CONVENT — St. James Parish President Timmy Roussel pledged Wednesday to "review every possibility" to create an alternative evacuation route for residents worried about industrial development encroaching on the parish's rural west bank.
The route has come up as major industrial facilities have been proposed for the area in recent years and the last leg of the 162-mile Bayou Bridge pipeline is planned to go through the same area to deliver crude oil to two existing tank farms along the Mississippi River.
Roussel made his commitment before the Parish Council, announcing that he and other parish officials had met recently with Chuck Carr Brown, state Department of Environmental Quality secretary, and some of his staff about an evacuation route.
"He offered his help from the state's standpoint in seeing this through fruition," Roussel said. "We will review every possibility to make this happen."
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On the advice of Parish Attorney Cody Martin over advertising requirements, the Parish Council did not vote on whether to grant the land use for the controversial pipeline.
Instead, the council agreed to have a public hearing before a final vote at 6:15 p.m. Aug. 23 at the parish Courthouse Annex in Vacherie.
Councilman Clyde Cooper, who represents the area where the pipeline is proposed, appealed the parish Planning Commission's prior land use approval for the line. The commission approved the pipeline May 31 in a 7-0 vote with one abstention. Cooper's appeal has necessitated a final council vote.
There apparently had been some confusion about the land use process as Council Chairman Alvin "Shark" St. Pierre said it was his understanding the commission vote in May was final and Cooper's meeting with residents in the St. James community earlier this month was for informational purposes only. He said he only later heard about Cooper's appeal now prompting the council vote.
The $670 million line, which would create 2,500 temporary construction jobs and 12 permanent jobs, would extend from Lake Charles to St. James Parish and has already proven controversial, in part, because it would pass through the Atchafalaya Basin. But in St. James, the line also has sparked concerns from residents worried about industrial growth around their homes as major methanol plants have been proposed in addition to petroleum tank farms and riverside oil terminals already in the area.
The pipeline project has already gotten a variety of permits, including a coastal use permit from the state Department of Natural Resources in March but still needs permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Environmental Quality. Those permit requests are pending. The DNR permit also has sparked a lawsuit.
In St. James, the pipeline would stop at the rear of the Plains Marketing tank farm and oil terminal and shoot lateral to the NuStar terminal just north, crossing slightly under Burton Lane. The road, which extends west from River Road, is lined on one side with homes that are surrounded on both sides by tank farms. The road dead-ends at a locked fence for one of the facilities.
While maps show Burton Lane extends west to La. 3127, the fence blocks the way. Roussel said in a brief interview that he and state officials are looking at trying to open up that route or possibly another path but he said even if a route were found, the parish would still have to find a way to pay for a bridge over a bayou farther west.
The Rev. Harry Joseph, who was among several residents who showed up for the council meeting Wednesday, said residents on Burton Lane used to have access to La. 3127 until the tank farms moved in and closed it.
Joseph, who also leads one of the community groups that sued over the DNR permit, said he has been told authorities have been working on an evacuation route for six years. He suggested that some kind of route is needed for people to escape. Their only way out now is River Road with industrial facilities on either end of the parish.
"Like I tell them, 'It ain't nothing that I want. It's something that we need,'" he said. "I want a lot of things, but this is a need here."