Dec. 19, 2012 05:34 PM

Jefferson Island Storage & Hub has applied to dredge deep below Lake Peigneur in Iberia Parish, and that application went under review Tuesday, giving the public less than a month to weigh in on the project.

A permit application submitted by Jefferson Island Storage & Hub to Louisiana's Office of Coastal Management - a division of the Department of Natural Resources - for a contentious project to develop natural gas storage caverns beneath Lake Peigneur went public Tuesday.

"We're just in the mix of reviewing this permit and gathering all agency and public comments that would draw any attention to certain aspects of this project," says OCM reviewer Sharon McCarthy.

The proposed project has been at the center of an ongoing dispute between the environmental advocacy group Save Lake Peigneur and JISH over a number of mysterious occurrences witnessed in the lake, which is located near the border of Iberia and Vermilion parishes.

Nara Crowley, a lead advocate in the fight to stop JISH from adding two additional storage caverns, says for years residents' fears have fallen on deaf ears, especially those of the company's leaders.

"We have unresolved bubbling, the withdrawal of drinking water and several other major concerns," Crowley says in an e-mail. "All this is being disregarded."

The situation may be changing, however, thanks to recent vows of support from U.S. Congressman Charles Boustany, Sen. David Vitter, and the Vermilion Parish Police Jury. Support also is expected from Sen. Mary Landrieu, says Crowley, as well as the Iberia Parish Council, which will vote tonight on a resolution calling for a full halt to the proposed expansion project.

As far as Tuesday's notice is concerned, OCM's McCarthy says it is only a public notice and not an approval of JISH's permit.

McCarthy says public comments will be accepted through Jan. 5, followed by a five-day grace period for comments submitted by mail.

"If there is a public hearing request then that would extend the review period," adds McCarthy. "There's no definite date this permit would be issued either.
All the possible issues must be resolved before that will happen."

Likewise, McCarthy says for the project to move forward, JISH also must undergo the application process with all necessary state and federal agencies, mainly DEQ's Office of Conservation, and the U.S. Environmental Agency, among others.

Click here to view Tuesday's public notice, and here for more on the fight over Lake Peigneur.