In the summary that follows, direct links to the beginning of each speaker's presentation are provided for your convenience.
Woody Martin welcomed the public on behalf of the Acadiana Group of the Sierra Club, and provided introductions of the evening's speakers.
Bill Goodell has been an environmental attorney for over 30 years. He shared some of the results of his investigations into contamination from the abandoned Union Pacific Railyard in downtown Lafayette, which sits above the Chicot Aquifer, Lafayette's drinking water source. His information came primarily from publicly available records. Goodell focused attention on p-dichlorobenzene (p-DCB or simply DCB) which has been monitored for several years in LUS water wells beneath the railyard. DCB does not occur naturally; it must originate at the surface. Because DCB is one of many known contaminants at the abandoned site the legal presumption is that the contamination originates from the contaminated railyard site. In 1974, the Louisiana constitution required conservation of our environmental resources and protection of the public. Public bodies have a duty to uphold this constitutional requirement, referred to as the public trust doctrine.
Kim Goodell leads the local WaterMark organization. She provided a history of citizen opposition to the I-49 Connector project and discussed the need for our political leaders to integrate the public trust doctrine into their actions. She stated that because of the public trust doctrine our local and state officials are expected to not simply be reactive, but be proactive in protecting the public from risks like drinking water contamination. Why have our local officials been less than aggressive in carrying out their constitutional duty?
Michael Waldon, PhD, is a retired from a career as an environmental engineer, hydrologist, and professor at LSU and UL-Lafayette. Dr. Waldon described the Louisiana DOTD Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) of contamination within the footprint of the proposed I-49 Connector. This includes the heavily contaminated railyard. Of the 195 properties in the footprint of the I-49 project, DOTD consultants recommend that 24 properties including the railyard need further evaluation. Although a year old, this study has not been publicly released for review, and was obtained only through a Freedom of Information Act disclosure. While we agree with the recommendation that more study is needed, the report has numerous deficiencies and failed to report important publicly available information. The report failed to discover monitoring data that show that surface contamination has reached Lafayette's water wells.
Harold Schoeffler is a leader with the Sierra Club and other civic organizations. Mr Schoeffler gave a brief history of the railroad in Lafayette. The Sabine was the first steam engine to arrive in Lafayette in 1875. Since the later 1800's the Lafayette railyard was a site for trains to take on water, sand, and fuel. Lafayette was also a major site for engine maintenance. The roundhouse, constructed in 1882, serviced steam engines for many decades. Maintenance often involved washing trains with the organic solvent trichloroethane (TCE), and removal of asbestos which was disposed of in ponds on-site. Every form of waste was dumped into the disposal ponds. The roundhouse operated until 1962. The railyard at times employed over one thousand people, and was a major source of employment in Lafayette. Mr. Schoeffler concludes that the railyard should have been cleaned up in the 1960s when it was closed. Today the wastes remain and the abandoned site still needs to be cleaned up.
Public comments and questions were solicited. Questions included what quantitative information is available and whether any political leaders or government employees were in attendance. The geographic extent of the impact was also discussed. Commenters suggested that attendees express their concern to our local political leaders. People were concerned about the status of compliance with Louisiana DEQ and US EPA requirements - were these agencies protecting the public? Finally, the US EPA EJScreen environmental and social justice mapping tool was suggested as a useful source for comparing the railroad site with other sites across the US.
Other links related to the meeting:
Article by Wynce Nolley, The Independent, January 20, 2017. "Sierra Club: contamination in LUS water supply"
Article by Kendra Chamberlain, Louisiana Uncovered, January 27, 2017. "Lafayette citizens meet over concerns about alleged water well contamination - While city council members are MIA"
Dr. Waldon's slide presentation is separately available through SlideShare.net
The current LUS drinking water quality summary report is available for download at http://lus.org/index.php/water/water-quality