Marathon lawsuit seeks to stop Garyville vote

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 27, 2008


Editor and Publisher

LAPLACE – Marathon Petroleum Company, facing the increasing likelihood that the election to incorporate the Town of Garyville would go on without clarification on the key issue of industrial exclusion, stepped forward on Thursday with the first of what is expected to be several lawsuits challenging that election.

Marathon filed suit in 40th Judicial District Court on Thursday, naming a host of defendants that included St. John Parish, seeking a court ruling to “suspend, delay or terminate” the scheduled election on July 19.

Also named as defendants in the suit are Geri Broussard, chairperson of the Garyville Incorporation Committee; Scott Himel, vice-president of the Garyville Incorporation Committee; Jay Dardenne, Louisiana secretary of state; Betty Madere, St. John registrar of voters; and St. John Parish President Bill Hubbard.

At issue for Marathon is clarification on whether or not they have been properly designated an “industrial area” by state law. If they are an industrial area, state law prohibits them from being included in the new proposed town boundaries. At stake are tens of millions of dollars in tax money, currently being paid to St. John Parish.

The Garyville committee submitted a petition to the state seeking the election, and drew town boundaries that not only include Marathon, but also include several other large industry in the region. That includes Gramercy-Alumina, Cargill, Nalco and Stockhausen.

However, most of those industries are also claiming they filed proper paperwork nearly 30 years ago to claim industrial area exclusion from being included in any future municipality.

On Thursday, Marathon officials decided to wait no longer before filing for clarification on the issue. In their filing, they ask for a declaratory judgment, as well as a restraining order against Baloney, Himel, Madere, Dardenne and St. John Parish to halt any further work to prepare for the election.

Marathon Plant Manager Rich Bedell said that his company had met with Baloney last week, seeking a compromise on the deal that would have the Garyville organizers willingly acknowledging Marathon should not be part of the town. But he said that when they got no response by this week, they had to act.

“There were two problems facing us,” he said. “The Garyville committee has publicly stated that they are including our tax money in their budget, so that had to be resolved. And also this matter had to be resolved before the election so the people would honestly know what they were voting on.”

Baloney felt the lawsuit was “a slap in the face to the people of Garyville. Marathon is essentially telling us that they can do business here, but they don’t want any of their tax money to stay in the very community of Garyville.”

“I also don’t believe Mr. Bedell is filing this on behalf of the people,” she said. “They are more concerned about paying more taxes. As for the matter of clarification before the election, it would be nice to have a declaration so people know for sure, but I don’t think it’s critical.”

Baloney also said that she had a problem with the timing of the lawsuit.

“I have a problem with this suit being filed on the eve of the election,” she said. “After all this time and work from the people in Garyville, they are going to file this now and ask for the election to be cancelled?”

But Bedell said his company had tried to resolve the matter with Baloney earlier, yet after no response last week, was forced to go to the courts.

“The people need to know what they are voting on,” he repeated. “Right now they are planning on 70 percent of their tax base to come from Marathon. But by law, we are protected from being annexed. We have always been a good neighbor in St. John, and paid a lot of tax money. But we have a right to get the protection from state law so we don’t have additional taxes.”

Other industry was expected to follow Marathon’s lead and file similar lawsuits, while Reserve attorney Danny Becnel Jr. said he will be filing a lawsuit on behalf of “hundreds of people in Reserve and Garyville who don’t want to be part of this.”

The Garyville boundaries were drawn to also include a portion of Reserve, and some vocal opposition has come from that area as well.

St. John Parish Attorney Jeff Perilloux said he wasn’t surprised to be named in the suit, but still maintains their position from the beginning has not changed.

“Our position has always been that their petition is flawed,” Perilloux said. “There is a problem with the petition since we believe that the gist of the industries allegations are meritorious, and that would make the drawn boundaries non-contiguous. That makes the entire petition for incorporation flawed, and it has to be fixed before an election can take place.”

Perilloux said he was especially unhappy with the Garyville committee for not addressing the problem earlier, since this issue will now cost the taxpayers plenty of money.

“None of all this court action had to ever happen,” he said. “The incorporation people have the same paperwork we have showing the industry sites are exempt from incorporation, but they chose to ignore that, and draw boundaries that are flawed. Now it is going to cost a lot of money to deal with all this court business.”

But despite that charge, Baloney continued to hold her own position that the matter is not so clear cut.

“I still believe some or all of the industry will be included in the Town of Garyville,” she remarked. “I still haven’t seen enough documentation to remove my doubt about that.”

Judge Sterling Snowdy was assigned to the case in the 40th Judicial District Court.