Petroplex appeals fall on deaf ears

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 2, 2011



VACHERIE – A three-judge panel on the Louisiana 1st Circuit Court of appeals has upheld a decision from state environmental regulators to issue an air quality permit for a petroleum tank farm on the west bank of St. James Parish.

According to a release from the appellate court, the panel unanimously ruled the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality sufficiently complied with state regulations when it granted a “synthetic minor source” permit to Petroplex International for its petroleum storage facility in July 2009. The ruling, rendered by appeals court Judges John Michael Guidry, Jeff Hughes III and Randolph H. Parro, allows Petroplex to begin construction of its 10 million-barrel petroleum tank farm on a 1,700-acre tract of land in Vacherie.

A community watchdog group known as Community Strength had originally challenged the permit with a lawsuit filed in East Baton Rouge Parish Court in September 2009. The suit claimed the DEQ and the Environmental Protection agency overlooked myriad environmental issues during an assessment of the project.

The group, which has opposed construction since the project was proposed, claimed the permitting board did not take into account a substantial increase in toxic air emissions that would affect a large residential area near the facility. It also claimed the tank farm should be treated as a “major source” facility. Baton Rouge Judge William Morvant affirmed the synthetic minor source air permit in February 2010 and Community Strength appealed that ruling.

Petroplex, meanwhile, filed a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation against Community Strength in an attempt to silence some of the critics, but that suit was eventually withdrawn shortly after it was filed.

The appellate court panel ruled Community Strength did not have sufficient facts to support its case that the tank farm should be treated under the more stringent environmental rules of a “major source” facility.

“Community Strength has offered nothing but allegations, with no factual basis, in opposition to DEQ’s decision,” the opinion states. “Accordingly, we conclude that DEQ’s decision is supported by its factual findings.”

s and its articulation of a rational connection between the facts found and the final permit action.”

Larry Sciacchetano, managing member of Petroplex, said in a statement that the company is pleased with the decision.

“We look forward to getting started, contributing to jobs and economic development and supporting efforts to improve education and overall quality of life in the community,” Sciacchetano said. “We have signed construction contracts, and we are ready to get started.”

Petroplex officials have said the facility 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 with an average annual salary of $70,000 plus benefits. The facility could ultimately end up costing about $700 million.