Scotlandville, LA (NBC33) — People who live in the University Place subdivision were promised a settlement to move them away from the North Wastewater Treatment Plant. Four months later, they have not seen a thing.
"The community is still, basically, in the dark on what's taken place and what's happening," Greg Mitchell said, "and this process should not be that way."
Optimism is fading for Mitchell and dozens of his neighbors. The East Baton Rouge Metro Council voted in January to approve a $6 million settlement, seemingly putting an end to 17 years of fighting about the quality of life for people near the sewer plant. The residents all hoped they would have moved by now, and Mitchell blames politicians for keeping them there.
"To allow citizens to live in this for so long, and then, after acknowledging the problem, allowing it to continue and allowing the people to continue to suffer," he said about their seeming inaction.
For visitors to University Place, it only takes a couple seconds to notice the overpowering smell coming from the sewer plant. Neighbors have long lived with that smell, the rampant sewer flies, and the illnesses they cause, all of which get worse as the temperature rises.
"All you're doing now is cooking human waste," Mitchell stated. "You're cooking sewage, raw sewage, and allowing those odors to permeate through the community, allowing those sewer flies to continue to grow and build in the community."
According to sources with the parish attorney's office and the state Department of Environmental Quality, the settlement is close to being finalized. The process has taken this long because the funding requires an extension of a previous sewer bond resulting from a federal consent decree. There was a long public comment period, and DEQ said Monday it responded to the only comment it received.
The next step is for the state attorney general's office to provide the updated consent decree to a federal judge, whose signature will officially put the settlement in motion. But Mitchell wonders why the parish could not negotiate with residents at the same time the paperwork was being processed.
"Even though we do understand that there has to be a process" he asked, "why are we continuing to suffer during this process?"
None of the officials who spoke to FOX44 gave any reason why the judge would reject the settlement. One member of the parish attorney's office said it had taken steps to expedite the buyout process, such as hiring real estate agents to broker contracts.
"Hopefully there's progress moving," Mitchell said, "but we can't see anything."