State rep. says Haughton residents want burn chamber gone

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

The debate over keeping and possibly expanding the Camp Minden burn chamber that would remove explosive materials, which has raged in Webster Parish for months, has caught the attention of Haughton residents.

“I’ve tried to disseminate the facts as I knew them and now I’m getting feedback like there’s no tomorrow,” said State Rep. Dodie Horton (R-Haughton).

Discussion and debate has raged over Explosive Services International’s contained burn chamber at Camp Minden having its mission/contract altered for the business to continue to dispose of like materials that will be sent to Camp Minden from different parts of the United States.

She said the people of Bossier Parish have “really awakened” to the debate over the burn chamber — which is actually located in Bossier Parish. And the message from her constituents is clear: they want the burn chamber at Camp Minden gone.

“Although the equipment is sound and state of the art, they want the mission to destroy the M6 to end on March 31st, and the burn chamber dismantled and taken away,” said Horton.

With the booming population of Haughton, Horton said many of the residents in her district feel that the potential for catastrophe is too high should an accident happen.

“They feel nothing is foolproof.”

Burn chamber opposition has cited that the new Haughton Middle School set to open this fall is less than three miles from the burn chamber.

“(Constituents) feel the chances that something could happen are too great,” said Horton.

ESI was awarded the contract to dispose of millions of pounds of M6, an explosive propellant that was left improperly stored by Explo Systems Inc. after a 2012 explosion. The contract included a stipulation that after all materials at Louisiana National Guard’s Camp Minden were destroyed, the burn chamber would be dismantled and removed.

This past fall, Webster Parish community leaders began to investigate retaining the burn chamber permanently, creating roughly 80 jobs in the process.

Area residents comprising the Citizen’s Advisory Group have spoken out at public meetings all along the way, citing that continuing to dispose of explosive material could cause another accident or even increase rates of cancer from pollutants in the air.

In December, the Webster Parish Police Jury passed a resolution encouraging the chamber be dismantled and removed once the contracted work was completed.

The Bossier Parish Police Jury is still undecided on the chamber.

Although allowing the burn chamber to continue to be utilized at Camp Minden would make the current 35 temporary jobs permanent and create more jobs, Horton said the chance to create jobs doesn’t equate to the loss of a life that could be caused by an accident.

“The people feel it’s too big of a risk,” Horton explained.

If the mission is expanded, ESI will seek contracts for explosives disposal from all over the state and country. That means that numerous amounts of hazardous materials would be readily arriving at Camp Minden for disposal.

Horton said although explosives travel through the local area by railcar and 18-wheelers, all of those materials aren’t being transported for one destination.

“We know it goes through our state and area, but they don’t always end up with one destination in mind.

She said she had recently spoken with a constituent whose grandson works for ESI at Camp Minden and has met with the job creators who proposed the expansion. While Horton said she is in favor of job growth, she will support what the majority of the residents in her district feel.

“I want the job creators behind the proposal to expand the mission of the burn chamber to understand how much I appreciate what they’re trying to do, but my people don’t support it,” she said.

Horton pledged that she would personally remain objective on the issue and support the will of her people.

“I’m going to validate people’s fears, not diminish them. I will stand with the majority.”

She warned that even though Camp Minden is in her parish, Rep. Gene Reynolds of Minden, will be the one to speak with Gov. John Bel Edwards about what the future holds for the chamber and the mission of Camp Minden. Horton said she has been in contact with Rep. Reynolds about how her constituents feel.

“His decision will be based on what the majority of the people feel,” said Horton. “I know it’s been discussed thoroughly in his area, but I’m not privy to how his area feels about it. I can only listen to my people and help with what they have to say.”

“I want to impress upon residents that the issue isn’t the burn chamber. We know it’s sound. But the people don’t want Camp Minden to be the disposal site for the nation,” Horton added.

Residents of District 9 in Bossier Parish can contact Rep. Horton’s office at 318-949-2463 or via email at hortond@legis.la.gov to share their thoughts on this issue.