NOLA Oil tank farm stirs controversyMar 12th, 2013 | By Terri Sercovich | Category: top story
Post-Katrina Plaquemines has been an ever-changing landscape, and now we are about to see the next step of a major evolution: the development of what used to be Citrus Lands.
After Katrina, a 36-mile stretch of Westbank Plaquemines was designated for federally funded levees. These swaths of land, especially on the river, have always been prime real estate for port development, but were often seen as too risky of a location—not enough levee protection.
Now that federal levees are in the future, industrial businesses are moving in. Ram Terminals, a coal export company, has already started the permitting and bond process, and so has NOLA Oil Terminal.
NOLA Oil Terminal is designed to be a five million barrel oil transfer hub and bulk oil storage facility catty-corner from Myrtle Grove Marina, and just south of Ironton. Large tanks, similar to those at Phillips66, will hold crude oil, gasoline, diesel and residual oil. NOLA Oil has given an earnest money deposit of $250,000 to property owner Citrus Lands for the 158 acres, said President of NOLA Oil, Christian P. Amedee. In all he estimates NOLA Oil has spent about $1 million on permits and testing for the facility before the sale is finalized.
Amedee says the location is perfect for this type of industry. It has strategic levee frontage where the river is deep enough to accommodate post-Panamax ships. The company took into account the state’s masterplan which has a large diversion cutting Westbank Plaquemines in half just north of the planned facility. That diversion will build added protection for everyone as a storm buffer, he said.
“Louisiana and Plaquemines Parish are about to see an industrial boom,” said Amedee. “I don’t think people realized what’s going to be happening soon.”
Living in an industrial corridor
But the neighboring residents are not so enthusiastic. A tense meeting moderated by District 6 Councilman Burghart Turner was held last week with residents from Ironton, Myrtle Grove and Lake Hermitage, and those with business interests in the project.
“This type of business is not compatible with three residential areas,” said Mike Mudge of Myrtle Grove.
“We’re getting forced out of our homes,” said Wilkie Dwayne Decloute of Ironton, which took major flooding in Isaac. “They don’t want us to develop our houses back.”
“At the end of the day, this facility is designed to surpass any and all regulations set by the government,” countered civil engineer Roy M. Carubba, P.E., of Carubba Engineering. “We want this facility to be state of the art and a good thing for the community.”
That community battered Amedee and Carubba with questions and concerns.
Liability: “The facility is going to be properly insured,” said Amedee.
Noise: Transfers and docking will take place 24-hour per day, said Carubba, however there will be no loud engines or sirens. The noise will be from docking and mooring, he said.
Light: Lighting will be muted by existing trees and other greenery planned between the facility and Highway 23, said Carubba.
Rail Road: “The next step is a damn rail road,” said a very angry Decloute, who actually had to walk out of the meeting to cool off. “I got to worry about a kid getting smashed by a damn train.”
According the Amedee, a rail line probably would not be constructed for at least another 10 years. But that line would be helpful for transporting oil to and from the facility.
Hazardous Materials: Residents expressed concern that hazardous materials could also be stored and transferred out of the hub. Carubba said that they will only be permitted to store and transfer oil; any switch to the content stored would have to go through a separate permit process that is as drawn out and public as those they are currently seeking.
But two issues remain unresolved, zoning and drainage.
“The floodplain is not the proper place for this,” said Mudge. The zoning code in this area is being misinterpreted, he said, noting that the area is residential and agricultural. Amedee says it is zoned I3, Heavy Industrial. But Mudge and other residents said that does not matter—heavy industrial is not allowed on a floodplain.
But Turner noted that floodplains are associated with private land. Now that the federal levees are in the works— public— it is no longer considered floodplain.
Concerned residents also voiced worries about contamination situations akin to Murphy Oil in Chalmette after Katrina, and Stolthaven after Isaac in Braithwaite. Whether from leaks or flood events, there have been too many incidences in too short of time for some residents to feel safe.
“How many trucks does it take to vacuum five million barrels of oil?” asked Mudge, who also had a problem with the three planned culverts. He said they will drain into the marina.
“At the inlet of those culverts is where my work stops,” said Carubba. “I’m not there yet. And I’m not supposed to be there. I take it in stages.
“Do I care where [drainage] goes? Of course,” he continued. “We do look ahead, we have a multimillion dollar business…You can see everything we’ve done; everything we do is totally transparent.”
If not us than who?
Amedee says NOLA Oil wants to be the trailblazer, stopping short of calling themselves a test case for the other companies in earlier stages of development, which includes RAM Terminals, the northern expansion of nearby International Marine Terminal (IMT), and another tank farm twice NOLA Oil’s size, with a 10 million barrel capacity.
“People need to see us succeed at this,” he said, otherwise other companies will find another place to invest. “We’re hoping that we can break through—set a good example.”
Amedee and Carubba reiterated at the meeting that they are locals— Amedee from New Orleans, and Carubba from Metairie. Amedee said he grew up going fishing and hunting out of Myrtle Grove and remembers the area before coastal erosion. NOLA Oil plans on purchasing a camp at the marina, he said.
“Shop local,” Amedee said. “Hire local employees then work in our backyard outward. That has been our promise from the get-go.”
Amedee also thinks that this industrial business boom will be good for the community’s standing in Washington.
“How can you expect to ask for a $75 million lock system if you’re chasing all the industry out?” he asked, referring the Myrtle Groves request in the federal levee system.
Arguments broke out several times when non-opposition was expressed.
“What about the Phillips66 tanks?” asked Warren Lawrence of Myrtle Grove. “What they had to do is what these people want to do… This is a river. It’s a port.”
“That is exactly what spawned zoning,” said Mudge. He said that in 1948 Chevron Ornite was built, and in 1970 or 1971, BP moved into the parish (now Phillips66). “They realized that the two [residential neighborhoods and industrial facilities] were not compatible.”
Abby Taylor, who lives in the area, asked Amedee and Carubba if they would allow their families to live next to their proposed facility. “Unequivocally yes,” said Carubba.
Lawrence said he has not decided whether he is for or against the facility but sees no reason for the council to deny a soil boring permit to NOLA Oil. Besides, he said he sees the writing on the wall.
“I’ll take a tank farm, and I’ll make sure it’s much more protected than a coal facility.”
NOLA Oil’s soil boring permit is once again up for approval at Thursday’s council meeting. It has been deferred several times, but both sides of the issue seem to think that it will come to a vote at the March 14 meeting.
“In less than 10 days, I’m going to be asked to vote on this again,” said Turner at the March 7 public meeting. “Can I really do justice for the community in 10 days? There are some environmental questions, some social questions that have not been answered.”
Some of the questions Turner refers to are on the Plaquemines Parish Industrial Development Questionnaire, given to industrial permit applicants.
“None of the procedures were followed,” said Turner.
This six-page, 79-question form was not included in any of the councilmembers’ informational packets because it had not been completed and returned to the permit office to be included in the packet. Questions range from biological, social and economic impact to construction timeline, references and utilities needed. It is unclear why the permit was put before the council if all required paperwork had not been turned in or filed.
The council meeting where the permit vote will take place is on March 14 at the Magnolia Center in Pointe-a-la-Hache, 1 p.m.