Garyville tank farm plan now confirmed

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 12, 2005

Opposition already building; sources say criticism unfounded



LAPLACE — A proposed oil tank farm that will sit on over 400 acres of industrial zoned land west of Garyville has some residents mobilizing in opposition to the project, however an investigation by L’Observateur into the still unannounced holding tanks has countered some of the claims about the scope and plans of what may be built there.

Carl Monica, a well-known developer in St. John Parish who has focused much of his work in the Garyville/Mt. Airy area, called a meeting of concerned citizens this past week at the Post Office Café.

At that meeting, plans for the tank farm were displayed, and residents there seemed surprised and shocked by what they heard.

&#8220There is enough cluster of industry around us,” Monica said, pointing out the massive Marathon plant to the east of Garyville. &#8220And after you saw what Hurricane Katrina did to Murphy Oil in St. Bernard, these tanks would put the same threat right near us.”

The proposed site, currently owned by ARS Holding, Inc. of McMurray, Pa., a subsidiary of Mitsubishi, sits to the west of some residential area in Garyville, as well as the Nalco industrial site near River Road.

The 400-plus acres go all the way to the Kaiser Aluminum plant in St. James Parish.

But while indications at the Tuesday meeting suggested the oil tanks would be located very near residential property in Garyville and Mt. Airy, sources to L’Observateur have revealed the plans will situate the tanks far to the west, as close as possible to the Kaiser plant.

If the current plans are followed through on, the oil tanks will be dozens of acres away from any residential property, with a heavy forested area concealing it completely even from River Road.

The sale of the property from the Mitsubishi company to a group of silent investors, with the final price tag on the development expected to be

over $100 million, is still not finalized.

Latter & Blum Agent Jim Barse, who is handling the transaction, told L’Observateur that the property is under contract, but not closed yet. While no official confirmation for the sale of the 400 acres was given, other L’Observateur sources have set the sale price at over $2.5 million.

A handful of River Road businessmen are heading the local group directing the sale, however none were willing to be identified until the closing is official. However State Rep. Bobby Faucheaux did confirm he is the attorney for the group.

&#8220We just don’t want to comment until the deal is closed,” Faucheaux said.

The property in question has a long history of controversial issues behind it. Industrial giant Aristech wanted to build a chemical plant on the site over 10 years ago, but Garyville/Mt. Airy residents fought the project and defeated it. Since then, the land has set vacant until Monica and a group of investors made a $2.5 million offer to purchase it, and turn it into residential, nearly two years ago.

However that deal fell through, leading to the rezoning of Heavy Industrial, and opening the door for the new group to consider the tank farm project.

Parish President Nickie Monica has offered his support to the plan, saying &#8220the land is zoned heavy industrial, so a tank farm is probably the best thing people could have out there. This won’t be any kind of chemical plant with emissions of any kind, so I support it.”

St. John Councilmen Cleveland Farlough and Alan St. Pierre, who represent residents in the area, said they have also been aware of it for months.

&#8220I was first told about this two months ago,” St. Pierre said. &#8220And I’m supportive of it since it could bring jobs, and also additional sales tax for our parish, which needs it. These tanks will be buffered by current businesses and property, and is much better than Aristech. We can’t keep chasing things away, and this group has assured me that safety will be their top priority.”

Some key members of the Garyville community who attended the meeting with Monica this week were local builder Jimmie Gooden, former St. John Councilman Ranney Wilson, banker Rick Oubre, and community activists Loretta Tassin and Brunette A. Burl. All were adamantly opposed to the project, although it was before confirmed details of the tank farm were disclosed.

&#8220It’s unfortunate that something wasn’t in the zoning there to keep this residential,” Wilson said. &#8220We have enough industry out this way already and I hope that when we sit down with the local officials representing us, they will back us in opposing this.”

Several sources who are involved with the purchase of the property claimed that Carl Monica not only knew about the project early this past year, but also supported it. But upon learning he could not buy it again in the summer, when he submitted a new bid to Latter and Blum, changed his mind and has organized the opposition.

&#8220Mr. Monica has a lot of personal interests in this property and that is why he has changed his mind about supporting it,” the source said. &#8220This isn’t just about keeping it from being industrial. He wants to buy the property to develop it himself.”

Monica, who confirmed that he tried to buy the property again this summer, denied that to be true.

&#8220I did resubmit a bid this summer for $2.3 million, but the agent said there was a new offer on the table and I would have to come in with a higher bid. I wasn’t going to let them make us work against each other. But as for me supporting this project, that is completely untrue. I never, ever supported this project,” he said.

&#8220I am interested in fighting this because we need more room to grow in Garyville and Mt. Airy. We are squeezed between two large industrial sites and if this gets approved, I’m getting out of Garyville myself. I’ve had enough,” he promised. &#8220This is a matter of survival for Garyville.”

But sources to L’Observateur said the investment group not only plans to have a large buffer zone from the tanks to the residential area, covering dozens of acres, but also plans to invest in the community in other ways.

The source said there will be a $750,000 fire truck bought for the Garyville Fire Department which will reduce homeowner rates, and three other fire trucks worth $4 million will be kept at the Garyville station, and be available for use if needed.

Additionally, a large park has been promised on the western side of Mt. Airy, with tank owners promising the land needed, as well as security on site.

&#8220We will have the most up to date safety features for this tank farm, plus a $5 million fire protection added to the Garyville/Mt. Airy area,” the source said. &#8220When all the facts come out about this tank farm, residents will see it will be a good thing for the area, and much better than many other things that might come in there.”

The contract on the property is expected to take up to 60 days to close, which then leads to the need for state EPA and DEQ approval. Application for those permits will require public hearings to be held in the area.