Parish: Bunge doesn’t have permit for part of upgrade; work stopped

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 5, 2000

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / August 5, 2000

DESTREHAN – Bunge Corp. thought its $28 million project to upgrade graintransport equipment was going well – until St. Charles Parish’s Planning andZoning Department issued a cease-and-desist order Monday.

The project is to install upgraded equipment to safely transport grain from barges to the grain elevator silos with even less chance of grain dust escaping and to lessen the chance of a fire.

The activity includes work in the river batture on a grain collection system and work on the silos themselves. Only the silo work was targeted for thecease-and-desist order, said Acting Planning Director Bob Lambert, as the company did acquire a building permit for the batture work.

Bunge’s attorney, Leon Vial III, said the project was first planned in 1996 and “acquired every permit…each and every one of them” required by the parishand gained the blessing of the Chris Tregre administration, including then- Planning and Zoning Director Joe Lassus.

Vial told Lambert, “Bunge has tried to impress the fact upon your office that it had the approval of the Planning and Zoning Department of the previous administration that it could proceed to construction without having to apply for a building permit. That decision was predicated upon the factthat the construction was not only “grandfathered,” but was actually for the installation of equipment that replaced equipment that was existing at the time.”Lambert, however, interpreted the parish’s planning laws differently and issued the order to halt construction, pending the company’s acquisition of a parish zoning compliance certificate.

Bunge is now in the process of amending its batture construction permit application to comply with Lambert’s order.

Lambert said citizen complaints led to the cease-and-desist order, and he added that according to his interpretation of the zoning law, Lassus was in error when he told Bunge no such certificate was necessary.

Lambert quoted from the law: “No building, structure, mobile home, Wetland or Batture District Development activity shall hereafter be erected, constructed, enlarged, altered, repaired, improved or moved until the Parish Planning Director, or his authorized representative, has first issued a preliminary certificate of zoning compliance.”Lambert added, “When we C-and-D anybody for anything, our objective has always been to bring people into compliance.”Vial noted, on the other hand, that the improvements being made at Bunge do not impede on the buffer zone between the silos and neighboring residential communities.

In a response to Lambert’s letter, Vial wrote: “This is to inform St. CharlesParish that Bunge Corp. intends to amend is existing application for a buildingpermit to include the new construction north of Louisiana Highway 48.”Vial commented, “Bunge’s position is that they didn’t do anything illegal, but we’re doing this out of protest, to be a good neighbor.”The project, which began construction in early 1999, is due for completion by summer 2001.

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