A community activist appealing a key St. James Parish land use approval for the $9.4 billion Formosa Petrochemical complex says a hearing on her appeal Wednesday is a "rush job" that deprives the public of a chance to respond.
Sharon Lavigne, director of RISE St. James, made that claim in a letter Monday to the Parish Council, seeking to delay the special Parish Council meeting until early next month.
Lavigne wrote that initial reports suggested the hearing date would be Dec. 27, two days after Christmas, only to have the parish later move the date to 6 p.m. Wednesday in Vacherie.
"The speed and proximity to the Christmas holiday makes these dates unacceptable," she wrote to the Parish Council.
Another the reason Lavigne has asked to move the meeting date to Jan. 9 is that she has requested all information on any payments that Formosa has made, offered or promised to parish government.
Lavigne added that a council vote on her organization’s appeal can’t be fully transparent until the Formosa payment information is disclosed.
A Formosa affiliate, FG LA LLC, is planning to build a plastics complex on nearly 2,400 acres of agricultural land along the Mississippi River. After a long-term planning process a few years ago, the parish designated the area north of residential areas and next to the Mosaic and AmSty chemical plants for industrial use.
But, even with that land use designation, which is akin to a zoning district, FG needed backing from the parish Planning Commission. It backed the project Oct. 30, finding its benefits would outweigh its impacts.
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The commission put conditions on FG, including a 300-foot-wide land buffer from residential areas downriver.
The commission decision, which is what Lavigne appealed Nov. 28 to the Parish Council, came after several public meetings and two extensive public hearings this fall.
During one of those hearings, at the same Courthouse Annex in Vacherie where the Parish Council will meet Wednesday, opponents who signed up were allowed to speak. But, others who didn't arrive early enough before the start time had to stay outside, environmentalists have said. Parish officials cited space limits.
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In response to Lavigne's letter, Ryan Louque, the Parish Council chairman, said Tuesday the council set the hearing date last week and he doesn't believe he can undo the council's will.
He added that, based on his reading of the parish home rule charter, he doesn't think he as the council chair or even the full council could halt the special meeting without another meeting.
Louque noted no one among those supporting the appeal spoke up when the council set the meeting date last week, though Lavigne said she had previously requested a January meeting date in writing.
The Formosa complex has backing from Gov. John Bel Edwards and various parish officials and presents a huge jobs and tax revenue boon for the parish, region and state. FG says the plant would bring 8,000 construction jobs, 1,200 permanent jobs, hundreds of millions of dollars in annual spending and tens of million of dollars in annual local tax receipts.
But Formosa and FG have drawn opposition from some St. James Parish residents concerned about the continued industrialization of the parish's west bank around largely poor, black communities. Environmental activists have also raised worries about air emissions from the huge plant, long-term plastics pollution and Formosa's environmental track record.
In a recent response, FG LA attempts a point-by-point rebuttal of Lavigne's appeal. Among the counterpoints is that the plant's siting about a mile north of the Welcome community would not pose a disparate impact for the area's black residents because even with Formosa's future air emissions, the background air in the area would remain within national air quality standards.
"As a result, there is no 'adverse impact' that can be construed as a civil rights violation," the appeal response says.
The company also asserts that cancer death rates in river corridor, based on state tumor registry data, are no worse, and in some cases are better, than cancer death rates in Louisiana outside the corridor.
The company is also offering grants to local public schools, promised to emphasize local hiring and is developing a training academy with area community colleges, the state and others for interested residents and others.
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