MINDEN, LA (KSLA) - Protesters and counter-protesters faced off in Minden Thursday over whether a burn chamber should be allowed to continue to operate after Camp Minden after the job of cleaning up unstable explosives on the site is done.
Explosive Services International has been working to dispose of nearly 16 million pounds of M6 propellant since June of 2016.
The large stash of improperly-stored Cold War-era artillery propellant was discovered after a large explosion in October 2012 rattled the homes and nerves of area residents.
ESI was contracted to dispose of the M6 in an agreement that stipulated that the burn chamber would be dismantled and taken away once the job was over. While that work was still well under way in September 2016, several thousand pounds of clean-burning igniter (CBI) auto-ignited in another bunker on the other side of Camp Minden, causing another explosion.
The contractor wound up disposing of the CBI as well and expects to finish disposing of the rest of the M6 sometime in April. But ESI has been pushing for permission to stick around and continue to operate on the site disposing of other kinds of hazardous waste.
The prospect of the burn chamber staying permanently prompted a petition back in November urging the Webster and Bossier Parish police juries to hold ESI to their original agreement. That petition has collected more than 500 signatures so far.
On Thursday, nearly 60 protesters gathered outside the Minden Civic Center, where Gov. John Bel Edwards was speaking to the Minden South Webster Chamber of Commerce Banquet.
Both sides were hoping send a message to the governor.
Those in favor of keeping the burn chamber say it will keep dozens of jobs it brought to the city.
"Pay attention to the facts that we have," argued Dylan Cubbedge "We're doing a good job. We're doing this country a favor and it's a great company filled with great employees, so I think they should leave it here."
Those against are worried it's just another explosion waiting to happen and they don't want more dangerous materials brought through Webster and Bossier parishes.
"We do not want it in this area," countered Richard Jefferson, who says he wants the governor to ensure that the state honors the agreement that there would be no permanent incinerator at Camp Minden. "That was the original contract, that they were going to be here for a certain period of time until they burn. They signed the contract and at the end of the contract, they were to dismantle it."
Vice President Jason Poe, has said they want to keep the burn chamber open permanently to destroy only hazardous waste in the future, not toxic waste.
ESI cites the EPA in their stance that the air the burn chamber releases is actually cleaner than the air going in and that keeping the operation going creates dozens of local jobs in Webster and Bossier Parishes.