St. James Parish President Timmy Roussel said a three-hour meeting with company officials Thursday didn’t change his mind on the stop-work order he issued for the Petroplex International tank farm.
In May, the Parish Council granted Petroplex a waiver from St. James’ new master plan. The waiver allowed the $800 million tank farm near Vacherie to proceed but stipulated several requirements, including that the company start construction by July 31.
Petroplex officials contend they did start construction. Parish officials disagree, claiming Petroplex has done little more than move dirt around.
“We’re still at an impasse,” Roussel said Friday. “They disagree with us. We disagree with them.”
The order is another setback for a project more than six years in the making that has rankled residents who live next to the 1,700-acre site, which is agricultural fields and woods. The project also has had to overcome litigation over its air permits to proceed. The Parish Council resolution defined construction as “permanent on-site fabrication, erection or installation of a permitted facility” that is “continuously pursued with reasonable diligence.”
Roussel’s administration found that the company rarely had more than three workers at the site and, until Oct. 20, only one worker was moving the same dirt back and forth over the same portion of area.
Parish officials told the state Department of Environmental Quality as late as Oct. 6 that construction had not begun and the company also has not applied for a parish building permit, a Dec. 1 letter from Parish Attorney Victor Franckiewicz Jr. says.
Larry Sciacchetano, managing partner of Petroplex, said company officials presented parish officials Thursday afternoon with evidence that work has been underway, including logs of equipment use and manpower rates and engineering and contractor invoices.
He said contractors have been loading earth as part of work on the tanks’ foundation. The tank farm could ultimately have 10 million barrels of storage capacity to handle and blend crude oil, including heavy Canadian and shale oil, as well as gasoline, other petroleum products, vegetable oil and biodiesel.
“We got our foundation now 24 feet high with soil loading that has settle for a period,” Sciacchetano said.
Franckiewicz’s letter, however, alleges the dirt moving does not match up with what would be expected for the location and the size of the tanks that Petroplex’s plans depict.
Sciacchetano said Petroplex is not going to walk away from the $45 million invested in the project so far.
“We hope we can settle this among ourselves and move forward and be productive and be good partners, but if we can’t, someone else is going to have decide that,” Sciacchetano said.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.