I’ve always heard it said that if you’re on the outside looking in you will never get the full effect and impact of what’s going on. I grew up in one of the communities bordering Calumet Refinery, actually two streets over. I never really paid any attention to the way that it was affecting my family, friends, community members, and I until Mrs. (Velma) White not only told me what was going on but showed me. Being a show and prove type of person this impressed me greatly. It made me open up my eyes, so to speak.
On Monday December 10th, my co-worker Matthew Kern and I took a tour of the newly proposed RAM coal terminal backed by Armstrong Energy with members from Gulf Restoration Network, Sierra Club, and Public Citizen. Department of Environmental Quality’s decision to approve a Clean Air permit for a proposed coal terminal right next a much needed wetland restoration project supported by the State and the government is appalling.
At first, when a company operates unsafely and inadequately, they are often met with disapproval and backlash. Yet when this company continues to operate unsafely, time after time, they gradually lower their operating standard and thus, normalize their faulty performance. This is exactly what is happening with the Motiva Refinery in Norco, Louisiana – a town that has literally grown up with refineries in their backyard.
As a new member of the LABB and a transplant to New Orleans, I didn’t know what to expect from my visit to Norco. I had been briefed on the situation and the residents but it’s hard to prepare yourself to step into a world you have no idea about. The purpose of our visit was to speak with the residents living close to the flare coming off the Motiva facility and talk to them about possible exposure to Butadiene, Hydrogen Sulfide and Benzene. We were compiling data on whether they had seen or experienced anything unusual or we having any adverse health reactions.
When Hurricane Isaac hit New Orleans on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall, it seemed like a bad omen. I stayed hunkered in my second floor apartment with no electricity and no one with whom to talk. I saw Isaac’s aftermath in the city and counted us all lucky, since it could have been worse. I was relieved when the power on my block came back on the following Sunday night, and that businesses re-opened almost immediately.
The town of Norco (or New Orleans Refining Company) has a lot of problems, and almost all of them have to do with their namesake refineries. The residents have dealt with deadly explosions, noxious fumes, and pillars of fire (that look like the Tower of Sauron from a distance). Indeed, you could equate the look of this “city of pipes” and its nighttime backdrop with Mordor (for those of you who aren’t geeks like me, these are references to The Lord of the Rings trilogy).
We weren’t actually able to get into Doyline because the town was basically quarantined and only the locals were allowed in and out of the town. So instead, we traveled to Minden on information that there were some evacuee camps there. After traveling a little bit and talking to the locals, we were able to successful find one camp in Minden. We tried two locations, Madden Supply Co., HWY. 371, which we were unable to locate, and Caney Conference Center off of Methodist Camp Road, which we talked to a family that traveled there.
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