Tuesday, April 17, 2018

More evidence of the contamination is discovered: News Conference, April 11, 2018

Figure 1. Attorney Bill Goodell pictured
here at an earlier meeting in 2017.
On April 11, 2018, attorney Bill Goodell addressed a press conference in downtown Lafayette to inform citizens and our civic leaders of the discovery of additional data showing that contamination has not only entered our drinking water aquifer below the now abandoned railyard downtown, but that this contamination has been flowing into our aquifer for at least a quarter century. Mr. Goodell is the the plaintiff's attorney in a lawsuit against the Union Pacific Railroad seeking cleanup of this site. In his press release, Mr. Goodell stated 
"Recently discovered reports in LDEQ public records require amendment of the existing petitions to formally incorporate newly discovered facts. ... October 1993 Chicot Aquifer testing done by Union Pacific’s own environmental experts ARCADIS Geraghty and Miller and filed with LDEQ on January 12, 1994 proves that hazardous/toxic benzene has leaked from the Facility into the Chicot Aquifer and fouled the City of Lafayette’s drinking water source in violation of a slew of state environmental laws and prohibitions. Union Pacific should have but did not discuss this benzene in the Chicot with the LDEQ,"   
You can read the full press release by clicking here.

The press conference was reported by at least 3 of our local news media outlets:
In these reports, our LUS leadership replied that our Lafayette drinking water meets current human health maximum contaminant criteria. This fact, however, was never mentioned or disputed by Mr. Goodell. The now well documented fact that our water source is being contaminated by the railyard is never mentioned by LUS or local government leaders. Once again our government's representatives have resorted to a straw man fallacy in an apparent attempt to deflect the public's outrage at their inaction. 

I have never heard the attorney for the plaintiffs, Mr. Bill Goodell, say that LUS drinking water is currently unsafe; that is not yet the issue. The issue is that the source of our drinking water for our city and parish, the Chicot Aquifer, is contaminated just a short distance from our downtown water well intakes, and that contamination is almost certainly being slowly drawn toward the inflow our water well intakes. 

For more than a century the Chicot Aquifer has been a source of plentiful high-quality water for our residents. The spread of contamination in the vicinity of our wells must be stopped. Man-made substances have already been detected in some of our downtown wells. Action is needed now! If we wait until the contaminant concentrations at our wells violate health limits it will be practically impossible to restore the aquifer.

We need to begin planning now for remediation of the contaminated aquifer and require the responsible party to pay for this cleanup. We need testing to determine the extent of contamination. Why would our city/parish officials oppose this?

Over a year ago, the Sierra Club and Water Mark Alliance sent a letter to our elected parish leaders expressing concern about the railyard and asking that ten specific actions be taken. To date, these citizens have not even received the courtesy of an acknowledgement.  Why are our government's elected officials stonewalling the public's call for action?

Figure 2. The abandoned railyard is designated here by shading. LUS's 
drinking water wells are a few blocks beyond this map's northern border.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Evangeline Corridor Initiative - Your comments are due March 29, 2018

From page 14, ECI Final Report, March 9, 2018.

The Evangeline Corridor Initiative or ECI (formerly called the TIGER grant initiative) began over 2 years ago when the Lafayette government received a planning grant from the Federal government of $300,000, and matched this with an even larger local tax match. This planning effort is deeply intertwined with the Lafayette I-49 Connector's own tens of millions of tax dollars spent for planning. The ECI is now coming to an end, and it is time for the citizens to examine and comment on what we the taxpayers and residents got for our money.

The Evangeline Thruway Redevelopment Team (ETRT) at its March 12 meeting, accepted a draft Final ECI Plan and recommended the plan be made available for public comment. Two public "open house" style meetings (that is, public meetings where the public informed but is not invited to publicly speak) were held on March 21 and 22 to provide the public with information about the Evangeline Thruway Redevelopment Team (ETRT) plans for our community in the area surrounding the proposed I-49 Connector.  You can read more about the ECI through their web site which redirects you to their Lafayette Parish government page: www.evangelinecorridor.com

