Who’s Lying About a New Calcasieu River Bridge?
As the I-10 Bridge continues to sit at a Sufficiency Rating of 6.6 out of 100 while plans move forward to enhance the 210 Bridge, the public is repeatedly told that lingering contamination from a 1994 ethylene dichloroethane (EDC) chemical spill remains the most significant hurdle to overcome before construction can begin on a new bridge.
But what if the contamination story is not entirely true?
The reasoning goes that, since the EDC seeped into the lakebed, disturbing it in any way could release it back into the water, which could lead to a public health hazard - and nobody wants that. In fact, the looming threat of the environmental impact has been enough to keep people from pushing the issue too hard, because nobody wants to be responsible for an ecological disaster.
However, back in 2014, Michael Barnes, a spokesman for Phillips 66, went on record with KPLC, stating:
"Several years of groundwater sampling and analysis have demonstrated that EDC impacts in the path of the new I-10 bridge are below established cleanup standards, and no cleanup is required in the path of the proposed new bridge."
Did you catch that? We’ll repeat it, just in case.
”...no cleanup is required in the path of the proposed new bridge.”
If the EDC contamination in the potential path of a new bridge has already been cleaned up, why do we keep being told that it hasn't? Why does the DOTD keep telling us that EDC contamination remains the biggest roadblock to construction?
Take a glance at this fact sheet released by Phillips 66 in 2016. It states:
“Phillips 66 regularly collects groundwater samples from monitoring wells...and no remediation is necessary in this area. In fact, most of the samples taken from this area since November 2011 show that the groundwater even meets EPA standards for drinking water.”
Come again? You mean to say that most of the contamination we keep being told is preventing construction has already been cleaned up and even meets EPA standards for drinking water? Since 2011?!
Megan Hartman, Public Relations Director for Phillips 66, stated that the energy company supports the need to build a new I-10 bridge, and that, “The bridge design and construction is not expected to be delayed as a result of the EDC recovery.”
She went on to reiterate that, “EDC impacts in the path of the new I-10 bridge are below established cleanup standards," further emphasizing the claims made by Phillips 66 that the levels of EDC remaining in the path of the new bridge are now even lower than what they're required to be.
Of course, it could always be that Phillips 66 is stretching the truth, but considering the fact that they’ve been leading remediation efforts for years and probably have an ocean of data tables and a plenty of groundwater and soil samples to back up their claims, I kinda doubt they’re pulling our leg. Besides, it's not as if their remediation obligation would suddenly stop if a new bridge was built - there's still plenty of work to be done in the surrounding area.
The current roadblock standing in the way of any bridge construction is an Environmental Impact Study the DOTD started talking about years ago that continues to be delayed. It was last scheduled to be complete by 2017, but that was pushed back to 2018. Until this study is completed, work cannot move forward on the project.
However, the DOTD has been talking about this Environmental Impact Study at least as far back as 2010, when KPLC reported that plans to build a new bridge had "hit a snag." At that point, the study was said to last up to two years. It's been over seven years now, and it's still not done. And it's been delayed again.
So who's not being honest here? The energy company that has been running remediation procedures and testing the soil and groundwater for years, or the DOTD, who has yet to complete its Environmental Impact Study?
It's difficult to say, especially when visiting the DOTD's official website for the I-10 Calcasieu River Bridge for information regarding the current status of the project results in a simple, two-word answer: Coming Soon!
If it seems like the goalposts keep being moved while a whole bunch of nothing gets done, it's only because that's pretty much exactly what appears to be happening. Since 2010, the one thing holding up construction of a new bridge - the Environmental Impact Study - has been repeatedly delayed, over and over, indefinitely.
If that study is ever completed and actually ends up supporting the findings of Phillips 66 to confirm that the EDC contamination no longer poses any threat to a new bridge, then the Powers That Be would be all out of excuses.
No more stalling.
Forget for a minute the common fear that the bridge is in danger of collapse. Instead, accept the findings of Rep. Clay Higgins that it's sound and in no danger of falling. Assume that everything our elected officials and the DOTD keep telling us is true, and that the bridge is structurally sound.
It's still dangerous.
It's a narrow, 65-year-old bridge with a steep incline and no shoulder that was never meant for interstate traffic, yet is expected to bear an increasingly heavy burden. Any accident on the bridge creates an immediate danger and backs up cars and trucks for miles along the interstate. It's a hazard for law enforcement and rescue workers anytime there is an incident on the bridge.
It's not safe.
- Bridge Railings: Do not meet currently acceptable standards
- Approach Guardrail: Does not meet currently acceptable standards
- Transitions: Do not meet currently acceptable standards
- Deck: Serious Condition
- Superstructure: Serious Condition
- Substructure: Serious Condition
- Structural Evaluation: Basically intolerable, requiring high priority of corrective action
- Sufficiency Rating: 6.6%
Even if the bridge isn't in danger of falling down, it's still a menace to the roughly 74,000 vehicles that travel over it every day. What we need to do is either build a new bridge, or upgrade the one we already have.
What we don't need to do is more nothing.
We must hold our elected officials accountable for their campaign promises, and not allow them to backpedal once they're in office. The Environmental Impact Study needs to kick it into overdrive, wrap things up, and release its findings. The true cost of the project needs to be assessed and presented, and we need to get things done.
We need to have the necessary public hearings, and we need to move forward on this project, not tomorrow or next year or the year after that, but today. Right now, not just for the safety of everyone living and working in the Lake Area, but for everyone who relies on the major artery of the South to stay open and running.
We need to get moving, Louisiana.