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Good news, bad news for JP Landfill: Gas system finished, but new flooding problems

The parish hired River Birch to do the work for $4.9 million, but DeJean said it only cost $3.5 million and was finished six months early.
Birds fly above the Waggaman landfill.

WAGGAMAN, La. — The news was mixed Tuesday for the troubled Jefferson Parish Landfill in Waggaman.

A new gas collection system is reducing emissions there and was completed under budget and ahead of schedule by the private River Birch Landfill next door.

But now the parish is hiring River Birch again, this time to temporarily take over garbage collections and to pump dozens of gallons of flood water out of a portion of the parish landfill flooded last month.

Brian DeJean, who runs River Birch’s gas plant, said his crews finished a new system to collect dangerous methane and hydrogen sulfide gas that had been escaping from the older portions of the public landfill. The parish hired River Birch to do the work for $4.9 million, but DeJean said it only cost $3.5 million and was finished six months early.

He also reported that the system is collecting twice as much gas from the buried portions of the Jefferson Parish Landfill than the parish’s own gas plant. That has significantly reduced the emissions that had caused strong odors and possible human health effects for residents in Waggaman, Harahan and River Ridge.

What’s more, the parish now gets to share in the royalties River Birch collects from selling the gas collected from wells in the public landfill.

Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng praised that work at Tuesday’s parish council meeting in Gretna.

“We've put a lot of infrastructure into our gas system. As Brian mentioned, how much we're able to get from the gas -- we get royalties from that gas,” Lee Sheng said. “It's doing very well.”

But she said that progress is threatened by the overtopping of a levee protecting the cells where the Jefferson Parish Landfill is actively burying new garbage.

“The active cell is Cell 23,” Lee Sheng said. “The water breached into Cell 24 and 25, which created a very difficult situation for us because Cell 23 filled up quicker than the normal forecast would because of COVID and the amount of extra garbage that people are putting out onto their driveway.”

She said the parish was forced to turn back to River Birch to take in new garbage for the next 45 to 60 days and to pump the water out of Cells 24 and 25.

“We've pumped 23 million gallons to date,” DeJean said. “And then the estimate from the parish is that it's somewhere between 30 and 50 million gallons of water to pump.”

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality’s air monitors, installed near the landfill after the old gas-collection system was flooded, have recorded huge spikes in methane emissions recently, raising concerns that the latest flooding is causing new problems. The flood last month was in a section of the landfill that’s still active, so there are no gas wells there yet. Those are not installed until a section of landfill is completed and covered with grass.

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