NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Opponents of a Taiwan-based company’s plans for a $9.4 billion plastics complex asked a federal judge on Tuesday to stop work at the site in Louisiana.
Planned construction would irreparably harm the community and environment by destroying wetlands, increasing chances of offsite flooding, and desecrating "grave sites of enslaved persons, which bear witness to both our country’s shameful past and the faith, resilience, and perseverance of the present-day St. James community,” according to the 55-page request.
Groups represented by the Center for Biological Diversity made the request to the federal judge overseeing a lawsuit filed in January against the Army Corps of Engineers for approving wetlands permits for the project.
U.S. District Judge Randall D. Moss is likely to rule on the motion within weeks, Julie Teel Simmonds, an attorney for the center, said in a news release.
FG LA LLC, the Louisiana member of Formosa Plastics Group, was working on a response, a spokeswoman said. The Corps cannot comment on pending litigation, spokesman Ricky Boyett said.
FG LA plans 10 chemical plants and four other “major facilities” on 2,500 acres (1,000 hectares) in St. James Parish as what it calls The Sunshine Project, after the nearby Sunshine Bridge.
The Corps took only a “cursory” look at the project's likely effects on wetlands and flooding rather than the “hard look” required by law, according to the motion filed for Rise St. James, Healthy Gulf and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade.
The permit lets FG LA fill in wetlands and low-lying areas with enough dirt to fill more than 45,000 dump trucks, damaging neighboring wetlands and increasing the chances of flooding outside the site, according to the motion.
The claim leads off about 24 pages of allegations against the Corps.
“We expect to prevail in our lawsuit, and we don’t want Formosa to harm this community before we get our day in court,” Simmonds said.
The center represents the same groups and others including the Sierra Club in a state court appeal of air quality permits.
“If they don’t stop this project, we won’t be able to live. We won’t be able to breathe the air without getting sick,” Sharon Lavigne, president of Rise St. James, said in the news release. “If the court cares about this community and wants to save our lives, it will stop this polluting chemical plant.”
FG LA has begun site preparation including highway improvements, soil testing, driving test pilings and utility relocation, company spokeswoman Janile Parks said in a statement emailed Monday by a public relations firm. Pipeline work needed to deepen and widen drainage areas and construction of a dock for contractors also is planned this summer, she said.
The company stopped all work in April and May because of the COVID-19 pandemic but now has safety procedures to avoid spreading the new coronavirus that causes the disease, it said in a notice sent to area residents.
The site is about 50 miles (80 kilometers) west-northwest of New Orleans and 30 miles (50 kilometers) south-southeast of Baton Rouge.