LAFAYETTE, La. (IND) – Lafayette environmental attorney William Goodell held a press conference in front of the Rosa Parks Transportation Center Tuesday afternoon ahead of the I-49 Executive Committee’s regular monthly meeting to discuss how the proposed I-49 Connector will impact the Chicot Aquifer.

According to Goodell, the construction of the proposed highway across the contaminated Union Pacific Railroad area will cause the release of contaminants into the aquifer, which will threaten the city’s water supply and could make the public entities involved partially liable for the damage.

“In addition to the direct impact of introducing contaminants by the construction project, the fact of the construction over what’s basically a Superfund site, will make the cleanup – if it is ever to occur – that much more difficult and expensive, not to mention time consuming,” says Goodell.

Goodell clarified that while the UPR site has not been officially declared a Superfund site, it does contain within its soils and shallow groundwater substances listed by the EPA as hazardous, which would qualify it as a Superfund site.

One such substance that Goodell specifically cited was dichlorobenzene, which is a contaminant and suspected human carcinogen found in the UPR site.

“Recently, last week, we had our experts evaluate Lafayette Utilities System water well reports dating in 2012 and 2015 that show contaminants – one contaminant in particular, dichlorobenzene, which is a suspected EPA carcinogen – in the Lafayette water intake, in the Lafayette drinking water,” Goodell says.

Goodell also spoke about how the UPR rail yard cleanup, as a part of the I-49 Connector construction project, will force taxpayers to foot the bill for the rail company’s responsibility.

“We’ve got state and federal taxpayer dollars building a highway across a Superfund site and if, as I have understood from what’s been told to me by the representatives of the state monitoring agencies, that they’re just going to clean up the contamination in the rail yard as they build the project,” says Goodell. “Then they’re effectively using taxpayer dollars to clean up a responsibility that’s the rail yard’s responsibility. It’s not the public’s responsibility.”

Goodell and his law firm filed a lawsuit on Feb. 1 to address the oil, fuel and cleaning solvents dispersed in the former Union Pacific rail yard that threaten to contaminate the Chicot Aquifer. The lawsuit was filed against the Union Pacific Railroad Company by two Lafayette property owners alleging that the company had failed to clean up contamination that threatens Lafayette’s drinking water.

The land in question, 40 acres along the Evangeline Thruway in Lafayette’s urban center, was once the site of a rail yard that sits above the Chicot Aquifer, which is the primary source of Lafayette’s public drinking water.

“Everybody knows the contamination is out there,” he says. “It’s no secret. But what’s not happened is any meaningful discussion by all of the stakeholders as to what can be done to clean it up.”

Goodell also gave an update on the lawsuit itself, saying that it is “winding its way laboriously” through the courts.

“I’ll say that all of our state and local public agencies have a constitutional responsibility to protect our groundwater resources,” Goodell says. “It’s an express obligation in our state constitution and I hope and I ask on behalf of the citizens that those people involved in the I-49 Connector process consider these issues and make some decisions and share with the public their discussions and conclusions regarding these problems.”

[This article was originally published in the December 2016 edition of The Independent and on]