Baton Rouge, LA (NBC33) — Dozens of residents in Scotlandville still have no relief from the sewer treatment facility in their neighborhood.
At their request Wednesday night, the East Baton Rouge Metro Council delayed voting on a settlement that would pay to move them out of their homes.
Residents of the University Place subdivision were prepared to accept a buyout from the parish, estimated at $6 million, because they claim living conditions are substandard due to the facility. They say it smells bad, attracts flies, and makes them sick
"Now I have respiratory problems," said Mamie Mitchell. "Some is because of the sewer plant, what I have to inhale in my house on a daily basis."
The parish devised a plan to buy 59 parcels of land, including 44 homes that would be demolished, creating a buffer between the facility and the neighborhood. It would install trees and plants to make the neighborhood smell better and improve safety.
"The plant will be not visible from the neighborhood because of the trees," said William Daniel, Chief Administrative Officer for the parish. "(The vegetation) will act as an odor barrier, and if we do have a problem, then we have a chance to get it fixed before it impacts the neighborhood."
Residents had wanted to accept the settlement until they heard the plan would then be reclassified as a public project.
"This is not necessarily what we'd call an arm's-length transaction," said Bryan Harmon, Deputy Director of the Department of Public Works. "It's not simply putting a house on the market. We are saying, 'we're building a project, I'm going to buy your house.'"
In a public project, the homeowner loses much of his/her leverage. A public assessor gives a valuation of the home, and the municipality pays that amount, plus moving expenses, so the homeowner can find a comparable place to live.
Describing the settlement as a public project made both residents and council members nervous.
"While we talking about putting you in a comparable home, well, one guy's comparable home might not be the same comparable home to the one who's been living in their house for 40 years," said Councilman Ulysses Addison.
Daniel said the parish would value the homes as if the sewer plant did not exist.
"Then we'll look for another house in a comparable neighborhood. If we have to pay slightly more to get that house, to move them there, to get them a comparable house, that's what we're gonna do," he said.
Council members also took question with the $6 million price tag, since it had so much room for variation.
"It seems like to me," said Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis, "and I'm not quoting this or saying this is actually gonna happen, but you're gonna be back to this council for additional money for this project."
During the debate between city leaders, the lawyer for the neighbors met with his clients, and returned to the council with support for a two-week deferral, which was initially proposed by Councilman Smokie Bourgeois.
The deferral angered Mayor Pro Tem Mike Walker, who said he has worked on this issue since he first took office 12 years ago.
"I'm going to make it a vote to pass it or kill it on December the 12th one way or another," Walker said, hoping to bring the issue to an end during his session on the council.