JISH expansion opponents want bubbling source discovered first.

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Lee Ball / The Daily Iberian

In photo: Jim Brugh of LAWCO addresses state officials and local residents at a hearing of the Office of Coastal Management. The hearing was concerning permits that would eventually allow the Jefferson Island Storage Hub to expand its operations by adding caverns in the salt dome deep underground.

Article courtesy by Hope Rubik | February 21st 2013 | The Daily Iberian 

A representative from the Jefferson Island Storage and Hub’s parent company AGL Resources gave a presentation Wednesday night at the onset of a public hearing in New Iberia Wednesday, but according to residents at the hearing, there was an important component missing.

What is causing the bubbling on Lake Peigneur?

“I don’t see how this agency can say this project has minimized or avoided all negative impacts without having an answer,” Lisa Jordan, supervising attorney for the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, said.

Jordan was one of two representatives from the clinic who joined more than a half dozen residents in voicing concerns regarding the company’s intent to create two additional natural gas storage caverns at the facility near Lake Peigneur.

AGL announced its plans to create the additional caverns in 2006 and residents have been fighting the process ever since.

About 50 people gathered at Willow Wood Park where residents from Erath, New Iberia and Abbeville spoke up.

The public hearing was held by the Department of Natural Resources Office of Coastal Management to get input on AGL’s coastal use permit application. The application is specifically for dredging, pipelines and other infrastructure needed to access the site with equipment that could be used to create the caverns.

There will be separate hearings on permits for the creation of the salt caverns and for the transformation of those caverns into natural gas storage facilities.

Nara Crowley, Save Lake Peigneur Inc. president, said there have been 79 “bubbling events” at the lake since 2005.

The most recent was Wednesday afternoon. The Vermilion and Iberia Parish sheriff’s offices as well as DNR were called out this morning when residents saw the lake was still bubbling. The Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office is asking motorists to stay clear of the area until DNR and the Department of Environmental Quality assess the bubbling.

Crowley said this is the first time bubbling has continued into a second day.

Residents surrounding Lake Peigneur have long questioned the bubbling, but the disaster at Bayou Corne in nearby Assumption Parish has exacerbated concerns.

“In the past, when Bayou Corne residents asked about the bubbling, the answer was, ‘It’s swamp gas,’” Gloria Conlin, of Abbeville, said. “To Lake Peigneur residents, that sounds familiar.”

Residents also raised concerns regarding the amount of water from the Chicot Aquifer that would be needed to create the caverns.

LAWCO regional manager Jim Brugh said the company knows of an arsenic plume within the aquifer east of his company’s wells in New Iberia.

The company only recently developed a new well field west of the plume that it estimated the arsenic wouldn’t reach for 50 years. With accelerated draw down from AGL resources, Brugh said they couldn’t be so sure.

“We’re very, very concerned the plume will contaminate the wells,” he said.

State Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, questioned the need of caverns versus the impact on coastal resources. He said natural gas storage is 16 percent higher than the five-year average while, “our coastal resources are among the most valued in the nation, yet the fastest disappearing on the planet.”

“Protect the lake,” Mills said, “she has suffered enough.” Patrick Courrege, DNR communications director, said the comments given during last night’s public hearing will be reviewed by permit analysts who will recommend whether or not the permit should be granted. He said the department should have a decision on the permit within 15 days.

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