Opposition to Vacherie tank farm dies down

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 10, 2011



VACHERIE – The results of a recent public hearing conducted by the state Department of Environmental Quality concerning a revised water discharge permit for a proposed petroleum storage facility in Vacherie could be a sign that once fierce opposition to the project has calmed down, according to one of the project’s managing partners.

The hearing, conducted late last month at the West Bank Reception Hall in Vacherie, attracted no members of the general public who wished to comment for or against issuance of the revised water discharge permit to Petroplex International. Although there has been no final decision on the permit, Managing Partner Pat Sellers said he was happy to see that opposition has appeared to wane.

“I think we have finally reached some accord with the public,” Sellers said. “I really think we have shown that we will do everything we say we are going to do to bring this project to fruition in the right way.”

According to the DEQ, in addition to no opposition at the public hearing, there was also no written opposition sent to the agency prior to the July 25 deadline. A final decision on issuance of the permit is expected in the coming weeks.

Sellers and his four other partners in the project are aiming to build a 10 million-barrel tank farm for the storage of petroleum products. The firm recently closed on a roughly $19 million purchase of about 1,700 acres of land along River Road in Vacherie to be used for the project.

Sellers said the project would begin as a 4 million-barrel facility, and when that portion is complete, a 6 million barrel expansion would immediately follow. He said the first phase would take about two years to complete. Total cost of the project, which could take as much as seven years to complete, is roughly $700 million.

When it was proposed in 2009, the tank farm project was met with staunch opposition from community groups and other environmental watchdog agencies that have fought in public and in the courts to block the project.

The DEQ issued a “synthetic minor source” air permit to Petroplex in 2009, but opponents argued the facility would emit more than 100 tons of volatile organic compounds, such as benzene, into the air and would require a more stringent “major source” air permit.

The DEQ decision was challenged and has been upheld by the 19th Judicial District Court and the Louisiana 1st Circuit Court of Appeal. The 1st Circuit decision was rendered in late March.

The Louisiana Environmental Action Network has asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to block the project’s construction. The agency has yet to issue a decision on that request.

Sellers said he and other managing partners have worked to avoid alienating the public regarding their thoughts on the project. He said the project had acquired a water discharge permit, but state DEQ officials made changes in an effort to eliminate some of the concerns the public had about the project.

“We don’t want the people to think we are just going to move in and build this facility,” Sellers said. “We are taking all of the necessary steps to do it right.”

Sellers said the project is in the engineering phase, which is expected to wrap up by the end of November or early December. He said the firm is hoping to begin some construction at the site by January or February 2012.