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Nothing settled during weekend Shintech hearing

By Leonard Gray / L’Observateur / January 23, 1998

ROMEVILLE – Lines were drawn in the gymnasium of Romeville ElementarySchool last weekend and the Shintech hearings were on.

The first hearing, on draft air permits, drew 217 people, not counting thesmall children dispensing “Stop Shintech” stickers.” The second, onenvironmental justice concerns, drew 238 and lasted 10 hours.

Nothing was settled.

Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality Secretary J. Dale Givensdid not attend the hearings he called, but Dick Mason, secretary andcontroller for Shintech, did attend Saturday’s hearing.

So, also, did scores of protestors and environmental activists whodecorated the gym as for a basketball playoff. Instead of “Go Team,”however, it was “Go Away, Shintech.”Outside the gym Wilbur Davis sold pork cracklins, pecan pies and peanutsfor the crowd, already profiting from the Shintech project. Inside, thecrowd watched an Oprah Winfrey clip and the atmosphere at timesresembled a tent revival.

Lunch was provided by the Louisiana Environmental Action Network andsome local residents, providing chili dogs, baked chicken, potato chips anda specially-decorated “Stop Shintech” cake.

Mason was first at the microphone just after 9 a.m., and commented, “Wasit realistic to expect we would be welcomed by everyone in St. James? Ofcourse not.”

He then repeated the oft-repeated arguments about jobs, Louisiana’sstrict environmental laws and that race had nothing to do with the site’sselection, close abutting a poor, mostly black rural neighborhood. Hereferred to the site as “isolated and relatively undeveloped acreage”which met and exceeded all criteria after consideration of sites nearHouston and in St. John the Baptist Parish.

Next up to the microphone was a student attorney of the TulaneEnvironmental Law Clinic, Rebecca Miller, who was not allowed to speakby hearing officer Louis Buatt, who said opening remarks were to be madeby local residents only.

Public officials included St. James Parish Council members Oliver Cooperand Timothy Roussel and State Reps. Bobby Faucheux and Roy Quezaire.Pat Melancon, president of St. James Citizens for Jobs and theEnvironment, said as to the two hearings, “You can’t really separate thetwo issues.”

Much of the audience discussion centered around 19th Judicial DistrictJudge Janice Clark’s decision Friday to uphold a water permit forShintech, a DEQ approval contested by the law clinic.

Local resident Houston Francois told the gathering how his college-educated son left the area because he was unable to find work and blamedthe local industries for not hiring local residents. He said Shintech wouldbe no different.

“Why have something come into an area which will poison, destroy and killour children? I’m against Shintech 100 percent,” he said.

Pat Melancon, who has led the attack against Shintech since fall 1996,declared, “We believe this is a struggle for justice and the basic right tolife. They carry the money to the bank, and we carry our loved ones to thecemetery.”

At frequent intervals, speakers called on audience members to eitherstand or raise their hands if they opposed or supported Shintech,displaying a lopsided count against the proposed plant.

Lisa Lavie of the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic commented later, “Theykept saying the majority of the people support this plant, and I kept sayingto myself, ‘Where are they?'”Outside the hearing, Mason said by the end of 1998 plant officials shouldknow whether Shintech will, indeed, be built.

“This is just one of a series of steps that need to be taken,” he said,adding, “I’m real happy with where we are with this thing.”

Tom Murray, a St. James Parish resident, commented, “It’s sad to see acommunity so divided. There will be hard feelings for a lot of years tocome.”

Lavie said afterward he was “pretty pleased” with the hearing.Written comments are being accepted by the Assistant Secretary at DEQOffice of Legal Affairs and Enforcement, P.O. Box 82282, Baton Rouge, La.70884-2282.

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