At these March open house meetings, representatives from Lafayette Consolidated Government, the ECI's professional consulting team, and the ETRT were on hand and were available to answer questions from citizens one-on-one. The 175 page ECI draft Final Report/Action Plan is available in print at the Rosa Parks Transportation Center at 101 Jefferson Blvd. To download the Report to your device click here. Public comments on the report are due Thursday, March 29, 2018 at noon. I urge every Lafayette citizen to examine this draft report and other materials from the ECI web site and submit their own comments on the draft plan. You may also comment on other relevant issues that should have been addressed in the study. In order to comment, you may
  1. Have left a written comment at the meeting (see the image of the ECI  comment card below).
  2. Fill out and mail or hand-deliver the ECI comment card which is available in pdf format by clicking here.
  3. Or, simply email comments to ETRT@lafayettela.gov
Don't forget, the deadline for comments on the draft final report is noon on Thursday, March 29!

After submitting my own comments to the ECI, I will publicly share them through an update or comment added to this post. After you submit your comments, you may also publicly share your ECI comments by copying them as a comment at the bottom of this blog post.

Thanks to all who provide their input on this plan.

----------------------------------- COMMENTS BY M. WALDON -----------------------------------
Note to readers - because I included a photo in my comments I must add them here as a blog update rather than simply making them a blog comment. To view other reader comments click on the word "comments" at the end of this post.

These comments related to the March 2018 ECI Open House Meetings and the Draft Final ECI Report. They are submitted by Dr. Michael G. Waldon, 110 Seville Blvd, Lafayette. I live in City/Parish District 3. I do wish to thank the ECI team for consideration of my concerns.


Relationship to I-49 Connector
A relationship between this TIGER Grant and the Lafayette I-49 Connector project clearly exists, but is unclear. I do see in provided documentation that this TIGER project, now termed the ECI, is considered a mitigation for the damage to the Corridor from the I-49 Connector project. I submit this comment addressing the ECI draft final report in the larger context of the I-49 Connector itself.

There is very strong opposition to the I-49 Connector throughout Lafayette Parish, and this opposition is particularly intense within the ECI corridor. There have been hundreds of citizens who have attended meetings to voice their opposition to this project. Opposition has been intense for a very long time, at least since the first EIS was presented almost two decades ago. Now, the ECI planned projects are presented as a carrot in a final desperate attempt to lure opponents into grudging support. This strategy will not work!

The public is not so foolish that they will believe that suddenly a district that has seen neglect for a century will suddenly become a target for local expenditures. The truth is that nothing in this plan is funded, and no funding mechanism has been identified. We see that the local government can’t be bothered to even maintain the property they already have within the Corridor. Why should we believe that the parish will suddenly have funds for new playgrounds in pocket parks, or even have money to keep the grass cut. Put simply, we are on our own. The I-49 spector reduces property values for Corridor homeowners today, and if it ever is funded for construction, it will destroy these communities and turn them into urban deserts. 
In supporting Lafayette’s application for additional millions of dollars of federal grant funds for continuation of the TIGER project, one councilman responded to our opposition to continuation of the TIGER funding at a Parish Council meeting. To paraphrase, he said that if we don’t spend the federal money someone else will. This hardly seems to be the prudent way we, the taxpayers, hope our elected representatives will spend our money. I urge all who are given the responsibility to allocate our tax dollars will use good judgement and spend our taxes as prudently as if spending their own money. Simply spending for the sake of spending? I say no! 

We have been assured that if there is strong local opposition the I-49 Connector (we call it the I-49 Con) will never get federal construction funds. If that is the truth, then the Con will never be built. 

Therefore, I conclude, the first thing to decide is - Will the I-49 Connector really be built? If yes, then drop all of these projects in the draft final report because there will be no community left to use them. And, if no - the I-49 Con will never be built - then we do not need the ECI. The Evangeline Corridor will bloom with renewed life if this spector of future destruction is removed. Property values will increase, private investment will return, and - note to our Council - tax revenues will grow. Let us hope that we stop spending federal money just for spending sake, and pursue alternative like the LRX, the planned Lafayette western bypass. 

My recommendation for the Final Report is to state early and clearly that the ECI report does not endorse the I-49 Connector, and that funding, construction, and maintenance of these projects is in no way dependent on the Con. Alternatively, state clearly that these projects are being proposed to mitigate the tragic destruction of our communities that will result from building the urban interstate through our city’s heart.

