Burn chamber concerns Haughton residents

ESI's contained burn unit at Camp Minden. (Courtesy of Minden Press-Herald)
Amanda Simmons

There’s a growing concern in Haughton that has residents and business owners speaking out.

Representatives with Explosive Service International (ESI) have been discussing the possibility of making the contained burn chamber a permanent site at Camp Minden, touting its success at destroying the M6 improperly stored by the now defunct Explo Systems, Inc.

One of the driving factors they say is the nearly 100 jobs they could create as well as being the largest and cleanest contained burn chamber in the world.

Evan McCommon is the owner of Mahaffey Farms in Princeton. They are known for their selection of clean, healthy food (meat and produce) that’s grown with no harmful additives or chemicals.

McCommon says keeping the chamber will put a negative stigma on the community.

“A feather in your cap that says you’re the largest explosives burning facility in the United States is not good for any of the local businesses,” McCommon said. “The whole point was to get rid of the M6, not to create an entire industry to bring more stuff here.”

More than 12 million pounds of M6 have been destroyed using the contained burn chamber. The Minden Press-Herald reported in February that the project is currently 90 percent complete and is expected to be finished in April.

McCommon, who has an engineering background, said he respects the work ESI has done thus far, but he’s not in favor of it being a permanent industry.

“I think the chamber is cool. It wasn’t perfect, but nobody expected it to be. No one disrespects ESI in the least and I can understand how the owner and builder would be proud of it and want to keep it going. But those people don’t live here like we do,” he said. “It’s easy to put something bad in somebody else’s neighborhood. It’s a little more difficult to put it in your own.”

Haughton resident Caroline King lives just over a mile from the contained burn chamber, a distance she wasn’t aware of until recently. She said there are just too many “what-ifs” right now and too many questions left unanswered.

“They’ve never clearly stated what they are going to burn. We don’t know what they are going to be bringing in,” she said. “They did a good job. They cleaned it up. This was only meant to be temporary.”

She’s also fearful of what it will do to the town of Haughton itself.

“The area is growing. They are putting in 240 new homes on this street. This scares me for my neighbors and the people who move here that don’t have any idea what they are moving in next to,” she added. “For the amount of industry that’s coming here, commercial and residential, there are so many more jobs available now and will be in the future as we continue to grow our town.”

Project Manager Dean Schellhase said during a Webster Parish town hall meeting that the chamber has about a 20-year lifespan and it was built to handle other explosives besides M6, although it was specifically designed with M6 in mind.

It could produce at least $12 million per year in revenue.

But that’s not something these Haughton residents are willing to risk.

“There’s absolutely no reason to keep it,” McCommon said. “The risk involved with those materials and the amount of products that would have to come in to maintain those jobs is too large. They are wanting it to grow to 100 jobs. They have about 20 to 35 employees to burn 15 million pounds now. Those numbers are awful.”

By contract, ESI is supposed to tear down the burn chamber and take it away once the M6 job is completed. Whether it will be allowed to stay will be up to state officials.

McCommon has heard from several customers that they will put their houses up for sale and move away if the chamber stays. He, too, mentioned that there’s a possibility of packing up their business and leaving the area out of frustration.

“We would still own the land, but the integrity of growing healthy food when there’s a chance of chemical contamination is a tough one,” McCommon said. “If there’s nothing we can do to stop the chamber, we would have to put our faith in the technology and be really tough on regulations and monitoring.”