Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News
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MANDEVILLE, La. - The Army Corps of Engineers has decided it won't issue a permit for fracking at a site on Hwy. 1088 near Interstate 12 in Mandeville, at least not yet.

The corps says Helis Oil and Gas must first apply to drill a smaller, exploratory well, to prove there's enough oil in the ground to justify the possible risk to wetlands on the site.

'I think the importing thing is no fracking is going to take place right now,' said Rene Poche, of Army Corps of Engineers Public Affairs.

The decision, sparked by a geological survey, comes less than a week after Helis gave Eyewitness News a tour of the proposed site.

Environmental concerns raised by the Environmental Protection Agency and Wildlife and Fisheries were also taken into consideration, said Ricky Boyett, of Army Corps of Engineers Public Affairs.

Those opposed to the well see it as a victory.

'We believe it's a major road block for Helis, and I also think it shows that Helis has not proved that the risk is worth the reward,' said Rick Franzo, of Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany Parish.

But a Helis spokeswoman said the company was planning to drill an exploratory well first anyway, so the corps' decision doesn't conflict with their plans. It just means they will have to submit a second permit application.

The corps' decision is not an obstacle to the well's successful completion, said Helis spokeswoman Virginia Miller.

'We understand and appreciate the agencies' intention to be precise and cautious with the permitting process, as Helis always conducts its operations in the same meticulous manner,' Miller said.

St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister doesn't believe the decision will stop the well from moving forward, either.

'It is an acceptable way of getting oil for the country,' said Brister, who said she has been researching fracking and doesn't have the same concerns others have expressed.

Helis said it will work to move forward with its plans while those opposed say they'll continue to fight.

If Helis submits a revised permit application, there will be a new public comment period.

The corps would not have to approve a permit if Helis chooses a site that does not include wetlands.

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