Pedestrian friendly
Throughout the draft final report I see the words “pedestrian” and “pedestrian friendly.” Sidewalks were not built so that utilities would have a place to put their poles! Before we pursue other pedestrian friendly ideas, we need to set a Parish-wide policy that new utility poles will never again be placed in our sidewalks or placed such that pedestrians or handicapped individuals in wheelchairs need to move into traffic to avoid the pole. Placing poles or other obstacles in our sidewalks is not only a safety issue, but also is a statement that pedestrians are valued far less than cars in our community. 

Hurricane Evacuation Capacity is Essential
Before, during construction, or after the vaporous I-49 Connector project is realized, the current capacity for hurricane evacuation must at a minimum be maintained on the Evangeline Thruway itself. If ever funded and constructed, the elevated roadway will provide limited resilience in the face of heavy rain and wind. As residents of Louisiana we know that elevated roads get blocked easily. High winds and rain preceding the storm may even force closure of the interstate to high profile vehicles like trucks. Hurricane evacuees often cannot buy gasoline because of long lines or loss of power. On a surface road, out-of-gas cars can more easily be move out of traffic. However, experience shows that long bridges are often blocked by out-of-gas cars. 
This is very relevant to any ECI plans along the Thruway. Until the surface level western bypass, the Lafayette Regional Xpressway or LRX, or other bypass is built I would not support any changes that “calm traffic” or reduce roadway capacity on the current Evangeline Thruway. 

City property
I commend the City/Parish leaders for showing an interest in the Evangeline Corridor area of our city. The neglect that this area has experienced in the past is clear. A recurring comment by residents at meeting that I attended was the lack of simple maintenance of city-owned and LUS property in the Corridor. The city seems unable to regularly mow the grass and keep up the appearance of their property in this area. This not only contributes to a blighted appearance, but also, right or wrong, makes us think that the residents of this area of Lafayette are less important to the powerful interests in charge of the city. Only now, when a plan to further destroy these communities with a six lane urban interstate through its heart do we hear of highway administration funds giving us unfunded plans for new projects. If you can not cut the grass and paint your fences, why should the public believe any of these dreams will ever be a priority? 

Here are examples of properties which are not properly maintained:

  • LUS Water Well #10 on Moss St at Park is no longer in production and has been described as abandoned (see attached photo).
  • The abandoned Grant Street Power Plant is unsightly and a public hazard from contamination.

At the meetings, residents gave a number other examples with which I was not familiar. In summary, the ECI draft final plan seems hypocritical when we see the apparent neglect received for care of City properties within the corridor. 

LUS Well 10 at Moss St at Park is abandoned and clearly looks the part! The photo is also available at the link https://goo.gl/f21aZn


Iconic Structures
Throughout the I-49 Connector discussions and resident protests, we have heard of plans to build an ill-described bridge to signify the progressive nature of Lafayette. This seems to have moved forward and influenced the proposal for a Gateway Feature (project Gateway B). First, this is an idea that is ripe for ridicule. It is hard to see why the LCG and DOTD would provide such an opening in a community that can’t even fund a school tax. Tax opponents will use this as a hammer to destroy the whole ECI and Con programs. Second, we already have a beautiful gateway structure, our visitor center. We need a gateway that embodies Cajun and Creole culture, not a steel bridge or weird art. Those are fine for other places, but people visit us for the culture, and the current visitor center represents us very well. I am deeply saddened that DOTD plans to destroy the current center, and have been told that replacement will need to be at Parish taxpayer expense because we should have known better than to build it at its current location! In summary, rebuild the visitor center if the I-49 Con is ever built, and otherwise no iconic structure is needed.. 

Clay quarry
We have noticed that you plan to put a new park (project Gateway E) at what I believe is the old Clay quarry near the historic Lafayette brickyard and clay quarry (see The Attakapas Country: A History of Lafayette Parish, Louisiana by H. L. Griffin, p 52 and further) . This site is historically important in Lafayette. It is my understanding that most of the bricks for the old buildings in Lafayette came from this site. After the quarry was abandoned, it became a swimming hole for many of the young people in the city of Lafayette. The cool water that flowing freely from the now unconfined artesian aquifer must have provided cool recreation on hot days for many youth. However after two children drowned the council decided to fill the quarry. I am told that any fill materials that were available were used in filling the quarry including waste, trash and garbage - any sorts of materials that were no longer wanted. Today it is likely that this site not only provides contamination to the underlying aquifer and our water wells, but also may be a health hazard to nearby residents. Caution should be exercised in building a park at this location. 

