Petroplex files first farm permit

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Staff Reporter

VACHERIE – Petroplex International LLC, the Baton Rouge company planning a 10-million-barrel oil storage tank farm on the former Crescent Home Plantation in Vacherie, has filed its first permit application with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, a DEQ spokesman said.

The air quality permit application – the first of what Petroplex officials say will be about 15 filings in all – comes almost one month after the company officially announced the tank farm project in a press release and sets into motion what could prove to be a loudly-contested permitting process.

In the first phase of the project, Petroplex plans to invest $300 million for the first 4 million barrels of storage. The company says the facility, Petroplex International St. James, would be operational within about two years and generate up to 100 permanent jobs with an average salary of $70,000.

But residents of St. Philip, a tiny community in the part of town known as Front Vacherie that borders the would-be tank farm site, have made no secret of their bitter opposition to Petroplex and the tank farm.

The community, for the most part, has coalesced around Michael Calabro, a Loyola University law student and founder of the opposition group Community Strength. The group has spent the summer trying to inform residents of what it perceives as the imminent dangers and health risks of living near or next to a tank farm.

Calabro has said the community is frustrated with a lack of clarity on the part of the Petroplex investors; he’s accused them of hiding their real intentions for the facility from the beginning and has vowed to do whatever he can to delay or prevent the project.

Larry Sciacchetano, one of six Petroplex investors and the company spokesman, has played down any risks that might be associated with a tank farm and maintained that the company has nothing to hide. Petroplex has also touted the tank farm as being a facility “that could set the industry standard for the future.” And while Sciacchetano has been somewhat frustrated of late with “rumors and misinformation” circulating about the tank farm, he continues to focus on what he sees as the positive.

“I don’t know why they wouldn’t want to have us there,” he said in a recent interview, adding that the company plans to include two ponds and a double tree line to stand between the community and the tank farm. “They’re not going to even see those tanks,” he said. “It’s a park. It’s going to be really scenic.”

For much of the summer, it’s been wait-and-see for Calabro and Community Strength. Asked to comment on Petroplex’s first filing, Calabro said Monday in an email message that the group “looks forward to evaluating the submittals as they become readily available.”

But just how much sway Community Strength will ultimately have in the permitting process and fate of Petroplex remains unclear. St. James Parish still has no zoning restrictions to prevent Petroplex from moving in, another factor that’s complicated the group’s efforts.

Tim Beckstrom, the DEQ spokesman, said his agency, in addition to assessing the potential risks of a given facility, always takes into account local opposition to projects such as Petroplex by accepting comments from the community and holding public forums in which residents can voice any qualms surrounding the tank farm. “Those things last all night sometimes,” Beckstrom said of the forums. The timeframe for public input on the Petroplex tank farm remains unclear, but Beckstrom said it could be sometime in October or November.

But he added that the scale would be tipped towards Petroplex in the long run as long as they’ve measured up to the DEQ standards. “If they’ve met our requirements, it’s definitely leaning in their favor.”