Air Liquide

The Geismar operations of Air Liquide, background, may be in line for a $278 million expansion spread out over two phases. The Ascension Parish Council backed proposed property tax exemptions Thursday for the complex expansions along La. 30.

DONALDSONVILLE — Five proposed industrial expansions in Ascension Parish totaling $784 million in capital spending received a key nod Thursday for property tax exemptions over the next eight to 10 years.

The Parish Council voted on six incentive applications for the five projects seeking exemptions for a combined $17.3 million in property tax revenue, parish estimates say.

If the companies build the proposed expansions, they would bring 13 new jobs combined, pull in millions in sales tax collections on construction and still draw a combined $90.6 million in property tax revenue for all local governments over the next 30 years.

All of the incentives through the Louisiana Industrial Tax Exemption program also were approved this week by the School Board, but still need backing from Sheriff Bobby Webre and the state.

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The state program exempts most, and some cases all, local property tax collections on new industrial machinery and equipment. Edwards has changed the value and length of the exemptions through various modifications and altered the approval process as some advocates and local officials had found fault with the older method that didn't seek local input.

Two of the tax break proposals, for two phases of expansions at Air Liquide's operations in Geismar off La. 30 worth a combined $278 million, also need support from the state Board of Commerce and Industry because the phases were proposed under older rules. The other applications, proposed under later rules, already have the board's backing.

The other projects, all of which would be in Geismar, are a $100 million expansion of Westlake Vinyls polyvinyl chloride and vinyl chloride monomer facilities, a $560 million ammonia plant for PCS Nitrogen Fertilizer, and a $276 million expansion at the Huntsman and Rubicon joint venture.

The PCS Nitrogen plant straddles Ascension and Iberville parish lines. Ascension's share of the expansion is valued at $130 million. The council only considered a tax exemption for that part of the project.

The Huntsman-Rubicon project required two tax exemption applications. 

The Parish Council, many of whose members do or have worked in industry, ratified the deals with little comment and no statements from the public on Thursday.

In many cases, the votes happened so quickly that Kate MacArthur, director of the parish economic development arm, wasn't even given a chance to finish her presentations to speak in support of each of the proposals. For several votes, a handful council members abstained because of their ties to industry. No application drew a "no" vote.

The applications skipped the normal review by the parish Finance Committee, which meets next week and typically makes recommendations to the full council, because MacArthur is expected to be out of town and the council is running out of full meetings before the end of the year. 

In an interview, MacArthur said the batch of applications in one setting was a quirk of the schedule and not timed with year's end. The council will see major turnover next year after elections this fall. A new parish president will also take office. She said two more tax exemption requests are coming in early 2020.

MacArthur said the parish's local governments have backed other, more capital-intensive projects with larger proposed tax abatements, including more than $1 billion projects for expansions by Methanex and Shell.

Methanex, which got backing last year, decided earlier this year to go forward with up to a $1.4 billion methanol plant, MacArthur said. It will be the third in Ascension.

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