VACHERIE — The St. James Parish Planning Commission, a nine-member group helping plan the parish’s future growth, will receive a raise doubling the $40 per diem each member receives per meeting to $80, the St. James Parish Council decided Wednesday.
In a 5-1 vote, council members approved the ordinance raising the planning commission’s payment as a result of the commission’s increased workload, officials said.
Parish officials also said commission members face an increased threat of liability because of possible lawsuits brought by rejected corporations or developers as a result of the parish’s land use plan, a complex document directing the parish’s growth and development approved last year.
Councilman Jimmy Brazan said he felt the Planning Commission deserves an increase in compensation due to the extra work, headaches and risk of liability associated with the new land use issues but said he also hopes to revisit the topic with more-detailed compensation plans.
Councilman Alvin St. Pierre said the raise was a “step in the right direction.”
The threat of liability is not baseless.
The Parish Council met in executive session for 15 minutes Wednesday to discuss a lawsuit filed earlier this year against the parish by Petroplex International LLC, a corporation challenging the parish’s land use plan in federal court.
In the lawsuit, Petroplex and the two other plaintiffs, Mainline Energy Partners LLC and Homeplace Ventures LLC, allege “improper enactment, interpretation and enforcement of a parishwide land use ordinance” by parish officials in attempts to prohibit Petroplex from constructing and operating its planned liquid storage tank farm.
The lawsuit alleges parish officials had been encouraging Petroplex to move forward with the tank storage project since 2007 but then approved a land use plan last year that designates the Petroplex property as incompatible with industry.
The lawsuit also claims the parish deprived Petroplex of its constitutional right to due process when the parish issued the corporation a notice of violation and stop-work order on Dec. 4 and then refused to hold a public hearing on the matter with Petroplex officials.
Parish officials did meet with Petroplex in a closed-door meeting just after the stop-work order was issued, but the representatives could not come to a resolution, the lawsuit says.
Parish officials had said construction at the site, a future $800 million petroleum storage tank farm in Vacherie, was not progressing according to terms agreed upon in a special resolution.
Petroplex officials have said, however, that the corporation did meet a July 31 deadline to begin construction at the site, as directed by the parish and the state Department of Environmental Equality.
The lawsuit names all seven parish councilmen, Parish President Timmy Roussel and Permitting Supervisor Ryan Donadieu as defendants.
The Parish Council took no action on the issue of the lawsuit after the executive session ended.
Parish Council Chairman Charles Ketchens, the only dissenting vote against the pay raise ordinance, said after the meeting that he voted against it because other boards also deserve raises.