St. James residents tired of railroad blockages

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 26, 2013

By Kimberly Hopson

VACHERIE – Residents of Paulina vented their frustrations about the upcoming construction of a new crude oil terminal during a public meeting organized by representatives from Wolverine Terminals Corp. and CN Railroad on Tuesday night.
Wolverine Terminals is slated to begin constructing a $30 million crude oil terminal and blending operation in the fourth quarter of 2014. The St. James Parish Council passed a resolution approving Wolverine Terminals LLC to participate in the benefits of the Louisiana Enterprise/Quality Jobs Program in May. The benefits program will provide a 5 or 6 percent cash rebate of annual gross payroll for new direct jobs for up to 10 years.
According to information provided by the company, crudes will be shipped out using a barge, and diluent will be shipped out by rail. Current and future blockage of local railway crossings became one of the main points of contention for residents who attended the meeting.
“You all have nine trains during the day running back and forth, at all hours of the day. A whole train has 181 cars; it’s parked in Paulina, stretched the whole way. Every landowner runs from the river to the lake, and it blocks every crossing. You can’t cross in Paulina. You have all these trains blocked up, waiting to make its move, so we don’t have any access to cross the tracks,” said resident Brandon Gravois.
“These are the growing pains of a growing economy. It’s nothing unique to Louisiana specifically,” said Jim Kvedaras, the director of U.S. government affairs for CN Railroad.
Kvedaras went on to say his company would do as much as they could to minimize railway obstructions for residents, a statement that drew scoffs from some of the audience, who said that railway crews aren’t receptive to their needs.
Other residents said companies that have taken up residence in the past have all said they would work to prevent trains from blocking railway crossings, which worked out fine for a few months but regressed soon afterward.
Residents also raised concerns about Wolverine’s assurances that they would to hire locally, possible chemical exposures, noise pollution, drainage solutions and how their property values would be affected by the new terminal.
Phase one of the project will see the completion of one 100,000 barrel-capacity tank for storage, blending and domestic shipping. Wilson said that subsequent phases, which may include the construction of up to four more tanks and at least 10,000 additional feet of rail track, may occur within the following years, depending on the drive of business.
The project is estimated to produce 20 full-time “quality jobs,” and at least 100 construction jobs during development.
Wolverine Terminal General Manager Terry Wilson said the capital expenditure of Phase 1 will be approximately $30 million with an annual operating budget of approximately $2.5 million a year.
The maximum five-tank build would cost approximately $50 million with an operating budget of approximately $5 million annually.