VACHERIE — Formosa Chemical's plans for a $9.4 billion plant in a poor, rural section of St. James Parish has cleared a major hurdle although opponents are vowing to challenge the project in court.
The parish council ratified land use restrictions Wednesday on the plant, which is slated for an area where residents have complained about a wave of new industrial development moving into their community.
The complex, which still needs an important air permit to start construction and has other federal and state permits pending, would bring 1,200 permanent jobs with a $120 million payroll and more than 8,000 temporary construction jobs during peak construction, state and company officials said.
After about a month of negotiations, parish government and attorneys for the Formosa affiliate leading the project brought forward conditions for the plant to be able to locate on 2,400 acres near the Welcome area on St. James' west bank.
Though opponents promised an appeal to state court, the approval appears to clear one major hurdle for a project that Gov. John Bel Edwards, Parish President Timmy Roussel and other officials have welcomed as an important economic development win for the state.
The land use negotiations were prompted after critics appealed the Parish Council's decision last year to back the project. The agreement the council approved with the company on Wednesday imposes certain requirements and restrictions on what it can do with the property.
Despite impassioned pleas from a handful of residents, all five members of the seven-member council present supported the ordinance. Council members Eddie Kraemer and Vondra Etienne-Steib were absent.
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The new agreement requires training and hiring preferences for parish residents, air monitoring, beautification projects, a 300-foot buffer along the plant's eastern boundary facing Welcome, a share of funding for a new alternate route away from plants in the area and other conditions.
But deal did not include job quotas that Councilman Clyde Cooper, who represents the district where the plant is proposed, had wanted because company officials said they would be illegal.
The agreement, however, requires Formosa to set up a workforce training academy and give residents in the parish's west bank council districts first crack at the training. If they complete the approximately six-month, free program, they are guaranteed an interview, though not a job, company officials said.
The deal also requires Formosa to implement preferences for qualified contractors and vendors of non-specialized equipment who are based in St. James Parish, as well as their subcontractors.
Victor Franckiewicz Jr., the parish's lead land use attorney, called the land use agreement St. James' toughest since the parish began implementing them under its master plan from 2014.
"This is the most extensive resolution we have ever put forth in the land use program," Franckiewicz said, "and I think it will serve as a good model for future industries that may be considered as well."
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The plant would receive huge breaks under the old, lucrative terms of the state's 10-year industrial property tax exemption program before recent changes took effect, providing $150 million in local tax cuts in the first year alone, a state data base says.
Yet, the complex is still estimated to bring about $362 million in taxes for state and local governments, the company says.
Formosa wants to locate on land that the parish land use plan had previously earmarked for industry, but the complex, due to its size and impact, still required a public vetting.
Residents in St. James' majority black 5th District have complained they are being dealt with unfairly, with more industry directed to their area even as parish officials have fought attempts to bring plants farther south into areas with larger white populations in Vacherie and on the east bank.
"There is no consideration for human life, no consideration for human life," said west bank resident Rita Cooper. "Everybody's thinking about ... the dollar, money."
Environmentalists who opposed the facility had called for a delay after Texas regulators formalized an agreement with Formosa last week to pay a nearly $122,000 fine over regular spills of plastic pellets from its Point Comfort operation between Corpus Christi and Houston into local waterways, the same kind of pellets the complex on the Mississippi River will make.
Anne Rolfes, director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, urged the council to investigate the fine before it acted.
Yet, Troy Borne, 49, of Gramercy, told council members, many of whom work in industry, that the chemical industry lifted his childhood out of poverty and provided a good life for him as an adult, besides providing the everyday plastic products even Formosa's critics use.
"How many of you, that have talked against it, have taken your cellphone out and taken a picture with that piece of plastic? How many of you on the council have a plastic water bottle in front of you," Borne asked.
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