CONVENT — The St. James Parish Council on Wednesday urged the Port of South Louisiana not to bypass the parish land use process but to pursue it for support of a possible industrial facility on land once eyed for a controversial petroleum tank farm.
In early February, the port finished buying the last parcels of nearly 1,700-acre along the Mississippi River near Vacherie and then last month told parish officials they planned to petition a judge to declare the land isn't subject to the local land use rules because the port is a state entity.
On Wednesday, the council members stated by resolution they believe the port is bound by parish land use rules, they are opposed to any development of port property without adherence to those rules and they requested the port to follow them.
"Don't bypass our land use plan process because you think you can. You know, respect the process. 'Cause if you don't, you're disrespecting St. James Parish," Parish President Timmy Roussel said in a brief interview after the vote.
The resolution drew no opposition from the seven-member council in a 6-0 vote. Councilman Alvin "Shark" St. Pierre was absent. There was no public or council comment, though residents who live near the site and a top port official were present in the council chambers.
The site, once proposed for the $800 million Petroplex tank farm, has been set aside for residential development under the parish plan since it was adopted in April 2014. If the port were to follow the parish review process, it would have to seek backing from the Planning Commission and Parish Council to override the land use designation, parish officials said.
The council vote Wednesday came after a recent meeting at the State Capitol apparently yielded no common ground between port officials and officials in parish government and other local agencies with a tax stake in the site.
Paul Aucoin, executive director of the port commission, would offer little comment after the meeting Wednesday but said the port's legal counsel has advised the port not to go through the parish's land use process.
The port commission meets April 11, but Aucoin said he doesn't expect a vote on the litigation then. He noted the commission has already authorized for a lawsuit to be filed but didn't say when that would be.
The former Petroplex tank farm proposal was tied up for years in political and later legal wrangling that effectively scuttled the project in mid-2016 after investors had already sunk in millions. The port moved to buy the main tract in early 2017 and has wrapped up smaller pieces since then to the tune of a combined $10.65 million.
Citing confidentially limitations, Aucoin has not said what prospects are eyeing the tract or how much of it would be used. The site has lots of river frontage, but the long piece of land also backs up to the future site of St. James High School a few miles from the river.
A few years ago, parish and school officials agreed to build a new school and move away from the school's current location along the Mississippi to make way for the Yuhuang Chemical methanol plant.