Behind The Lens

Behind The Lens episode 17: ‘Should a failure occur’

This week on Behind The Lens, state and federal environmental officials are waiting to see if a fertilizer manufacturer can head off a potential catastrophe in St. James Parish.

Last month, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality warned that part of a 200-foot-tall stack of gypsum waste at Mosaic Fertilizer’s Uncle Sam facility was in danger of collapsing. Behind that stack are millions of gallons of toxic wastewater.

If it fails, it could endanger nearby wetlands. It could even flow into the Blind River and Lake Maurepas.

Host and producer Tom Wright interviews David Jellerson, Mosaic’s senior director of gypsum engineering, about what the company is doing to prevent the wall from collapsing and what it’s planning if it does.

In education news, the Orleans Parish school district took over Harney elementary school in Central City after repeated allegations of mismanagement by the school’s charter board. Now, the district’s budget for Harney shows a $430,000 shortfall for the rest of the year. The state had allocated federal pass-through funds — nearly enough to cover that gap — to the charter board before the takeover. But the school district can’t access that money. Reporter Marta Jewson tells us why.

And finally, Mayor LaToya Cantrell is in a fight with New Orleans tourism boosters about how tourism taxes should be allocated. Most hotel taxes generated in the city go to tourism infrastructure and marketing. But Cantrell wants more coming to the city to pay for drainage repair and other high-priority public works projects. This week, the Bureau of Governmental Research produced a report that backs Cantrell’s position, recommending that the city get at least $12 million more per year from tourism taxes. Reporter Michael Isaac Stein discusses the report.

Behind The Lens is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play and Stitcher.

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About Tom Wright

Tom Wright is a staff writer and producer covering the environmental beat for The Lens. He also hosts and produces The Lens' podcast Behind The Lens. His previous work includes investigative producing with local broadcaster Lee Zurik, legislative affairs reporting for Mississippi Public Broadcasting and global affairs coverage for CNN. Wright is a winner of the DuPont, Peabody and Murrow awards for his investigative production work.