Wednesday, October 12, 2011

But in unincorporated Lafayette Parish, almost anything goes.

I saw the plans last week for the garbage transfer station being built on Sunbeam Lane in north Lafayette. As the crow flies it’s not far from my house near Four Corners, and as facilities that deal with garbage go, it will be a nice one — an enclosed building surrounded by trees and landscaping in which trash trucks pull in and dump their cargo into 18-wheelers, which then make the trek to the landfill. It’s an efficient, economical means of transferring waste. And a necessary one. Like it or not we generate a lot of garbage. Too much, really.

The facility will operate in a nook in unincorporated Lafayette Parish near a scrap yard and what appears to be a staging area for the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office’s work-release program. Industrial detritus litters the area, the remnants of 20th century enterprise cordoned off by barbed wire and hurricane fence near a spotty procession of modest and ramshackle houses, sheds, and trailer and mobile homes. This is not a place the chamber of commerce drives prospective members through, and but for the angst occasioned in part by the real concerns of a few people living adjacent to the site and the manufactured angst of a councilman seeking re-election, it is a forgotten dot on the parish map.

But because it is more or less an industrial area and especially because of its proximity to Interstate 10, it’s just about as ideal a site for such a facility as there is.

IESI, the garbage hauler leasing the land on which the facility is going up — concrete has been poured and pipes laid, contractors are scurrying about unperturbed by controversy or political exigency — says it will be an odorless, orderly operation from the olfactory vantage point of nearby residents, who will not see the actual transfer station unless they rent a helicopter and fly overhead.

Yet it still stinks. Not because tons of garbage will move through the facility. And not because IESI didn’t dot every i and cross every t in getting the project approved by Lafayette Consolidated Government.

The area is more or less a finger of unincorporated Lafayette Parish extending southward into the northern edge of the city limits, and the controversy over the garbage transfer facility underscores Lafayette Parish’s glaring lack of planning and establishment of uniform — consolidated — building codes over the decades.

In the city limits there are limits — on what you can build, where you can build it, how you build it, whether it’s commercial or residential and who must be notified before an ounce of concrete is poured. In the parish it’s anything goes. And on Sunbeam Lane where the west side of the road is city and the east side of the road is parish, the reality of our lack of planning comes crashing to earth, leaving families who are probably living in the area out of economic necessity understandably concerned about multi-ton garbage trucks rumbling down their street, and leaving a company that performed its due diligence and met every legal requirement imposed by government — arguably too few, but it met them nonetheless — in a staring contest with the City-Parish Council, which last week passed an introductory ordinance that aims to block IESI and all future haulers from constructing garbage transfer facilities in Lafayette Parish.

This has Greyhound written all over it. IESI cleared the legal hurdles; the project is under way. To retroactively block it is to invite a lawsuit like the one Greyhound Bus Lines filed after the council OK’d and then un-OK’d moving its Lafayette bus station to an abandoned bank building on Moss Street. LCG is in the process of settling that suit and will give Greyhound a couple of decades of free rent in the new Rosa Parks Transportation Center downtown for its troubles. LCG also paid $270,000 to buy the Moss Street property from Greyhound.

The same will happen with IESI if the ordinance passes. If anything, IESI will have to be grandfathered. But the transfer station will be built. How can it not?

This stink also gives the lie to this notion that we have consolidated government in Lafayette. Neither the residents living nearby nor the councilman who represents them evidently had any idea this project had been approved until it was under way. The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing under Lafayette Consolidated Government. The only thing that is consolidated in LCG is services.

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