Bogalusa pulp mill trashes Pearl River, no one cares

You may want to skip this post since its a one page rant about how awfully we treat our environment, locally. Boring stuff.

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above: from Walt Kelly’s famous first Earth Day cartoon from the 1971, depicting the status of our ecological condition

There are several cheery subjects I would normally like to write about but I was so bothered by what I found last week, I thought I would try to put it in words and share it for those inquiring minds who want to know .

This story reminds me of this famous 1970’s TV commercial starring Grey Eagle, which focused on those trashy Americans (Swinus americanus) who trash our land. My account is maybe not as well produced and not as concise.

Since 1981, I have had a close tie with the city of Bogalusa, Louisiana. It was that year, in March, that I packed my stuff and got the heck out of the big City, New Orleans, setting up shop in the rolling red-clay hills of Pearl River County, Mississippi, in Carriere, just across from, and a little bit south of Bogalusa, near the old Indian trail that became the current river road, at edge the Pearl River. I was in search of the good life; fresh air. I was kind of inspired by the old Green Acres sitcom from the 60’s.

The locals in Bogalusa have an old saying about the Bogalusa pulp-paper factory. When someone asks what that awful, putrid, disgusting smell is, they jokingly say “its the smell of money”, then they laugh. Funny, but not really. Its a common response, true for cities like Pineville, Louisiana, where my sister lives, and Pine Bluff Arkansas, where I spent a lot of vacation time as a kid at Gramma and Grampa Roger’s house, and of course, many other places in the southeastern U.S.

But this post is about the Bogalusa plant.

For all these years since 1981, when I lived in Carriere, and even in the last seven or so years since I’ve lived in Covington, I’ve made regular trips through Bogalusa, to and from the farm in Carriere, a place I so love. Its always been the case, that just as you cross over the bridge from the Mississippi side into Louisiana, just before you get to Ponemah Cemetery on Highway 10, the smell right there is so robust, so awful, that it about gags you. Makes you want to hurl. Nowhere in Bogalusa is the smell as bad as in that very spot, even though clouds of white smoke spew, all day and all night, from the pulp mill’s huge stacks in the heart of downtown “Bogolu”.

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above: an image from Highway 21 of the stacks of the Bogalusa paper mill sending gaseous clouds aloft.

I never knew why this was (though I had my suspicions), until a couple of weeks ago when I happened to look to my left while driving at 40 mph past the little backwater area adjacent to the cemetery and saw several circular areas of bubbling water on an otherwise slick-as-glass water surface. Very unusual indeed. I whipped my pick-up truck around and went to snoop. As I was pulling up alongside the pond, I immediately realized that this is the source of the pulp plant’s famous “accidental” discharges, so many times over the years. Its an outlet piped from the pulp plant a mile away, certified “okay” by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). I had suspected forever, that somewhere around this smelly area was the discharge and folks, there it was.

look at the crappy youtube video above that I uploaded and you can barely make out the gurgling, bubbling spew of liquid junk being expelled.

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above is a still frame showing the same, albeit not too clearly, I admit.

In 2011, there was a major fish-kill from these discharge pipes, when an accidental release of junk, killed “thousands of fish”. The times Picayune newspaper and the TV stations said “thousands of fish, but I aint no dummy and there’s forty miles of river between Bogaloo and the Gulf, so that leads me to more accurately discern that there were millions of fish and many many other aquatic species that perished (it basically killed just about everything alive in the river). When it happened, I tried for a while to attempt to find what exactly was discharged that was so darned lethal. No newspaper or TV station ever said what was in the material was that was discharged. They just said it was a “black liquor”, whatever that means. I tried contacting TV news stations and newspapers to find out, but got narry a response. The plant was fined a lousy 70 million dollars by DEQ and made to “replenish the fish” on the river which is about the worst joke I’ve ever heard. They introduced a single species of fish to make it all better. To clean-up my gut response to this, I say BALONEY!

If it wasn’t so horrible that a private enterprise is allowed to permanently, and still continuously, trash such a beautiful and magnificently priceless river, it would be laughable, especially if you read press releases and related news articles. We the people (sheeople) are so ecologically naive and so blinded by ecological amnesia, and so caught up in our “lives” that we seem to be powerless over the trashing of some of our most valued natural assets, our waterways. I got nuthin’ against big business, I just think they aught to treat our country and our grandkids better. And the DEQ is the entity to do the oversight.

The monetary fines and the laughable “fixes” that were ordered to supposedly repair the damage, are not worthy of further discussion here. You can find a bunch of stuff on this on-line by searching “Bogalusa spill, Pearl River”. If you do this and you happen to see something that’s positive and substantive, something I’ve missed, I’d surely like to know of it.

If you’ve canoed the Pearl and seen the massive Tupelo-Cypress forests or have simply viewed its incredible five-mile flood plain from the heights of the 200 foot bluffs on the Mississippi side, you know how inspiring and spectacular this landscape is.  If you’ve visited Lipkin Hill (just a mile west of my Carriere property, 15 miles upriver from Picayune), along the east side of the Pearl, where the steep loess bluffs support the very-most southern populations of Cowcumber and Pyramid Magnolia/ White Oak and Native Camellia that cling to the edge of the Pearl here, you have an appreciation of what is, at least on the surface, you’ll know that this magical and vast natural area is truly in dire need of protection and nurturing from we, the human species.

I’m not sure about what the new fixes are that are supposed to come on line in 2015 to satisfy the DEQ’s demand to “fix” the problem, but I suspect that they are not enough and certainly do not address what has been a really bad thing for this very significant and important estuary. I figure this because a bunch of garbage everyday, pours by the hundreds if not thousands of gallons, from the pulp plant into the Pearl.

Okay, so I drive by the next day and there sitting at the water’s edge, is a fellow fishing at the discharge pond, fifty feet from the closest discharge valve. Ugh. Yowsa. This should anger everyone.

Yes, folks, “we have met the enemy and he is us”.

It is legal in the old U.S. of A to trash a pristine, magnificent river at the expense of paper products. And considering the heating of our atmosphere here on planet Earth, this seems to be the very least of our worries, ecologically speaking. I am very confident that with all of the engineers and scientists in this region, there could be a better way to do business.

All I can say is, God help us all.

Okay, rant over.

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above:  Jack Sessions of Dr. Wagner’s Honey Island Swamp Tours holds up a dead large mouth bass as dead fish, mussels and eels float on the water Wednesday, August 17, 2011 on the West Pearl River north of Crawford Landing near Slidell. (Times-Picayune)

 

 

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