Tank farm opposition growing
Community meeting leads to plan for petition to Parish Council
By KEVIN CHIRI
GARYVILLE — Garyville resident Bryan Beatle had one way to describe his feelings about the prospect of a chemical plant or an oil tank farm in his backyard.
“It’s like a question of whether you want a tornado or a hurricane, and I don’t want either one,” he told a crowd at the Garyville Library on Monday night.
The latest growth of opposition to a proposed oil tank farm west of Garyville took its next step on Monday night, when a little-publicized community meeting gathered steam at the library.
Approximately 40 residents showed up for the hastily called get together, including St. John Councilman Allen St. Pierre, who represents part of the Garyville/Mt. Airy region.
Councilman Cleveland Farlough was scheduled to also be at the meeting to answer questions, but was unable to make it due to an illness in his family.
However St. Pierre got an earful enough for both councilmen from the crowd that night, and quickly reversed his earlier stated position of supporting the tank farm, as he had told L’Observateur in an exclusive story breaking the news about the plant just weeks ago.
L’Observateur has been the only area publication to report details on the story so far about the proposed tank farm on 400 acres of land to the west of Garyville. Sources involved with investors for the farm, who will purchase the land from present owner ARC Holding, Inc., have confirmed to L’Observateur that the land is already under contract and could close within 60 days.
With the property already zoned heavy industrial, there appears to be little to stop the prospects of the farm. However, Garyville residents weren’t ready to accept that fate just yet, and now plan to seek a signed petition from a majority of residents in the area to fight the project.
St. Pierre said that the best hope to stop the tank farm is to rezone the land residential, which he will pursue if a majority of residents indicate they would like that.
“I believe the Parish Council will back rezoning if a majority of Garyville/Mt. Airy residents show their opposition to it,” he said. “And right now the rezoning is probably the only way to stop it.”
Residents at the meeting were angry that their public officials had not informed them about the brewing industry long ago, since it was earlier in 2005 when the plan began to take shape.
“Our representatives are not representing us in these matters,” longtime resident Brunette Burell said. “We never know about these things until it’s over.”
Beatle and Michael Hoover, two residents of Plantation Oaks subdivision, have taken the lead with the group and questioned why the property has to become any kind of industry at all. For that matter, the majority of people at the meeting agreed that there is too much industry around Garyville already, and want the land rezoned residential.
“Marathon is rolling along like a ball of fire and we can’t stop anything they are doing anymore,” Beatle said, referring to the recent $2.2 billion expansion that will double its size. “I’m not opposed to industry per se, but just not in my backyard.”
Beatle showed plans for the tank farm that place the tanks as close as 600 feet to residential property in Plantation Oaks, and to homes on Daffodil Street.
Hoover cited a recent study showing area industry emissions going up.
“With Marathon doubling its size, their emissions will double. I’ve been in this parish for 40 years, 16 years in law enforcement, and love St. John. We need this land to remain high and dry for Garyville to grow,” he added.
St. Pierre had originally told L’Observateur he supported the tank farm, saying he thought such a project was better than more industry such as a chemical plant. But after listening to the residents on Monday night, he agreed he would fight the tank farm if a majority of residents came out against it.
“If there is a majority of support against this thing, I will back the people,” he said. “And just to be sure, I want to know if anyone here tonight is for it.”
No hands were raised as the chorus of cheers rang out, indicating 100 percent opposition to the tank farm.
Beatle, along with developers Jimmie Gooden and Carl Monica, have all agreed that they want the property rezoned to residential, as it had been years ago.
“I came to this area years ago and believe in what this area has to offer,” Gooden, a top St. John builder said. “I’ve invested millions of dollars in homes here, and the St. John Council should change this property to residential to preserve the housing needs in the area. A tank farm would be catastrophic, and would devastate this area economically if it were built here.”
Gooden also owns a home in Plantation Oaks, as did many of the residents at the meeting.
Sources to L’Observateur with the proposed project have said there will be a heavy tree line, as well as protective dykes keeping any possible spills from the tanks from getting to homes. They have also promised up to $5 million in fire protection to assist the local departments. However Beatle still feels the farm is too close to residential housing.
“I have been involved in industry safety all my life, and I can tell you that if it can go wrong, it will go wrong,” he said. “That’s why we can’t have it so close to any of our homes.”
The matter was scheduled to be addressed at last night’s Parish Council meeting, and Beatle said his group intends to move quickly to begin seeking signatures on a petition to have the property rezoned.