- Associated Press - Thursday, August 14, 2014

WATSON, La. (AP) - A group of Watson residents opposed to a proposed gravel pit has asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a public hearing on the project.

The Advocate reports (https://bit.ly/1sXx3BA ) the group, known as Save Our Hills, has gathered more than 700 signatures on a petition opposing Southern Aggregates LLC’s plans to mine for sand and gravel on a 238-acre site off La. Highway 16 about 2 miles north of Live Oak High School.

Gravel pits are not new to the area, but this latest proposal would put the mining site within 200 feet of residents’ properties, sparking concerns among residents and public officials alike about possible health and safety hazards, declining property values and quality of life.

The Livingston Parish Council passed a resolution July 24 formally opposing the project. The Amite River Basin Drainage and Water Conservation District sent a letter to the Corps Aug. 4 expressing concerns over the pit’s potential impacts on the river.

A public comment period for the project, held jointly by the Corps and state Department of Environmental Quality, ended Wednesday. Permits from both agencies are required for the project to move forward.

Spokesman Ricky Boyett said late Wednesday that the Corps was still compiling the written comments it received, but the concerns seemed to focus primarily on air and water quality issues.

“Given that these issues fall under DEQ, we would defer to them on whether a public hearing is needed,” Boyett said, noting that the Corps would participate in the hearing if one is held.

DEQ spokesman Greg Langley, reached by phone late Wednesday, said the state agency had not yet decided whether to hold a public hearing.

Lisa Jordan, deputy director of the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, said in a letter to the Corps on Tuesday that Southern Aggregates’ mining plans raised “substantial safety, environmental and health issues” that could be better addressed orally at a hearing.

Parish Councilman Jim Norred, who lives in Oak Hills, said only three homeowners within the 224-home subdivision received the July 14 public notice, which gave residents until Aug. 3 to submit written comments.

“We asked for an additional 30 days, and they gave us a 10-day extension,” Norred said.

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Information from: The Advocate, https://theadvocate.com

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