Shell makes peace with neighbors

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 16, 2002


NORCO – Residents in the Diamond Plantation area of Norco will have the option until Aug. 30 to participate in a new neighborhood enhancement plan offered by Shell Chemical LLC.

The options include either to sell their home at an appraised value, with a minimum price of $80,000 for houses and $50,000 for mobile homes, or to accept a home-improvement loan of up to $25,000 if they choose to remain in their homes for at least five years.

Lilly Galland of Shell Chemical’s community relations office said the agreement came after weeks of meetings with Concerned Citizens of Norco members who have complained for years about the plant’s noise and chemical discharges.

“We just want to move on with this,” Galland said.

Delwyn Smith, representing CCN, said, “CCN believes that the Diamond Options Program demonstrates Shell’s commitment to listen and respond to its neighbors’ concerns. We will continue discussions with Shell to ensure the successful implementation of the program and ensure all residents of Diamond will have options.”

A joint agreement on the program was signed Monday by Site Manager Wayne Pearce and Smith. A letter made its way to residents across the town of Norco, explaining the program, describing it as an enhancement to their Good Neighbor Initiative.

The initiative itself is designed to enhance the lifestyle of all of Norco’s 4,000 residents, with the establishment of a $5 million Community Development District and an additional $200 million in capital improvements at the chemical plant to improve operations to reduce noise, odor and flaring.

In the letter, Pearce said: “We have come to recognize that the Diamond neighborhood is truly unique. The community is like an extended family, and we realize now that our previous efforts to create a greenbelt around our facilities may have created difficulties for some families and caregivers in the Diamond neighborhood.”

However, Diamond residents are encouraged to remain in Norco and take advantage of the home improvement loan program.

The way the program works, Galland said, is as follows: Should a homeowner agree they will stay in their home for at least five years, they can have up to $25,000 of improvements done to their home.

Should they accept the improvements, but choose to leave before the five years is up, they would have to repay Shell for the loan, depending on how long in the five-year period they have stayed.

The loans would be forgiven at a rate of 20 percent per year, meaning should they remain past five years, the loan would be completely forgiven and the homeowner would owe nothing, according to Galland.

Mobile home owners would not receive $25,000, but rather, an amount equal to 90 percent of the appraised value of the mobile home. Residents would not receive any money directly, but it would be paid to contractors who perform the home improvement work, Galland said.

In the other option, residents on Diamond Street, East Street and Sirs Lane can sell their property, Shell agreed to pay a minimum of $80,000 for conventional homes and $50,000 for mobile homes. The minimum price to be paid for vacant lots is $17,500.

Residents on Washington and Cathey streets were offered buyouts in an earlier program and are not eligible for this buyout option, Galland said.

The intention is to purchase those streets and expand Shell Chemical’s buffer zone, while not expanding operations into the newly-acquired areas.

For landlords of rental property, Shell is offering a rent disruption allowance of the rate of $1,000 per unit. Renters of conventional homes are eligible to receive a lump-sum $4,000 moving allowance. Mobile home owners who are renting their home site are eligible to receive a $7,500 relocation allowance. Homeowners have from July 1 to Aug. 30 to accept either option.

Response from the residents has been mixed, Galland said. While many in Diamond are eager to accept the community improvements, some Norco residents are asking why Diamond is being singled out?

“Right now, the need is in Diamond,” Galland responded. However, this will not detract from Shell’s plans for assisting the rest of Norco through the Good Neighbor Initiative.

Smith also thanked several organizations for their assistance in this agreement, including the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Xavier University and Earthjustice in New Orleans.

“Small communities dealing with environmental problems should never give up,” Smith added. “Victories and successes can be achieved, but they don’t happen overnight. Positive change can happen when the community is organized and prepared to stay in for the long haul and when the community is supported by knowledgeable and truly supportive organizations.”

When asked about the agreement, Louisiana Bucket Brigade spokesperson Anne Rolfes said, “The key was that Shell was ready to listen after decades of complaints.”

Rolfes added the agreement “shows that persistence pays off,” and continued the Diamond residents can now “spend time with their families instead of attending community meetings.”