Public Records Sought on Dealings that Turned a Louisiana Community over to Industrial Polluters
Land Use Change to “Residential-Future Industrial” Preceded Approvals for Massive Plastics Factories
(St. James Parish, LA)
Residents of St. James Parish and environmental groups today sought disclosure of public records on the process that designated their community “Residential-Future Industrial” in 2014. [Read the Public Records Request Act letter here.] The land use change has opened the small, agricultural community in the 5th District of the parish to an onslaught of massive, polluting petrochemical plants. That change raised discrimination concerns in the predominantly African-American district.
Local groups RISE St. James, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Gulf Restoration Network and 350 New Orleans joined the Center for Biological Diversity in asking St. James Parish to provide records and communications related to the troubling land use change. The groups discovered the change while fighting proposals to build some of the country’s largest plastics factories that will turn fracked natural gas into plastic feedstocks for throwaway plastics.
“I would like to know how they went about making where I live industrial. Parish officials say that people of the 5th district – my district – were in favor of the land use plan, but everybody I talk to who lives here is against more industry coming here,” said Sharon Lavigne, president of RISE St. James. “That’s why we want these records, to find out what really went on back in 2014.”
Today’s records request comes amidst ongoing concern by parish residents that local processes lack transparency and favor foreign corporations. Parish Director of Operations Blaise Gravois announced at a Parish Council meeting that a meeting to be held with industry this week (Wednesday 1/16 at 2 pm CT) to discuss an evacuation route is “by invitation only.” No 5th district residents are invited though Parish President Timmy Roussel publicly announced the meeting in the local newspaper.
“We are asking for the records because it’s like the 1930s around here; the parish is running roughshod over the black community and the state is letting it happen,” said Anne Rolfes of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “Parish officials and Governor Edwards are facilitating the destruction of an historic Louisiana community just so foreign companies can make plastic that no one needs. It’s appalling.”
The records request is pertinent to the South Louisiana Methanol project, proposed within the re-designated residential district. It’s near the 2,400-acre agricultural property on the Mississippi River near the Sunshine Bridge that St. James Parish designated “Industrial” in 2014 and where Formosa Plastics has proposed the plastics plant it calls the Sunshine Project.
St. James Parish’s District 5, a longtime residential community that is 87 percent African American, had no formal land use designation before the St. James Land Use Plan was adopted in 2014. Residents are concerned about the millions of tons of air and water pollutants the plants would emit annually and the process that located it in their community. Parish President Timmy Roussel and Blaise Gravois, both of whom have been indicted for malfeasance, were deeply involved in the revised designation.
Formosa and South Louisiana Methanol are part of the fossil fuel industry’s plan to increase plastic production by 40 percent over the next decade, converting natural landscapes for dirty industry, fouling the air and water of local communities, and contributing to plastic pollution now accumulating in our oceans, landscapes and landfills.
“Fossil fuels are destroying our climate, polluting neighborhoods, and filling our oceans with plastic. This is environmental racism driven by the glut of cheap fracked natural gas in this country,” said Julie Teel Simmonds, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We want to know more about how these residents were sold out to the fossil fuel industry.”
The Louisiana Bucket Brigade uses grassroots action to support communities impacted by the petrochemical industry and hasten the transition from fossil fuels.
Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Anne Rolfes, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, (504) 452-4909, firstname.lastname@example.org
Julie Teel Simmonds, Center for Biological Diversity, (619) 990-2999, JteelSimmonds@biologicaldiversity.org
Sharon Lavigne, RISE St. James, (225) 206 – 0900