Another new tank farm is planned

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 30, 2008


Staff Reporter

VACHERIE —  A group of local investors in a company known as Petroplex International LLC is planning the development of an oil storage tank farm project here that would eventually feature 10 million barrels of petroleum storage and provide the West Bank of St. James Parish with a waste water system.

The first phase of the project calls for up to $285 million in investment for 4 million barrels of storage and would create between 50-60 permanent jobs, said former state Rep. Bobby Faucheux, a Petroplex partner.

 Petroplex officials have not yet applied for the permits needed to launch the project, but Faucheux said the group plans to submit applications to the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) within two weeks.

Tim Beckstrom, a DEQ public information officer, said Petroplex had already met with the agency and discussed the project. Petroplex also needs a permit from the St. James Parish Coastal Zone Board.  

Faucheux said he hopes the permit process will take no longer than nine months.

“We feel good about our chances to get this done,” he said. “For 12 years, I’ve worked as a legislator chasing industry to come to Louisiana, and now that I’m not in the Legislature anymore, I decided I could try to bring some of that industry here myself.”

Petroplex is eyeing the procurement of 1,794 acres of land formerly known as Crescent Home Plantation – of which 1,000 acres currently serve as sugar cane fields – for its operations.  

The prospect of a waster water sewer system for the St. James residents on the West Bank would be a huge development, should that happen. However Faucheux said it is one thing the group has said they want to do, to help be a good neighbor in the community.

Larry Sciacchetano, another Petroplex investor and partner, touted the location along the Mississippi River as “incredible” and said he hoped to capitalize on a period of “enormous demand for petroleum storage.”

Petroplex’s plans to construct a tank farm in Vacherie come at a time of expansion for two major

refineries – Marathon in Garyville and Valero in Norco – just down the river, which Sciacchetano described as “absolutely favorable.”

But Petroplex would be far from alone in the business of storing petroleum.

Safeland Storage LLC, though it has since been sued by an opposition group, recently received approval to build a 400-acre tank farm in the Garyville/Mt. Airy area.      

“There is a worldwide shortage of places for petroleum products to be stored,” Faucheux said. “That’s why we are planning this tank farm right after the Safeland Storage one.”

NuStar in Saint James, a small community just west of Vacherie, has also invested $50 million to add four more tanks providing an additional 1.4 million barrels of storage beginning in July, a company spokeswoman said. And Plains Marketing – a Texas firm that already owns tanks in St. James Parish – has announced a $175 million tank farm expansion. Parish officials have opposed the plans saying the company is avoiding property taxes.

Some opposed

Though perhaps not yet to the extent of Safeland, Petroplex International has encountered resistance from nearby homeowners who are worried about everything from a loss of aesthetics to an increased terror threat in the area.  

Michael Calabro, whose Vacherie residence would border the tank farm, has assembled an opposition group he calls “Community Strength” to challenge Petroplex International.

Calabro said the effort has received “large support, mostly from people who were frustrated from the beginning.” He estimated that his group was “well over 100 strong.”  

“We’re trying to delay them and get questions answered in a public forum,” he said.  If they cannot answer those questions, “then it’s clear they’re trying to hide something.” He also said a lawsuit would be “well within the group’s means.”

Calabro said he felt Petroplex had been disingenuous towards the residents of Vacherie and unforthcoming with its plans, citing a “meet and greet” with Petroplex officials held May 1 at a Vacherie residence, which he said was brought to an abrupt halt after residents in attendance began asking questions. Residents have been concerned with changes on the company’s Web site, some saying it was not clear what, exactly, Petroplex had planned.

“The lack of transparency in this thing has been surreal,” Calabro said.

Faucheux offered a slightly different account of the May 1 meeting, saying they simply did not know the answers to many of the pointed questions at the time.

Sciacchetano added that the meeting “just wasn’t the right place for that kind of dialogue.”

For now, Calabro is gathering signatures on a petition he plans to send to several different agencies to convey the group’s opposition.

Carol Waguespack, another Vacherie resident who lives two houses from the would-be tank farm, opposes the project and said many retirees who live in the area are worried about light and noise pollution the tank farm might bring.

“We were promised zoning 20 years ago,” she said. “Until we get it, we’re just at their mercy.”

St. James Parish has no zoning restrictions as of now, a factor St. James Parish President Dale Hymel said has contributed to his position on the issue.

“Well, we don’t have to have a stance, there’s nothing we can do about it,” he said Tuesday. “I’d love to see it in another area,” but St. James has been fortunate in that much of the industry has been in non-residential areas.

St. James Parish Director of Operations Jody Chenier said there is talk of implementing a zoning master plan by the end of the year.

Petroplex recently adjusted its plans to include a 1,500 ft. border between the tanks and the residential areas they would approach.

 Sciacchetano would not directly attribute the adjustments to the residents’ concerns but said, “we’ve done everything possible to alleviate their concerns,” adding that Petroplex plans to include a lake or pond between the tank farm and residential areas. He also described the nature of a tank farm as “pretty placid” and cited the addition of a waste water system as a plus for the community.

 Faucheux said some of the residents are also concerned their property values could be adversely affected, but Sciacchetano said more demand for the housing would result from the jobs created.

“It’s hard to speculate,” said St. James Parish Assessor Glenn Waguespack.    

“I think it will probably have a negative effect, but how much remains to be seen.”

“If you go from open sugar cane fields and then all of sudden you got tanks, you have more potential to be affected.”