Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The I-49 Boondoggles

What is a BOONDOGGLE? Wikipedia tells us it refers to
projects involving large numbers of people and usually heavy expenditure, where at some point, the key operators, having realized that the project will never work, are still reluctant to bring this to the attention of their superiors.  
Public opposition to routing I-49 through the heart of our city goes back at least to 1992, and for years now, Lafayette residents have recognized that the government project now being called the Lafayette I-49 Connector (we call it the I-49 Con) is a prime example of a wasteful government boondoggle (for an example of public comment read "Why the I-49 connector won't work" published May 27, 2016 in the Daily Advertiser). The public has been assured many times that if there is significant public opposition to the project it will never be built. Yet, the I-49 Con continues spending tens of millions of tax dollars on studies and design that will never be used for a footprint through the heart of the Lafayette.

Sarah Palin holding Nowhere Alaska t-shirt
Sarah Palin holding a T-shirt related to the Gravina Island Bridge.
Credit: Bob Weinstein via Wikimedia
Regardless of how wasteful the project, politicians from both sides of the aisle often find it hard to oppose tax funded boondoggles. Perhaps this is because of the inevitable cycling back of a percentage of the money into campaign contributions. Even some of the most conservative politicians seem unable to pass up wasteful government boondoggle projects. Do you recall the support of Sarah Palin for federal funding of the Gravina Island Bridge commonly referred to as the iconic "Bridge to Nowhere?"

The national Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG) published their 2018 list of US interstate highway boondoggle projects. If built as proposed, these boondoggles would waste tens of billions of our federal transportation tax dollars. And, even if these boondoggles are never built, billions will be spent on their planning and design before public pressure and simple rationality end their useless authorizations.

Although our own local boondoggle, the I-49 Con, did not make the USPIRG list this year, its sister project in Shreveport, the Shreveport I-49 Inner City Connection did make 2018's national list of worst boondoggles. Better luck next year to our own I-49 Con! If USPIRG accepts nominations in 2019 the I-49 Con will have my vote.

It is important that our political representatives hear from their voters about stopping these federal transportation boondoggles. If we don't speak up the only voices our leaders hear come from paid lobbyists representing the corporations and contractors who are hoping to continue getting design and construction contracts.

We do know that at least some of our leaders are hearing us. On October 17, 2018, One Acadiana hosted a 3rd Congressional District Candidate Forum. All seven remaining congressional candidates running in the November 6 general election participated in the forum:

Several of the candidates spoke to the forum in general terms about our need for improved infrastructure and the need to eliminate wasteful federal spending. However, two candidates spoke directly about problems with routing I-49 through the center of Lafayette. Congressman Clay Higgins noted that routing the interstate footprint through the central city would displace or impact a large number of private property owners. He concluded that an actual footprint for the project still needs to be selected. Candidate Mimi Methvin cited further problems with the central city route including its planned passage through the highly contaminated former railyard site. Furthermore, she noted that today urban experts and planners recognize urban blight in many US cities has been caused by the past construction of inner-city interstates.

Do you agree that the Lafayette I-49 Con is one more federal boondoggle currently wasting many tens of millions of tax dollars on design of a route through the heart of our city? Do you agree that, as now planned, the I-49 Con should never and likely will never be built?

If your answer is yes, I urge you to contact your chosen 3rd district candidate. Tell him/her of your opposition to the currently proposed central I-49 route. Ask your candidate to support planning for one of the much less costly and less damaging alternatives bypassing Lafayette to the east along the Teche Ridge or west following the plan for the Lafayette Regional eXpressway (LRX). In addition to saving federal and state taxes, either alternative also involves much lower cost to our local governments, reduces risks to property and health, and eliminates most impacts to flooding and traffic congestion inherent in the I-49 Con planned route through the heart our city.

Mike Waldon, PhD
October 23, 2018 

Thursday, June 7, 2018

What percent of known railyard contaminants are monitored by LUS in our well water?

In their letter delivered in March 22, 2017 to our City/Parish Council and Mayor/President , the Acadian Group of the Sierra Club and WaterMark Alliance made ten recommendations describing actions which are needed to protect the public's health and property. To date, our city "leaders" have not even shown the courtesy of acknowledging receipt of that letter, and have given no public indication that they are considering any of the recommended actions to protect their constituencies.

In that letter, recommended action #3 was to (emphasis added):
"Intensify sampling of well water by increasing the frequency of sampling and adding contaminants for analysis to include all known or suspected contaminants present on the surface or in the surficial aquifer (groundwater just below the surface)."
Why was increased water well monitoring by LUS recommended? Consider these facts that undergird the rationale for improving LUS's water well monitoring and highlight the urgency :

You might have assumed that our LUS well water is already being frequently tested for all contaminants that reasonably might get into our drinking water. You would be wrong in that assumption! Currently, LUS monitors and reports only a generic list of contaminants at a frequency of once every three years in each of our municipal drinking water wells.