Pedestrian bridge near Surrey Street
A pedestrian bridge near Surrey Street over the Vermilion is needed, and I am in firm support of the bridge proposed in the draft final report (project Vermilion E). I cannot recall ever crossing a less bicycle and pedestrian friendly bridge than the Surrey Street Bridge. Crossing on foot, I look up and down the road, then run as fast as I can to get across (tough job for an old man like me). There is absolutely no room for a pedestrian on this bridge if there are large vehicles passing at the same time. Do children attending the nearby Paul Breaux Middle School have to cross this bridge? I was thrilled to see the idea of a pedestrian bridge near this site suggested in the ECI report. I strongly support this idea.

Again, I thank the ECI team for the opportunity to provide public comment.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Public Comment to DOTD: Louisiana DOTD has failed both the letter and the spirit of our Open Meeting Law

Following below are the written comments that I submitted to DOTD after their October 19, 2017, "Open House" meeting at the Progressive Baptist Church in Lafayette. As I publish my written comments here, the meeting handout and DOTD's presentation materials are available online, but I do not believe any meeting speaker list, transcript of oral comments, or compilation of written comments has appeared on DOTD's official meeting site. It does appear that some of my comments have been deeply buried as deconstructed anonymous individual sentences in the View Public Comments page on the DOTD's Con web site. If you submitted comments, I welcome you to also add your comments here in the comments section at the end of this ConnectorComments.org post. And of course, all other relevant comments are also welcome here - I promise that I will not strip off your name and atomize your comments.

These comments are submitted in conjunction with the I-49 Lafayette Connector Open House held on Thursday, October 19, 2017, Lafayette, LA. I request that these comments be included in the official Public Meeting Transcript.

Louisiana DOTD has failed both the letter and the spirit of our Open Meeting Law

Since relaunching the I-49 Lafayette Connector project in October, 2015, open public comment has not been permitted at DOTD sponsored committee meetings. This action is in clear defiance of the spirit of open government. In the case of committee meetings which are convened to make recommendations or decisions, it is clearly illegal. In his defense, State Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson has noted that the public is allowed one-on-one access to DOTD employees and contractors, and further, can provide written comments in a process similar to a collective project suggestion box. While both of these actions by the DOTD may be considered laudable, the fact remains that the public is not allowed public communication with committees which are assigned advisory and decision-making roles. The “Public Meeting” convened by DOTD on October 19, 2017 continues this policy of violation by segregating comments away from committees that make recommendations or decisions concerning this project.

Phase I reports are commonly prepared prior to land procurement by the government. These reports serve the purpose of finding potential liability for the state that is anticipated to occur if the state procures land that is contaminated. Normally, Phase I reports rely in-part on interviews with neighbors and others who may be knowledgeable of past land use and land contamination. However, the state’s contractor in this case was instructed to talk with no local people. The failure of the contractor to identify significant liabilities for the state and its taxpayers could be a direct result of this unusual decision to intentionally blind the investigators. For many months the citizens of our community have been requesting that the Connector project’s Draft Phase I Hazardous Waste study be made public, and that the public have an opportunity to comment on and suggest improvements in the plan. Why would the state NOT want to know more about liability from procuring contaminated land along the proposed I-49 right-of-way?

The “Community Working Group” committee met most recently on October 18, 2017. At this meeting, as all 14 prior meetings, the public was only allowed to observe; no time was allocated for the members of the public to directly address the CWG. At this meeting, Jan Grenfel (DOTD Environmental Compliance) stated that the Phase I Plan report will remain cloaked from public scrutiny and discussion. She said it will not be discussed, it will not be placed for public review on the  I-49 Connector web page http://lafayetteconnector.com/. Why would the DOTD intentionally hide from public view information on toxic contamination in our community? Why would DOTD wish to move forward with land procurement and construction without knowing all available information on risks to public health, and potential damage public land and private property?

