- Associated Press - Monday, January 12, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A Pascagoula shipyard that has been a focus of complaints by nearby residents is paying a $144,545 civil fine for environmental violations including allowing sandblasting particles and paint to become airborne.

VT Halter Marine agreed to pay the fine to the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality in a November order.

Residents in a subdivision just west of Bayou Casotte say that they’re suffering health and property damage from the highly industrialized corridor, which includes the now-shuttered Mississippi Phosphates plant, the Chevron Corp. refinery and the Signal International shipyard.

“My car is covered in overspray,” said Barbara Wessecker, a leader of the residents’ group. “It’s been covering in sandblasting material; it’s been covered in everything.

VT Halter did not immediately respond Monday to a request for comment.

The environmental regulator found that the shipyard, owned by Singapore Technologies Engineering, committed a total of 44 violations documented in a May 2014 inspection. Other problems included:

- Improperly storing and labeling paint, solvent and oil.

- Sending hazardous waste to regular landfills.

- Allowing oil, pollutants and dirt to run off into Bayou Casotte.

- Failing to contain blowing dust and dirt from dredging and construction areas.

Chris Wells, a lawyer for the department, said the inspection was prompted in part by residents’ complaints.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say it was caused by the complaints but the timing of it was maybe precipitated by the complaints,” Wells said.

He said sandblasting curtains meant to contain emissions had gaps and holes. Wells said he wasn’t sure how long VT Halter had been in violation.

“Things can change pretty rapidly at a facility,” Wells said.

The company agreed that it would conduct an engineering study about how to contain sandblasting and painting within 150 days. The company also agreed to complete a building to house blasting and paint activities by June 30. Halter was already erecting that building as part of a $35 million project using $22 million in Halter money and $13 million in federal Hurricane Katrina recovery money.

In the meantime, Halter pledged to use a sweeper, water truck and vacuum truck to hold down dust and to fully curtain any sandblasting and painting.

Wessecker, though, said those measures have thus far proved ineffective.

“All of the stuff is still blowing over here,” she said. “It’s not being stopped.”

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Follow Jeff Amy at: http://twitter.com/jeffamy

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