Dr. Reggie Ross: With Greenfield, our community has a chance to lead

Published 6:00 pm Tuesday, August 30, 2022

As a physician born and raised in Edgard, I’ve experienced firsthand how jobs and growth have come at the expense of public health in communities like ours.

For years, I worked as a doctor in our proud community on the West Bank. I grew up here, nurtured by my family, friends and neighbors. I am a proud graduate of West St. John High School, which has long prepared so many of us for success in St John the Baptist Parish and beyond. But as the West Bank lost jobs over the years, our population declined and high school enrollment diminished. Many of those who graduated have left the West Bank to pursue careers with good wages. Alongside many of you, I fought to keep our school open. I believe that West St. John High School is essential to preserving the West Bank and any chance we have for a prosperous future.

We also need good paying jobs to keep our families, and our young people, here. When I learned about Greenfield and its mission to build a grain export facility on the West Bank, I did my own research. After learning about the technological advances in grain export facilities, and about Greenfield, my conclusions were clear: Greenfield will be far greener and safer than any grain facility in the United States. It was also clear that Greenfield would bring revitalization, badly needed jobs and more opportunity to our community. I approached Greenfield to see how I could help. As a doctor, I saw Greenfield as a chance to stop the bleeding and heal the wound. Greenfield is showing that we can have environmental justice AND economic opportunity.

For too long, communities like the West Bank of St. John the Baptist Parish have been forced to choose between prosperity and health. Greenfield is different. It will create jobs and broader economic opportunity while addressing the impact of previous development. Once built, the state-of-the-art Greenfield grain export facility will receive, prepare, and export grain from across the region. Greenfield offers us a chance to stand out as a national leader in a growing industry by showcasing environmentally sound economic growth.  

Greenfield’s presence offers our community a chance to usher in a new era. The Grain export facility will create hundreds of permanent jobs with family-sustaining wages, including 100 jobs at Greenfield and hundreds more across the community. It will contribute millions in local and state taxes, and provide farmers in the region access to new markets –– all while helping to alleviate the global food crisis.

Greenfield is already deeply involved and invested in our community. To support our effort to save West St. John High School (WSJ), Greenfield partnered with WSJ to create an annual scholarship program for its students. Greenfield is also investing $1 million in WSJ to develop new curriculum, upgrade facilities and adopt the latest technology to help the school grow its enrollment again. Greenfield will help local residents apply for its jobs through upcoming job-fairs, in-house training, and is partnering with River Parishes Community College to help residents acquire the skills they need. These partnerships represent a start, not an end, to Greenfield’s deep involvement and partnership with the West Bank community.

Nevertheless, I have heard people’s concerns about Greenfield. For two years, our community has engaged in a vigorous conversation about whether to move forward. Some are concerned because in decades past, grain terminals were large and loud, disturbing surrounding neighborhoods and communities; their large silos dominated landscapes and created dust that coated everything in its path.

But think about how much technology has changed over the last twenty five years.  Modern grain terminals are far more advanced than ever before. Today, they are safe, discreet and streamlined. They operate quietly and efficiently. Greenfield’s conveyors will be enclosed and the facility will use state-of-the-art dust collection throughout.

Others have raised concerns because of our community’s long and difficult relationship with industry. St. John the Baptist Parish has some of the highest rates of cancer in the United States. Environmental racism is real and too many suffer from unchecked industry and the public health toll it provokes. As a physician in our community, I will continue to fight and support the efforts to stop the expansion of industry that harms our communities after making false promises. But that’s not what I see with Greenfield.

Because of its location on the West Bank, Greenfield must also support –– not compete or detract from –– our vibrant, important tourist industry that honors our history, our ancestors who lived, sacrificed, and died here, and acknowledges our region’s painful legacy of slavery.  Greenfield will protect local historical sites by siting its facility a half-mile from the Whitney Plantation. The Greenfield buildings will be surrounded by a 450-foot buffer of trees and greenery, minimizing the view for visitors, tourists, and passersby. And Greenfield has committed to acting quickly if any historical artifacts or remains are identified at the site at any point. Greenfield will also dedicate a portion of its site to the study and preservation of the West Bank’s cultural heritage. With Greenfield leading the revitalization of the West Bank and the recent announcement of tour boats docking in Vacherie, our tourism industry can reach new heights.

Finally, Greenfield will transform agriculture for local farmers. There hasn’t been a new grain export facility built in this region in decades, which has prevented local and regional farmers from selling their products to the world. Greenfield will modernize the region’s agriculture, helping local and regional farmers lower costs. This will be the only facility in the region capable of handling organic corn and grains, a major business for local and regional farmers that have been cut off from world markets.

When the Rams take the field on Friday nights at West St. John, we have never feared our opponent; our motto is “Just suit up and play.” Our community was hit hard by COVID and Hurricane Ida. But we aren’t broken. Building the Greenfield grain export facility offers us an opportunity to create a new future that safely and responsibly includes all of us, and restores our community’s growth and economic vibrancy. In this moment, our community shouldn’t just follow; we have a chance to lead. So, let’s go.