‘March Against Death Alley’ organized by Louisiana climate activists

Concerned residents in the area along the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge — dubbed "Cancer Alley" or "Death Alley" due to its proximity to more than 100 petrochemical plants and refineries — are leading a two-week protest by bus and foot, demanding no new petrochemical projects be built in the River Parishes.

Local environmental justice activists are planning the "March Against Death Alley" to span from New Orleans to Baton Rouge with events that began Oct. 15 and end Oct. 30.

One of the projects marchers will rally against is a $9.4 billion Formosa Petrochemical Corp. plastics plant in St. James Parish, which activists say could nearly double the area's current emission levels of toxic chemicals. Other demands from organizers include a ban on industrial emissions within 5 miles of public spaces, health care coverage for residents exposed to pollution and an end to the industrial tax exemption program that offers companies large tax breaks to attract them to Louisiana.

They also call for the Denka Performance Elastomer plant to curb its productions to stay under the levels recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The plant produces chloroprene, which the EPA classifies as a carcinogen. Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration announced in August that it would conduct a study to determine if people living around the Denka plant had higher rates of cancer than other places in the state.

The Coalition Against Death Alley, Rise St. James, Concerned Citizens of St. John, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Justice and Beyond and 350 New Orleans will participate. — KAYLEE POCHE

Me-YOW: Feeding neighborhood cats in Westwego could earn you a $500 fine

For Westwego residents, feeding a stray cat in your neighborhood could result in a city-imposed fine, should that feline be deemed “a nuisance” to neighbors.

In response to ongoing concerns and complaints about an abundance of stray cats in the city, the five-member Westwego City Council unanimously passed an ordinance Oct. 14 that will bar people from feeding strays within the city limits. At the meeting, Westwego Mayor Joe Peoples said complaints about stray cats were one of the top reasons residents called his office. About 20 people spoke against the law at the meeting and a few in support of it.

The ordinance, which Peoples signed Tuesday, also states that people feeding stray cats are responsible for the cats’ behavior, including “urinating and defecating on porches or property, digging and defecating in landscaping, sitting on vehicles or causing any nuisance on a neighboring property.”

The only exception to the ordinance would be people working with the Jefferson Parish Animal Control Board, using a tactic for reducing stray cat populations known as Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) — feeding the stray cats in order to capture them and get them neutered.

The ordinance does not lay out the penalty for each offense or the amount of the fines, but the mayor said at the meeting Tuesday that the City of Westwego Department of Code Enforcement will give the person a warning. Should problems persist over time, the city will issue a citation and order the person to appear in court and potentially face fines up to $500 per offense, according to the section of city code cited in the law.

Jeff Dorson, director of the Louisiana Humane Society, told Gambit the ordinance is “regressive rather than progressive.” He has been a vocal opponent of the feeding ban and said the only proven method of reducing the stray cat population long term is TNR.

The Best Friends Animal Society, a Utah organization, came to Westwego last year to start a community cat program. The program has multiple vets offering free or low-cost spay and neuter services and community outreach, and it remediates conflicts over stray cats. Dorson said these existing efforts are working to get cats neutered. “Any time you have free or low-cost services, people take advantage of that,” he said.

Councilwoman Lisa Valence said she voted for the ordinance because she felt it was a fair compromise between those feeding strays and their agitated neighbors. "I supported the amended ordinance that requires people who feed feral cats follow the [TNR] policy to promote a healthy cat life, but I also support the neighbors who cope with colonies of cats passing through yards," she said in a statement. "We needed to listen to both sides and make compromises, which I think we did."

Dorson said he expects the legislation to be challenged in court “on multiple levels” and that the Louisiana Humane Society likely will defend anyone cited under the ordinance. “We believe that this ordinance unjustifiably singles out cat caregivers and subjects them to harsh penalties if found guilty of violating any of the ordinance's provisions,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “We will soon meet with legal counsel to develop one or more challenges to these regulations.” — KAYLEE POCHE

Convention Center authority seeks public input on hotel project

Officials with the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center are seeking public input on its plans to build a high-rise hotel attached to the convention center at a meeting Monday, Oct. 21.

The proposed Omni Hotel would include 1,200 rooms. The $558 million hotel is part of a larger improvement plan to renovate the convention center and create a pedestrian park, which currently is being built.

The hotel sparked criticism when officials sought tens of millions in tax dollars to fund the project. Proponents of the project point to a consultant’s estimate that the hotel would generate a $282 million economic impact annually for the city and create 1,900 jobs.

The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in room 220 on the second floor of the convention center. — KAYLEE POCHE

Next gubernatorial debate set for Oct. 30

Two days after the Louisiana primary election forced him into a runoff, Gov. John Bel Edwards said he accepted an invitation to a statewide televised debate hosted by Louisiana Public Broadcasting (LPB) and Council For a Better Louisiana at the end of the month, the first planned debate in the gubernatorial runoff.

It was not immediately clear if his Republican challenger, businessman and political mega-donor Eddie Rispone, plans to accept the invitation.

The debate is slated for 7 p.m. Oct. 30, LPB President Beth Courtney said, and will take place at the LPB studios in Baton Rouge. That would put the debate just ahead of the early voting period beginning Nov. 2.

Edwards, the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, faced off with Rispone and the third-place finisher, Congressman Ralph Abraham, in three televised primary debates, including one hosted by LPB.

"I look forward to debating Eddie Rispone on the issues and discussing the hard, bipartisan work we did to put Louisiana first, investing in education and job creation," Edwards said in a statement. "Eddie Rispone has no vision for Louisiana. He just wants to bring back the failed policies of Bobby Jindal that put our state in a ditch and left working people without health care."

The runoff election is Nov. 16. Edwards didn't win the election outright in the open primary Saturday, garnering about 47% of the vote. Rispone edged out Abraham by a 27% to 24% margin. — SAM KARLIN | THE NEW ORLEANS ADVOCATE