Ascension council plans to earmark 17,000 acres on west bank for industry; residents have mixed feelings _lowres

 

The Ascension Parish Council agreed Thursday to put $4.3 million in potential sales tax rebates from the huge CF Industries expansion toward planning and infrastructure for a new industrial zone on Ascension’s west bank.

Parish officials have been working on turning 17,000 acres of agricultural land in west Ascension, upriver of Donaldsonville, into a new industrial area with shared infrastructure.

Under the council’s unanimous vote, the proposed shift in money, which is sitting in escrow and cannot be spent, is contingent on CF Industries’ decision whether to claim a parish sales tax rebate on purchases of construction materials and equipment from the $2.1 billion plant expansion or to claim similar, potentially more lucrative state rebates or tax incentives. Parish officials have said CF can’t claim both. If CF takes the state rebate, then the parish gets the $4.3 million from its escrow account.

“No decision has been made,” Chris Close, CF Industries spokesman, said Thursday in an interview.

Gary Perilloux, Louisiana Economic Development spokesman, said CF won’t be eligible to receive the state rebates or tax incentives until LED receives final reports and the Department of Revenue determines eligible expenditures.

A few months before CF’s expansion of its nitrogen fertilizer complex became public in late 2012, the Parish Council agreed to rebate 0.45 cents of its 1-cent sales tax collected on construction materials and equipment, or about $4.1 million. Under the deal, CF can earn up to 110 percent of the $4.1 million if it meets employment and spending benchmarks.

The parish has made similar rebate offers to other major projects, including those at BASF, Westlake and Methanex. But Gwen LeBlanc, parish chief financial officer, has said only one has taken the parish rebate so far, the former Dynamic Fuels complex in Geismar, now Renewable Energy Group. Other companies have chosen the more lucrative state tax breaks.

The industrial zone, which is near the rural community of Modeste, has 4 miles of frontage on La. 1, access to the Union Pacific Railroad line and 10 miles of Mississippi River frontage. But Parish Councilman Oliver Joseph said a road will be needed between La. 1 and River Road.

Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley also agreed to rebate half of his half-cent sales tax for CF, or about $2 million.

Wiley said Thursday he has no expectation of getting the rebate back, though he would welcome it if he did.