Greenfield says grain terminal presents economic opportunity for West Bank ; Local doctor addresses health & safety concerns

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 15, 2021

WALLACE — While some fear the implications industrial development would have on the quiet, peaceful town of Wallace, others see the proposed development of a grain terminal as an opportunity to revitalize the West Bank of St. John the Baptist Parish.
The Greenfield project is currently in the permitting, design and development phase. Williams anticipates breaking ground next summer to kick off a 27-month construction phase with an estimated completion date in the third quarter of 2024. The project would create roughly 500 jobs during peak construction and 100 permanent jobs with a salary of roughly $75,000 plus benefits when completed.
Desmond Borne, a resident of W. Eighth Street in Wallace, commented, “This area needs revitalization. I came back to the area three years ago, and just in that time, I’ve seen people pack up and try to go somewhere else to get a job.”
Edgard natives Gary Watson Sr. and Dr. Reggie Ross see the grain elevator’s potential to keep young people from leaving town once they have their high school diploma in hand.
Watson was recently named Greenfield’s company outreach director. He was introduced to the company this past May at West St. John’s graduation, where Greenfield presented senior Tyrin Anderson with a full ride scholarship to River Parishes Community College.
Watson encountered Greenfield again in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida as the community distributed plate lunches and 22,000 gallons of gasoline to impacted residents.
“It was really big for these guys to step in and do what they did because it was hard to find help at the time. I learned they plan to continue giving away scholarships and do some training in high school for 10th through 12th graders to hopefully get them out of high school and straight into a job making $70,000,” Watson said. “People in the community believe what they see. Before, companies have talked about hiring locals and it wasn’t done. I have confidence and believe these guys have enough invested in our community already to hire local people.”
Watson and Ross shared their commitment to holding Greenfield accountable on promises to hire local people and make workforce training accessible to not only high school students, but also adults looking to change careers.
As a parent, Dr. Reggie Ross wants his son to have the opportunity to find a lucrative career close to home. As a physician with Jencare Senior Medical Center, it was also important to Ross to examine potential health impacts of grain terminals.
“I did some research, and I was going to come down on whichever side I thought was best for the community because I truly love this community. If anything was happening to it that I did not think was right or good for it, I would be speaking loudly to let everybody know,” Ross said. “When I did my research, it was a no-brainer. This is the cleanest, safest opportunity for a community like this to have. As a physician who has taken care of a lot of people here, I have absolutely zero concerns from a health or safety standpoint.”
During community protests organized by The Descendants Project, organizers and members of Tulane Environmental Law Clinic have shared research linking grain dust to respiratory illness. The Descendants Project has also cited risks of explosion and bodily harm to employees.
Chief Operating Officer Cal Williams has 32 years of experience in the grain industry. He said most of the guys working on the Wallace project have had hands-on experience building the two newest export grain elevators located in Washington and Vancouver.
Just as technology has rapidly evolved in recent decades, so have the health and safety standards for the construction of new grain terminals. The grain elevators in the River Parishes were constructed upwards to 50 or 60 years ago, with the most recent facility in Convent having been constructed in 1979. Williams said the difference in technology between the 1970s and now is night and day.
“We’ve done numerous things to make this an extremely safe facility,” Williams said.
All of the belt conveyors will be enclosed, and point source dust filters will be placed at every transfer point. There will be 120 filters on the project to minimize dust emissions, according to Williams.
Several hazard monitoring features will be in place, including temperature probes that will automatically shut down the equipment if it gets too hot. Technology included on the conveyers will swiftly notify employees if a conveyor belt is loose or out of alignment.
“There’s been a lot of talk about how grain elevators are notorious for exploding. A majority of explosions happen inside of a head house. We don’t have a head house on this project. We have belt conveyors that incline using a bucket elevator to take it up,” Williams said. “Another big concern that has been raised is the engulfment hazard for employees getting inside grain bins. We’ve designed this facility to where the bottom of the bins are coned and will clean themselves out. We will not be putting anyone inside, so there will be no engulfment hazard.”
Williams added that grain dust is not a known carcinogen, meaning it is not known to cause cancer. The proposed Greenfield terminal would not be processing the grain, but rather functioning as a throughput to unload grain from river barges and load it onto ships for ocean transport.
Regulations require a 200-foot buffer zone between the grain terminal and residential houses. Williams said the Greenfield Project will have a buffer zone of 450 feet. He added that there would be no disruption to the nearby Whitney Plantation.
The Wallace site was identified as an ideal location because it offers 300 acres of space, access to deep water and railroads, and maximum avoidance of wetlands.
While some concerns have been raised over the facility’s potential impact to Lac Des Allemands, Williams said Greenfield Louisiana will not release any pollutants into the lake.
“We’re actually cleaning it up,” he said. “We will be emitting 12.7% less TSS (total suspended solids) from our property border than what is being emitted today from stormwater runoff. We will widen the ditches and make them deeper. Therefore, the volume is slower and the sediment has time to settle before it leaves the property.”
The cultural impact of the site has also been a source of debate. A recent press release from The Descendants Project stated that London-based agency Forensic Architecture examined the site and identified a series of archaeological abnormalities that could suggest the presence of unmarked graves of people who were once enslaved.
Greenfield Louisiana has worked with a cultural resource firm to conduct its own cultural resources survey, which found that the site of the Greenfield grain terminal is not a cultural or historical landmark.