To estimate just what fraction of known organic contaminants from nearby contaminated sites are monitored and reported by LUS, I searched through the supporting exhibits filed in court by the complainants in their lawsuit against the Union Pacific railroad.

From the lawsuit exhibits, I compiled a list of all named organic contaminants that were detected and documented in samples from the railyard site (Tables 1-2). That list of railyard contaminants is based on only a few samples and is quite unlikely to include all of the organic contaminants that will eventually be discovered at the railyard site. However, the list does give us a basis to estimate what fraction of railyard contaminants are monitored from our drinking water wells. If you have an interest in seeing a separate list of specific chemical names, you can view the list of contaminants by clicking here.

Results -  In the railyard lawsuit exhibits, a total of 49 organic contaminants were reported as being detected.  Of these, only 15 (31%) are currently monitored and reported by LUS (Figure 1, and Tables 1-2).
Figure 1.  Only 15 of the 49 organic contaminants detected at the abandoned railyard are monitored and reported water from the LUS drinking water wells.

So, returning to the question in the title: "What percent of known railyard contaminants are monitored by LUS in our well water?" The answer: About 31%, less than one third of known contaminants are monitored in our drinking water wells and publicly reported by LUS!

Furthermore, even for the 15 monitored contaminants, each well is sampled at the astonishingly low frequency once every three years. This fact led to the other requested action in the citizens' letter - to increase frequency of sampling. Implementing increased monitoring frequency is particularly important for the LUS water wells which already have had a detection of a surface contaminant. As with the other citizen recommendations, there is no indication that LUS and our city's "leaders" have ever considered this recommended action.

And, one last word - Note that in Lafayette LUS has reported detection of contamination that must have originated from near the ground surface, but, to the author's knowledge LUS has never detected any organic contaminants in untreated Lafayette well water that exceeds EPA maximum contaminant limits for protection of human health (MCLs). The concern being raised here and in the recommendation letter is that the observation of any surface contaminants in our well water is evidence of contaminant breakthrough. That is, we are seeing the beginning of surface contamination reaching our water supply.

The increased monitoring requested in recommendation #3 is just one of the actions needed to better safeguard our citizens and ratepayers. LUS management under the guidance of our local political leadership have the constitutional duty to safeguard public health, and to ensure protection of LUS ratepayers by ensuring that the parties responsible for the contamination pay all costs of additional monitoring, remediation, and any/all added costs of treatment.

Table 1. This table lists the 15 contaminants known to be present at the abandoned railyard and monitored/reported by LUS in untreated well water samples taken once every 3 years. Of these monitored contaminants only 1,4-Dichlorobenzene has to-date been detected in LUS well water.

CAS No. Contaminant
100-41-4 Ethyl Benzene
100-42-5 Styrene
106-46-7 1,4-Dichlorobenzene
107-06-2 1,2-Dichloroethane
108-88-3 Toluene
127-18-4 Tetrachloroethene
156-60-5 Trans-1,2-Dichloroethene
50-32-8 Benzo(a)pyrene
71-43-2 Benzene
71-55-6 1,1,1-Trichloroethane
75-09-2 Methylene Chloride
79-01-6 Trichloroethene
95-50-1 1,2-Dichlorobenzene
74-95-3 Dibromomethane
N/A M, P-Xylenes

Table 2.  This table lists the 34 contaminants known to be present at the abandoned railyard and not monitored/reported by LUS in untreated well water samples taken once every 3 years.

CAS No. Contaminant
103-65-1 n-Propylbenzene
104-51-8 n-Butylbezene
108-67-8 1,3,5-Trimethyl-Benzene
120-12-7 Anthracene
129-00-0 Pyrene
193-39-5 Indeno(1,2,3-cd)pyrene
205-99-2 Benzo(b)fluoranthene
206-44-0 Fluoranthene
207-08-9 Benzo(k)Fluoranthene
208-96-8 Acenaphthylene
218-01-9 Chrysene
541-73-1 1,3-Dlchlorobenzene
56-55-3 Benzo(a)anthracene
594-20-7 2,2-Dichloropropane
67-64-1 Acetone
67-66-3 Chloroform
74-97-5 Bromochloromethane
75-15-0 Carbon disulfide
75-34-3 1,1-Dichloroethane
79-69-4 Trichlorofluoromethane
83-32-9 Acenaphthene
85-01-8 Phenanthrene
86-73-7 Fluorene
91-105-134 Alkyl benzene
95-47-6 0-Xylene
95-49-8 2-Chlorotoluene
95-63-6 1,2,4-Trimethylbenzene
95-63-6 1,2,4-Trimethylbenzene
98-82-8 Isopropytbenzene (Cumene)
540-59-0 1,2-Dichloroethene
91-57-6 2-Methylnaphthalene
N/A CIS-1,2-Dichloroethane
N/A dimethylnaphthalene
135-98-8 Sec-Butylbenzene

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.