What will it take to get our State Transportation Secretary, Dr. Shawn Wilson, to follow the Public Meeting law? If this behavior is allowed to set a precedent, all future public participation in Louisiana state and local government decision-making is in jeopardy. Both the Lafayette newspapers, the Independent and the Daily Advertiser, have editorials supporting the right of the public to speak at DOTD convened committee meetings. I sincerely ask that our Governor, John Bel Edwards, intercede to rein in the arrogance of government being followed by his transportation department.

Why is public's criticism so frightening to Dr. Wilson and the DOTD? Perhaps it is because
  • of the overwhelming public support for a bypass rather than an urban interstate through the historic heart of our city
  • of the DOTD's embarrassment at their failure to consider in all current and future planning any actual sampling or measurement of the toxics present in their proposed right-of-way
  • of lack of any assessment of the impact of driving pilings into our sole-source water supply through toxic wastes potentially destroying our Lafayette water supply with toxic contamination
  • of public health impacts from exposure to toxic construction-related dust containing asbestos, lead, and arsenic from decades of railyard activities
  • of noise impacts on home values
  • of noise and air pollutant impacts on our downtown parks and festivals
  • of air pollution from interstate traffic falling over our downtown and surrounding neighborhoods
  • of causing our city to fall into ozone non-compliance which could trigger annual auto tailpipe inspections and limits on future industrial expansion in the city
  • of adding risks of drowning for motorists forced to travel in a tunnel under the interstate near the airport and the Vermilion River
  • of flooding resulting from huge new paved impervious surfaces that are intended to drain to Bayou Vermilion with no attenuation
  • of hazardous cargo which would travel the elevated interstate at high speed over our houses
  • of the danger of falling objects limiting land use under the elevated interstate
  • of the hundreds of small businesses that will be harmed or destroyed without compensation
  • of the thousands of private property owners who will lose 10% to 15% of their home values because of interstate noise and proximity
  • of increased cross-city traffic on Pinhook, Johnston, University, and other streets that would be induced by this project (note that induced traffic demand has not been properly modeled)
  • of what else? What else would our citizens bring to the attention of planning committees if they were allowed to speak?
The EIS  performed by DOTD for this project nearly two decades ago was woefully inadequate and inaccurate when it was created. Further, it piecemealed impacts by breaking off the interstate construction south of the airport into a separate study. And, still worse, over the past decades this “Final” EIS has not aged gracefully. New scientific finding and changes in regulations make this document virtually irrelevant today.

Could these observations be the reason Shawn Wilson wants to stifle public input and awareness? Are there other reasons that Dr. Wilson no longer supports public openness and inclusion at DOTD?

Relevant Articles and Editorials

The Advertiser, April 29, 2016, Some not happy I-49 meetings don't allow public discussion

The Advertiser, May 5, 2016, Editorial: Let us reason together

The Advertiser, May 10, 2016, Voices: I-49 'public comment' requires large open forums

The Advertiser, May11, 2016, Schoeffler: I-49 connector meetings have violated Louisiana law

The Advertiser, May12, 2016, Voices: Consider all options when building I-49 connector

Published resources regarding Louisiana's Open Meeting Laws

The Louisiana Attorney General provides an overview and opinion on the application of Louisiana's Open Meeting Laws

Other sources of publicly available information include -

The Louisiana Open Meeting Law is available from LSU

and at this Louisiana Legislative Auditor site

The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana publishes a guide to Louisiana Open Meeting Laws

A document from 2009 on the Louisiana Culture Recreation and Tourism site describes 5 things you should know about Louisiana Open Meeting Laws  http://www.crt.state.la.us/Assets/OCD/hp/grants/certifiedlocalgovernment/documents-and-forms/Open_Meetings_Law.pdf

The Public Affairs Research Council in 2010 published this information on Louisiana's sunshine laws

Michael G. Waldon, Ph.D.
110 Seville Blvd
Lafayette, LA 70503
email: mike@mwaldon.com

Please note: I request that my name remain with my comments, and that any publication of my comments by DOTD be posted complete and unedited.

Meeting Facility Map from DOTD Handout

Friday, November 17, 2017

An Update on the Railyard Lawsuit

Attorney Bill Goodell speaks at the
January 2017 Y-49 public meeting 
The lawsuit asking that the Union Pacific Railroad take action on its abandoned railyard in downtown Lafayette received a lot of attention in our community and the press in 2016. However, for most of 2017 little has been discussed or reported on the railyard lawsuit.  It is therefore time to review the lawsuit and its present status.

