas will raise into the atmosphere, it will travel and has an odor," said Yenni.

Yenni pointed to what he called a "side letter" with IESI stemming from the previous administration which he said allows some short-cuts.

"The letter amending the contract seems to have been done without council approval. It was done administratively and may have relieved IESI of the operation and maintenance of the first three phases of a four-phase leachate collection system," said Yenni.

But former Parish President John Young he preceded Yenni in office strongly rejects the idea that his administration did anything wrong.

Young told FOX 8 News that amendments to the contract with IESI were definitely approved by the parish council and were done in accordance with parish government procedures.

Young said he revisited the document and added that he knew of no changes designed to allow the company to short-circuit its efforts.

Young also said it was irresponsible for the current administration to try to blame his former administration because Yenni has been in office almost three years.

A spokeswoman for the company issued the following statement to FOX 8 News:

"On July 18, 2018, Louisiana Regional Landfill Company (formerly known as IESI LA Landfill Corporation) ("LRLC") received a Notice of Breach from the Jefferson Parish Attorney, Michael Power, related to LRLC's operation of the Jefferson Parish Sanitary Landfill Site (the "Landfill"). LRLC has operated Phase IV of the Landfill since May 2012 pursuant to the terms and conditions of that certain Contract to Provide Services to Operate, Manage, and Maintain the Jefferson Parish Sanitary Landfill Site between LRLC and Jefferson Parish (the "Landfill Operating Agreement"). LRLC strongly denies the Parish's assertion that LRLC is in breach of the Landfill Operating Agreement. LRLC has at all times operated the Landfill in accordance with the provisions of the Landfill Operating Agreement and under the direction and supervision of Jefferson Parish, which has approved all waste streams accepted by LRLC at the Landfill.

"As it relates to the allegation of foul odors coming from the Landfill, the landfill gas collection and control system at the Landfill is designed to capture landfill gases which cause odors. Jefferson Parish operates and maintains the landfill gas collection and control system at the Landfill, not LRLC. It is well documented that the landfill gas collection and control system at the Landfill does not function properly. In an effort to assist Jefferson Parish with potential odors that may be coming from the Landfill, LRLC, by letter dated July 20, 2018, has offered to take over the operation, inspection, adjustment, repair, and maintenance of the landfill gas collection and control system for Phase III-B and Phase IV-A of the Landfill for 90 days at LRLC's sole cost and expense. The Parish has not yet responded to that offer. In addition, LRLC, at its own expense, has hired a nationally known odor mitigation firm in order to assist the Parish in identifying all sources of local odors, including the two River Birch landfills immediately adjacent to the Jefferson Parish Landfill. A final report detailing those findings will be made public in the coming weeks.

"We were led to believe today's press conference was intended to alert the public to our offer to resolve the Parish's odor issue at the Landfill and thank us for our offer. We are dismayed by the Parish's actions today and can only speculate on what may have transpired behind the scenes since our offer, especially in light of the troubled history of the site prior to our involvement and historical political influence of the neighboring River Birch landfill."

And despite ongoing resident complaints state health and environmental officials insist the odor in its current concentration is not harmful.

"It's not going to be harmful to your health, it is a nuisance and we're working with the parish to reduce that," said Greg Langley of the Department of Environmental Quality.

"And we take our guidance from the CDC on this,that the overwhelming majority of these types of instances, which are odor events coming from landfills, overwhelming majority do not reach anywhere close to the level of a serious health threat," said Dr. Joseph Kanter, with the La. Department of Health.

Still in June DEQ sent a compliance order to the parish for violations.

"There's a potential for a fine. This is a preliminary part of the enforcement process," said Michael Algero, of DEQ.

Parish leaders admit the nearly 50 year old landfill needs upgrades and they said they will be honest in making that case to citizens.

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