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October 20, 2006

Environmental politics class gets firsthand look at local sites

Over the past several weeks, John W. Sutherlin, a history and government assistant professor at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, has been taking his Honors Environmental Politics class to some interesting places.

Since the beginning of the fall 2006 semester, his students have toured the Magnolia Landfill, the West Monroe Sewer Treatment Plant and the Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

“In-class teaching is only one aspect to learning and many times the least important part,” said Sutherlin. “What I have done for years with environmental courses is to take students to those places we discuss and let them see for themselves what a landfill or a treatment plant looks and smells like.”

None of the students in the class had ever been to any of these types of facilities. Many were amazed to see how well Waste Management operates the landfill.

Rebel Fornea, a senior business major, said, “I was shocked by the lack of odor. I never knew that a landfill was anything more than just a dump for garbage. There is an entire scientific and economic aspect that was unknown to me about landfills.”

While on the landfill tour, the students were able to see where methane gas is drawn from the decomposing garbage and then flared.

Todd Spears, a sophomore biology major, claimed, “The biological process at the treatment plant was impressive.”

But the class is not just about garbage and sludge.

“Having the students tour a landfill and a treatment plant was eye-opening, but I wanted them to see the vast Black Bayou area as well,” Sutherlin added.

Sutherlin also arranged for a tour of Black Bayou Lake. There volunteers showed the students the facilities and then later let them hold snakes, alligators and turtles.

“Its amazing that just a few minutes from campus there is a 5,000 acre wilderness,” Fornea remarked.

Sutherlin says that he plans on doing more things like this with his environmental class, including touring an industrial plant and visiting some of the Brownfields sites throughout the parish.

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