042418 Formosa Petrochemical plant.jpg

CONVENT — The St. James Parish Planning Commission will consider Wednesday night whether to approve a $9.4 billion plant proposed by Taiwanese chemical giant Formosa Petrochemical Corp. 

The 2,319 acres of cane fields in northwestern St. James near the Welcome community and other chemical facilities just downriver from the Sunshine Bridge are already slated for industrial use. But, under the parish's land use plan, the commission still must weigh in on major industrial facilities before a building permit can be issued. 

With plenty of land along the Mississippi River and cheap natural gas prices, western St. James continues to attract major industrial facilities. Touted by the administration of Gov. John Bel Edwards as a sign of economic development, the huge Formosa complex comes, however, as residents farther down river oppose a new oil tank farm proposed in an area that the parish land map has slated for homes.  

Under the parish's land use rules, the commission can impose conditions on Formosa, including buffers, and must consider whether the environmental and physical impact of the proposed project are commensurate with the public benefits. 

Dubbed the "Sunshine Project," the ethylene and propylene complex will operate 24 hours a day, seven days per week and eventually employ 1,200 full-time employees, the company's submission to the parish says.

More than 8,000 temporary contractors are expected during the peak of construction, which is slated to begin in the first quarter of 2019. Workers won't be finished for 12 years, however. The complex will be built in two phases, with the first expected to be ready for operations in 2024 and the second in 2030.

The commission meets 6 p.m. at the St. James Parish Courthouse, 5800 La. 44, Convent.

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.