Location of former Petroplex tank farm proposal

A federal judge will consider this fall whether to hand down a preliminary injunction to overturn a stop-work order issued by the St. James Parish government in December that halted construction at Petroplex International’s liquid storage tank farm site along River Road.

The motion for the preliminary injunction, filed July 28 in U.S. District Court’s Eastern District in New Orleans, comes at the request of Petroplex attorneys who say the stop-work order is costing the corporation millions of dollars in investments and keeping from the parish new jobs and tax revenue the facility was expected to provide.

Even if U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo grants the preliminary injunction Nov. 2, Petroplex managing partner and chief executive officer Larry Sciacchetano said, it may be too late for the company to rebound if its investors have disappeared and the bank has foreclosed on the property after nine months of inactivity.

“We may just be left with a lawsuit and seek $100 million worth of damages,” Sciacchetano said in a phone interview Thursday. “I’d rather settle. I’d rather build a tank farm, but I can’t get the other side to play.”

A lawsuit filed by Petroplex attorneys earlier this year and the motion for a preliminary injunction both claim Petroplex was deprived of its constitutional right to due process when the parish issued a notice of violation and stop-work order Dec. 3 and then refused to hold a public hearing on the matter with Petroplex officials.

Parish officials allowed Petroplex representatives to make a presentation at the Jan. 7 Parish Council meeting, but council members asked no questions nor made any comments, Petroplex attorneys stated in the lawsuit.

The parish never provided a board of appeals as stipulated by parish ordinance for Petroplex to contest the stop-work order, the corporation alleges. Nor did Petroplex receive any meaningful notice prior to the stop-work order being issued or meaningful opportunity to be heard afterward, the motion for preliminary injunction alleges.

The lawsuit also alleges parish officials had encouraged 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 agricultural and residential areas that are incompatible with industry.

The Parish Council discussed the lawsuit Wednesday in executive session during a council meeting in Convent, but parish spokesman Brandon Keller said the council took no action on the matter.

Parish attorneys have not filed a reply to the corporation’s motion for preliminary injunction.

Meanwhile, Milazzo also is considering whether to dismiss from the lawsuit as individual defendants all seven St. James Parish Councilmen plus two parish government officials, Parish President Timmy Roussel and Parish Planning and Permitting Supervisor Ryan Donadieu.

Parish Councilmen Alvin St. Pierre, Jason Amato, Terry McCreary, Ralph Patin, Charles Ketchens, James Brazan and Ken Brass, as well as Roussel and Donadieu, are entitled to qualified immunity from liability, the attorney representing the parish, Ernest P. Gieger Jr., said in his motion to dismiss.

Qualified immunity shields government officials from liability from civil damages unless the official violated a federal statutory or constitutional right clearly established at the time of the challenged conduct, Gieger’s motion says.

The councilmen had no part in issuing the stop-work order and Petroplex failed to prove Roussel and Donadieu personally acted in a manner that violated the corporation’s constitutional rights, Gieger argues.

Gieger could not be reached for further comment.

St. James Parish as a government entity would still remain as a defendant.

When the stop-work order was issued, Petroplex had nearly completed preloading soil to a height of 24 feet, a necessary step in the installation and construction of tank foundations, for the first of four 50,000-barrel tanks on the site, according to the preliminary injunction motion.

Parish officials issued the stop-work order after they said construction at the site was not progressing fast enough and according to terms agreed upon in a special resolution.

Petroplex officials have said 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 Quality.

The lawsuit says Petroplex has already spent $33 million on the planned $800 million liquid storage tank farm and has lost millions more since it was forced to shut down.