In February of 2016, The legal team for the lawsuit plaintiffs - the Salvation Army, et al. - filed a petition with the court against defendants including - the Union Pacific Railroad, and the Southern Pacific Motor Company. The lawsuit was reported in all of the Lafayette local newspapers throughout 2016 (see the list of articles at the end of this post). In press releases in 2016, the plaintiff's attorney, William Goodell, summarized the case. Goodell's February 2016 news release read in-part:

Despite an Environmental Impact Statement, two prior lawsuits, piecemeal testing, and decades of environmental regulatory agency “oversight”, no meaningful action has been ordered, much less taken, to require a comprehensive assessment of the environmental impact.
Soil and shallow groundwater testing on file at the LDEQ confirms the presence of a toxic stew of “Superfund” hazardous substances perilously perched atop the Chicot Aquifer; yet, available LDEQ records reveal no testing or cleanup in the Chicot has ever been ordered or performed.
The documented contamination at the site constitutes an illegal, imminent, and substantial endangerment to the health and safety of Plaintiffs and the entire Lafayette community.
A comprehensive, site-wide assessment of the former rail yard is necessary to design a meaningful cleanup of the former rail yard and adjacent areas, to eliminate the threat it poses to the Chicot Aquifer, to prevent further contaminant migration, and to protect the entire Lafayette community.
The suit challenges Defendants to meet with Plaintiffs’ attorneys and experts and LDEQ to promptly:
  1. Accept responsibility for this environmental damage;
  2. Develop and adopt a mutually agreeable comprehensive assessment plan that will identify and characterize all contaminants throughout the entire site;
  3. Define the horizontal and vertical extent of that contamination both on and off site; and
  4. Adopt a timeline to properly and expeditiously clean up Defendants’ toxic legacy to the Lafayette community.  ...
The lawsuit alleges a failure to warn the people of Lafayette of the dangers that the rail yard contamination presents, and that:
“In the past and to this very day, Defendants actively concealed and intentionally failed to disclose evidence of the ... contamination despite clear knowledge of it and its dangers to Plaintiffs and the Lafayette community.”

On December 14, 2016, plaintiff's attorney William Goodell issued a press release further detailing what is known about contamination at the site, and calling for our political leaders in Lafayette government and our Louisiana state agencies to "embrace" their constitutional "responsibilities as public trustees and do the right thing." In a further press release on December 20, 2016, Goodell warned against continuing to pursue I-49 Connector land acquisition and construction until the Union Pacific Railroad (UPR) has responded to demands to survey and clean up their contamination. He warned specifically that

  • I-49 Connector construction will increase damage to the aquifer from UPR contamination and make public entities involved partially liable for the aquifer damage
  • I-49 Connector construction will make cleanup of UPR aquifer contamination more difficult, more expensive, and more time consuming—if not impossible
  • UPR rail yard cleanup as a part of the I-49 Connector construction project will make taxpayers foot the bill for UPR responsibility

I have noted public misunderstanding and some individuals stating wrong "facts" concerning the railyard lawsuit. As I have discussed this case with others in the community, or read their social media commentary, I have been surprised to hear otherwise well-informed people saying, for example, that I, Mike Waldon, sued the railroad (I did not!), that the Sierra Club sued the railroad (they did not!), and that the plaintiffs sued the city government (they did not!). Others have implied to me that this  lawsuit is backed up by little evidence of any serious risk coming from the old railyard - nothing could be further from the truth!

Since December, I am unaware of any media coverage of the railyard lawsuit. So, you may ask "what is the current status of the suit? For almost one year the legal fight has been over whether the proceedings should move forward in a federal or a state court. The plaintiffs initially filed in state court, but the defendants argued that it should be moved to federal court. This question has finally been answered, and a state court will hear the case. With that question resolved, we should begin seeing substantive legal progress in the coming months.

Related Lafayette News Articles

Daily Advertiser February 1, 2016, Lawsuit filed over contamination in I-49 corridor

The Independent December 20, 2016, Contamination lawsuit moving forward