Group says ‘secret’ is out

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Editor and Publisher

GARYVILLE – Supporters for the Town of Garyville to become incorporated announced at a public hearing on Monday night what they believe is the “big secret” about why they feel certain they will be able to reap huge financial benefits from industry in the region.

Attorney Abril B. Sutherland, a staff member with incorporation committee chairperson Geri Baloney, told a crowd of nearly 100 people that their group is certain they have found a fatal error by the industry in the region, which all filed decades ago for industrial area exemption from any future municipality.

Sutherland told the crowd that none of the industry which is currently claiming industrial exemption fulfilled a key element of the Louisiana state statute, which is to properly have a land use study completed.

“I would bet my house that the industry exemption is not valid,” Sutherland told the group. “We feel sure the industry will be included in our town’s boundaries.”

The big announcement comes barely over a week before the scheduled vote to decided whether Garyville will incorporate. The July 19 election will go before a little over 4,000 residents of the area including Garyville, Mt. Airy and a portion of Reserve, unless current court action delays the election.

Garyville Incorporation Committee leaders have insisted that “there is no court action that can stop the election,” however five current lawsuits in court should be considered this week, all of which are asking for possible delay of the election to settle matters involving the industrial exemption question.

The industrial issue is a huge one, since millions of dollars of tax money currently going to St. John Parish government could potentially go to a small, new municipality, if voters approve it.

All along, the industry—Marathon Petroleum, Cargill, Nalco, Stockhausen and Gramercy Alumina—have provided documentation as part of their lawsuits against the incorporation group, showing that they believe to be exempt from the new municipality since they filed proper state paperwork many years ago.

However on Monday night, Baloney and Sutherland both told the crowd that the industry missed a vital part of the state statute, by not providing a land use study as part of the request.

“We could not give away our strategy about this until now, since there is now not enough time for industry to fix the mistake,” Sutherland said. “They would need 10 days to advertise for the exemption in the paper, and then get the approval from the Parish Council, but there isn’t enough time.”

Marathon attorney Daniel Wellons said that he has heard about the land use question, but still does not see it as an issue.

“Marathon has reviewed all of its paperwork and is certain that we are in compliance with the state statute,” he said. “This is just another delay tactic on their part, all to delay the merits of the issue. We want to get to court and have a chance to prove our position as an industrial exempt area.”

Wellons said that the simple fact Marathon has operated for 30 years, fulfilling their end of the industrial area exemption, proves that their status is good.

“For 30 years we have done all the things we were supposed to as an industrial exempt area. We have provided our own water, sewer, police protection and more,” he pointed out. “How, after 30 years, is anyone going to suddenly say that our exemption is not valid?”

Baloney, who has hinted all along during this controversy that she was confident the Town of Garyville would get “all or some” of the industry money, said that residents of the new town could see “Christmas in July” should the vote go through.

“We feel confident that the industrial area was not properly created,” she added to the crowd on hand for a public hearing on the matter. “They didn’t follow all the steps because they apparently didn’t realize some of them, and then they relied on the parish to check things.”

However Baloney said the new town does not plan on adding extra taxes on the industry.

“We don’t plan on taxing them more than they are now,” she said. “There is enough taxes coming from them now. We just want our fair share for our town. Our new town is equally capable of granting industrial area status, and we can do that for Marathon and the others.”

The final word on the matter continues to be delayed by court action, further pushed ahead on Monday by Baloney when she asked for a second time for the recusal of 40th Judicial District Judge Sterling Snowdy, who was overseeing the five lawsuits in the case.

However this time, unlike last week when he denied the recusal request, Snowdy granted the recusal. That ended any decisions on Monday about the lawsuits, and the industrial status, until the Louisiana Supreme Court appoints a new judge for the case. Even then, the new judge must have time to review all the suits before he can call a new court date.

“All of this is just trying to delay any final word on the industries since the election is getting closer,” Wellons added. “With all these motions and writs she is filing, it just gets us closer to the election before a final decision can come from the courts regarding the industry status. And then Ms. Baloney will probably try to argue that it’s too late for them to stop the election.”

“We have asked for one thing and one thing only from the beginning. Go ahead and vote for the Town of Garyville. We have no objection to that. But just leave our property out,” Wellons said.