Update: Petroplex files lawsuit against St. James Parish

Published 10:04 am Thursday, January 22, 2015

By Stephen Hemelt

The Parish of St. James, Parish President Timothy Roussel and Ryan Donadieu, supervisor of planning and permitting, have been named as defendants in a lawsuit filed today by Petroplex International, L.L.C.

According to a release from the company, Petroplex is seeking relief for damages for improper actions taken by the parish in passing the Comprehensive Land Use Plan and a subsequent stop-work order issued by the parish administration.

St. James Parish sent the company a stop-work order in early December for an ongoing $800 million tank farm project, which was under construction in Vacherie.

Citing a lack of progress at the construction location and unmet obligations with an agreed-upon timeline, parish officials halted the progress.

“This is not the outcome we had hoped for,” Larry Sciacchetano, Petroplex chief executive officer, said. “We had built momentum in the development and financing aspects of this project and finished the soil loading of the first tank foundation when the stop-work order was issued. We made every effort to satisfy the parish president that we had fully complied with the (Parish) Council’s resolution and had offered a reasonable compromise solution that would guarantee construction of the tank farm on the schedule we had committed to the Parish Council.

“Had we not fulfilled that commitment, Petroplex would agree to relinquish our permit rights and take any litigation off the table. When this offer was rejected, we had no choice but to file this suit to recover our investment and future income.”

Petroplex officials said they have spent $33 million to date on the development of the project prior to the enforcement of the Land Use Plan.

On Dec. 3, parish administration issued a stop-work order and sent Petroplex workers off the site.

“We feel the taxpayers of St. James Parish deserve better,” Sciacchetano said.

Petroplex officials said the project would create 473 jobs in the River Parishes and 1,095 jobs statewide.

A release indicated there would be 68 persons directly employed by the facility. It would generate 1,923 direct and indirect jobs over 10 years of operations in the River Parishes and 3,000 statewide.

The project would have an overall economic impact of $718.2 million in the River Parishes and more than $1 billion at the state level, company officials said.

The lawsuit was expected for some time following what has turned into a contentious relationship between Petroplex and St. James Parish Government.

Petroplex attorney Boyd Bryan unsuccessfully lobbied St. James Parish Council members earlier this month, asking the parish to rescind the stop-work order halting the company’s efforts in the parish.

“We came to a Council meeting in the first week of November (and) were implored, if not ordered, by some Council members to speed up the process, get after it, speed up construction,” Bryan said at Jan. 7’s meeting. “We took that to heart and absolutely did that and were in the middle of doing it, and then a stop-work order was issued, and it was issued before we had a chance to meet with the parish and respond to the allegations in the letter.”

Bryan asked Roussel to lift the stop-work order and allow the company to move forward, possibly with additional conditions or Parish Council members to amend a resolution passed in May or pass a new resolution and impose new regulations, allowing the company to move forward with construction.

Neither request was met with a response at the Council meeting.

Following the stop-work order, Roussel told L’OBSERVATEUR, “We think (Petropplex is) in non-compliance on about seven or eight categories. We are trying to hold their feet to the fire with the stop-work order.”

Parish government officials and Petroplex officials, along with lawyers for each side, have met previously in efforts to find some common ground, but have made little progress.

“It’s an uncomfortable situation,” Roussel said previously. “We don’t want to see anyone spend a huge amount of money and not gain from it, but at the same time, we need to do what is best for the taxpayers of St. James Parish, too.”