Attorney: No quit in tank farm fight

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Editor and Publisher

LAPLACE – St. John attorney Geri Baloney said she is not the least bit deterred by a judge’s ruling last Thursday that did not grant a stay in the construction plans for a company preparing to build a tank farm in Garyville.

Quite the contrary, Baloney saw plenty to be optimistic about in the fight she is heading for a Garyville-area group, which is trying to halt construction of the tank farm on over 400 acres of land in the western portion of St. John Parish.

“I was delighted with the way the judge responded to our case,” she said. “Most DEQ permits that are challenged are never even brought up for a hearing, yet the judge has granted us a hearing to review these ones, and that’s very encouraging.”

Baloney filed a suit on behalf of Save Our Neighborhood, seeking a stay in construction against Safeland, hoping to slow down the progress of the tank farm in Garyville.

Even though 19th Judicial District Court Judge Curtis Calloway denied the stay sought against the tank farm, he is still holding a final hearing on May 28 to review the merits of the DEQ water and air permits.

“We’re undaunted by the ruling,” Baloney said about Calloway not halting construction. “We were actually prepared for this, and are looking forward to the next case on May 28th.”

Safeland attorney Daniel Becnel Jr. was directed to have lawsuits prepared to file in court should the ruling have gone Baloney’s way. Those lawsuits would have sued anyone involved in the construction delays for damage, defamation, and even under the civil RICO law for conspiracy. However, Safeland officials told Becnel last week that he had the discretion to file the suits or not.

Becnel told L’Observateur that he has decided not to file the suits since “we don’t want to hurt people here,” however, he added that the suits would be filed should any more litigation come forth against Safeland.

“Bring it on,” Baloney responded, when told of the new lawsuits. “We’re not afraid of any lawsuits.”

Safeland Storage officials saw the Thursday ruling as a major victory for their group, as they are ready to embark on Phase I of the $300 million venture. The initial phase will cost $125 million and will put 27 tanks on the property, which runs from River Road to Airline Highway on the western portion of Garyville.

“We were obviously very pleased with the judge’s ruling in the case,” Safeland Manager Paul Beaullieu said. “We are anxious to get started with constructing the facility since it will bring a lot of good jobs to the area.”

Safeland obtained the DEQ water and air permits after over 100 comments sent in to DEQ, or made at a local public hearing, were all reviewed and individually responded to.

“We were told by DEQ that we have gone far beyond what they require in these situations,” Beaullieu added. “So we know that we are trying to do everything possible to make this a good addition for the area.”

Additionally, Safeland has made promises along the lines of purchasing a $750,000 fire truck for the Garyville volunteer fire department, putting up money to improve current recreational facilities in the area, donating substantially to the idea of building a community center, and keeping as many of the permanent jobs as possible for local people.

Baloney has maintained all along that her group just wants as much security as possible, to know the permits are correct.

“We felt like there was never enough consideration of other property for this site,” she explained. “And we are very concerned about the possible loss of the Diversion Canal, that has been sought for our area for years and is needed to help preserve much of our wetlands here.”

The Diversion Canal remains a key issue since it is a federal project that has been under consideration for the region for 10 years. The project appeared to be moving forward recently, however it was planned all along to run through the tank farm property.

Tank farm officials have said recently that they are willing to put the canal on their property, but Baloney is worried that it might not be good enough to save the project.

“This is a federal project and we have no idea if EPA is going to be OK with the canal going wherever the tank farm owners suggest,” she said. “This canal is vital to restore wetlands for the area, and could help with flooding in the area, but it may not be compatible with a tank farm.”

Baloney continues to say that she is willing to discuss the lawsuit with tank farm officials, to see if any settlement could be reached, but she said no one has contacted her yet about talks on the matter.