Tank farm opposition files petition

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 18, 2009



VACHERIE – A community group is asking a Baton Rouge judge to appeal the state’s approval of an air quality permit for a proposed petroleum storage tank farm along the Mississippi River near Vacherie.

The petition, which was filed earlier this month, argues that when the Louisiana Department of Environmental quality approved the air permit for Petroplex International’s storage facility, the permitting board did not take into account a substantial increase in toxic air emissions that will affect a large residential area.

The group, known as Community Strength, notes six schools and two day care centers are situated within a two-mile radius of the planned facility. Michael Calabro, the founder of Community Strength, said the group is asking District Judge William Morvant to review the synthetic minor source air permit, which DEQ granted back on July 31.

“We believe the permit was issued without regard to public safety,” Calabro said in a release. “We feel that DEQ failed to hold the applicant accountable for major source emissions, relied on the company’s flawed environmental assessment statement and that the company did not properly evaluate the site in question.”

DEQ spokeswoman Jean Kelly said Thursday that the agency issued the permit along with a written statement explaining what led to the decision, all while taking into account public comments regarding the permit. She said DEQ will let the judicial process take its course. Kelly offered no further comment on the appeal.

Larry Sciacchetano, project manager for the proposed facility, said in a statement Petroplex has “met or exceeded the LDEQ requirements in every case.”

We continue to try to be good neighbors to the entire community,” Sciacchetano said. “We have designed a state of the art facility that will also add to the aesthetics of River Road. As required under a Minor Source permit, we will be closely monitored by LDEQ, and we will operate a facility that the community, parish and state can be proud of.”

Calabro said his group, which has opposed the project since it was proposed well over a year ago, stands firm with its disapproval of the Petroplex facility.

“As we have continuously stated, this facility does not belong in the middle of our residential community,” Calabro said. “The risks to our health and safety are far too great, and our citizens deserve better. Although members of our parish council have publicly opposed the project, there still exists a clear and apparent lack of protocol that cannot be tolerated.”

Petroplex officials have said the facility, which will be situated on 1,700 acres of land along the Mississippi River, would house 63 storage tanks for crude oil, petroleum products and biodiesel ingredients. The tanks would tie into an existing pipeline, a railroad facility and a shipping port. The first phase of the project would create about 500 jobs during peak construction and 100 permanent jobs. The facility could ultimately end up costing about $700 million.

Calabro is optimistic about his group’s opposition but said it is too soon to judge the overall impact of the legal action. He said the suit is one of an assortment of roadblocks that seem to be mounting for this proposal.

In addition to the air quality permit, the facility still needs approval from the DEQ on a waste water discharge permit, along with regulatory consent from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. A public hearing on the water permit is slated for Oct. 13 at the St. James Parish Reception Center.