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When will Southwest Louisiana get a new Interstate Ten Calcasieu River Bridge? The answer to that question is a long time coming-- in part because of a chemical spill nearly twenty years ago.
A dispute in court that may bring some answers for the public.
It's because of the chemical spill that state highway officials say there's been almost no progress on a new I-10 calcasieu river bridge. And the state wants damages from the companies responsible.
There seems to be little dispute that a new I-10 Calcasieu River Bridge is needed eventually. But state highway officials say they need to avoid hitting the underground plume of chemical contamination for which Conoco Phillips and Sasol are responsible. Attorney Patrick McIntire represents the State Department of Transportation and Development. "There's contamination in the ground and the groundwater where we need to build the bridge. It's going to cost extra to stay out of the contamination when the bridge is built and that's the damages that the state is requesting that be awarded in the lawsuit. The state would like to stay out of the contamination and span the contamination and that's what drives up the extra cost."
The DOTD estimates the state's damages from the spill are $235 million including the increased cost of a bridge with spans long enough to bypass the spill. They don't want to drive pilings through the plume for fear of spreading the contamination. The state has filed suit to get that added cost and the jury trial is set for October.
But Conoco Phillips and Sasol say it's uncertain what kind of bridge should be built--and that the trial on that part of damages should be delayed until an environmental impact study. A study they believe will help experts decide the best design for the bridge. The environmental impact study would take at least three years. Said McIntire, "We are hopeful that the court will keep the trial on schedule for October so the people of Louisiana can recover the added cost caused to the bridge project by the contamination that the defendants spilled into the ground."
Judge Clayton Davis listened to arguments from both sides and is expected to issue a ruling within the next few days.
We were not able to get an on camera interview, but a spokesman for Conoco Phillips, now with Phillips 66 says they are committed to being part of the solution and that what they are asking for from the court will not delay the project.
The following is Phillips 66's response to today's proceeding regarding the I-10 Bridge project.
"We are a valued member of this community, and are committed to being a part of the solution for this project in a manner that is consistent with the on-going federal environmental review process. The resolution of the motion presented today will not delay this project in any way."