French industrial gas supplier Air Liquide is seeking to rezone about 35 acres in West Baton Rouge Parish near Port Allen for industrial use as part of a $270 million expansion project amid some pushback from residents.
Air Liquide and TMI Enterprise, the land owner of the property, are pitching the project to the West Baton Rouge Parish Council. Air Liquide is investing in a large air separation unit, which can handle 2,500 tons of oxygen per day, in addition to infrastructure connected to its Mississippi River pipeline.
The project site sits along the 1800 block of Lafiton Lane just west of La. 1.
The West Baton Rouge Parish Council is slated to consider on Oct. 24 whether it will amend its zoning districts to allow for special use permits for moderate industrial uses inside light industrial zoning districts — which is what Air Liquide is proposing. Special use permits require a public hearing and the applicant is required to prove that it will be in the public's interest, not cause traffic congestion, land overcrowding or negatively impact the surrounding neighborhood.
The planning commission will take up the Air Liquide request on Nov. 5 and council will vote on it on Nov. 14.
Air Liquide's investment was spurred by a contract with Methanex Corp., which is planning its third methanol plant in Ascension Parish. To meet the demand, Air Liquide will increase the capacity of its Louisiana footprint by more than 25% and is expected to begin production in 2022. The new machinery also will improve energy efficiency.
There is already some resident opposition to the zoning change, said Riley Berthelot Jr., West Baton Rouge Parish president.
"The council is in the process of considering it right now. We have some people in opposition to it," Berthelot said. "Sugar cane is on about 15 acres of that property right now."
West Baton Rouge resident Stacy Turner Krebs is opposed to the project. The proposed site is next to several hundred acres she owns and leases out to farmers for sugar cane production and she's concerned about the compatibility of an industrial plant next to agriculture.
"It's imperative that we can continue to farm sugar cane," Krebs said.
She and her relatives, George Hill and John Hill Jr., submitted a letter to the parish council on Oct. 7 outlining their experiences with the Air Liquide proposal and suggested alternative locations for the plant near existing industrial zones.
Air Liquide already owns two facilities in West Baton Rouge, one in Addis and the other in Port Allen along U.S. 190 near S. Winterville Road. In 2012, the Port Allen site caught fire and forced nearly 200 residents living nearby to evacuate their homes. The Port Allen site has since closed.
In 2013, dozens of disgruntled residents filed a lawsuit against Air Liquide over the fire but the case was ultimately dismissed and each respective party paid attorneys fees in 2015, according to court records.