ST. JAMES — The proposed Bayou Bridge Pipeline takes another step on its long regulatory path this week as the St. James Parish Council is expected to decide on the land use approval for the final leg of the controversial 162-mile crude oil line.
The parish Planning Commission granted a land use approval for the pipeline May 31 in a 7-0 vote with one abstention, but Blaise Gravois, parish director of operations, has said the final vote before the council is set for Wednesday.
The pipeline, which would extend from Lake Charles to the Mississippi River in western St. James, cutting through the Atchafalaya Basin, has sparked opposition from local and national environmentalists.
The $670 million line has already resulted in one lawsuit from environmental and community groups challenging the coastal zone permit its backer, Energy Transfer Partners, got in March from the state Department of Natural Resources.
Another group, Save Our Wetlands, has sent letters of the state Department of Environmental Quality, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the pipeline's builder notifying them of the group's intent to sue under the Clean Water Act. The group wants to force the Corps to halt future pipelines and canals until the agency conducts a broad environmental impact statement on the effect of these activities on Louisiana's wetland coast. DEQ's and the Corps' proposed wetlands and water quality permits are still pending.
Energy Partners has touted the economic impact of the pipeline, which they say will spur 2,500 temporary jobs and 12 permanent jobs, though it's not clear how many would be in St. James Parish. Alexis Daniel, spokeswoman for Energy Transfer, also defended the company's environmental track record, which has been attacked by critics over past spills.
Daniel countered the company has a "high record of safety," adding that more than 99 percent of the product the company shipped was delivered without incident.
In St. James Parish, the pipeline has taken on additional significance to critics who see it as yet another industrial encroachment hemming in historic, black communities along the Mississippi.
Bubbling for several years as major methanol plants have been proposed for west St. James' agricultural lands, this fear came into sharp focus last week at a community meeting at St. James High School. West bank residents complained about the lack of information on the project and aired worries about not having a way to get out of their homes should there be an industrial incident.
Of particular concern is residential Burton Lane, which is already surrounded by oil tank farms, and, based on maps of the proposed pipeline, seems to be the terminus of the line.
The Rev. Lionel Nelson told Parish Councilman Clyde Cooper that with Yuhuang Chemical plant being proposed down the road a few years ago, an alternative evacuation route should have been addressed before the pipeline was to come up for a final vote.
"But what about the people that live around here. That's a concern. You have elderly people, and you have sick people. I can't run as fast as I used to, but I can crawl a little bit," Nelson said. "We need to know if we're going to get this evacuation route, where it's going to be and, once it's in place, where are you going to assemble the people? Where are you going to put them at? What're you going to do?"
"All of those are good, honest and fair questions, and important questions," Cooper responded.
Cooper said the parish administration has been working on possible routes and exploring land records.
Kevin Taliaferro, senior right-of-way manager for Energy Transfer, said the company plans to bring the line to the back of the Plains Marketing tank farm and run a lateral line to the nearby NuStar tank farm. Both are near the Burton Lane area.
Both NuStar and Plains Marketing have separately asked the Corps for permits to expand their operations on the river, though it was not immediately clear if those proposals were related to the Bayou Bridge pipeline.
A spokesman for Plains Marketing, which filed its permit request in June, declined to comment Monday. A NuStar spokesman said the company routinely files permit requests to evaluate expansion opportunities.
"This permit was filed last year, and the project is still in the early stages of development, so we do not have anything to announce at this time," NuStar spokesman Chris Cho said.
Cooper told residents last week that Gov. John Bel Edwards has appointed someone to meet with Parish President Timmy Roussel regularly on possible evacuation routes.
Greg Langley, spokesman for DEQ, said Monday that DEQ Secretary Chuck Carr Brown met with Roussel and his emergency preparedness director about a week and a half ago. Langley described the July 27 meeting as the first and the talks as early.
"Right now it's just exploring possibilities, talking with parish officials and determining viable alternative evacuation routes from the St. James area," Langley said.
The Parish Council meets at 6:30 p.m., but takes some public comments at 6:15 p.m. The agenda wasn't finished by deadline Monday, a parish spokesman said.