Port of South Louisiana sued over Wallace grain elevator | Environment

At the latest hurdle for plans to build a grain elevator in the parish of St. John the Baptist, activists have sued the Port of South Louisiana, claiming the port broke state law when it signed a tax break for the project last year.

The Descendants Project, a community activist organization opposed to the ongoing industrialization of river communities, said in a lawsuit Friday that the port violated the state’s open gatherings law by deciding behind closed doors to support the project before a public hearing had ever been held.

Prior to their April 2022 approval of a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) for Greenfield Louisiana’s $225 million grain export terminal, port board members and employees exchanged emails that discussed the project in depth, the lawsuit says . In an email touted by activists, Port Vice President D. Paul Robichaux told his colleagues: “I trust that you have all matters in order and in place to proceed with the successful passage of this PILOT at our meeting on June 6 April to continue.”

The country’s Open Meetings Act requires public entities to conduct business in public. Voting must also be conducted publicly.

“The efforts the port will make to keep its activities secret and away from public scrutiny are unconstitutional and a threat to public safety,” Joy Banner, co-founder of the Descendants Project, said in a statement.

A port spokesman said Monday there was no violation of state law.

“The Port of South Louisiana Board of Commissioners has always adhered strictly to the open assembly law,” said Micah Cormier. “Frankly, the petition is ridiculous, has no legal or factual basis and stinks of mere conjecture if not fantasy.”

The meeting allowed for public comment, and board members publicly voted on the deal, Cormier pointed out. The only person to speak during the public comment period was Greenfield Chief Administrative Officer David Rollo.

According to the minutes of the meeting, Rollo presented the port with an agreement that had already been approved by the Parish Sheriff’s Office. Port Commissioner Louis Joseph, representing St. John, said the president, sheriff and community appraiser thought they could have gotten more than the agreed price in PILOT payments.

Commissioner P. Joey Murray III agreed, saying the agreement should have included input from the school board and local council before the port considered it. But Port chief executive officer Paul Matthews urged the board to approve the deal, which passed 8-1, with Murray dissenting.

“This is obviously another attempt to groundlessly challenge the Greenfield Grain Elevator project, although if implemented this project would create hundreds of the highest paying, secure jobs in the St. John community and improve its community and schools, particularly on the underdeveloped West Bank.” of the river,” added Cormier.

The Descendants Project is asking 40th Circuit Judge Vercell Fiffie to vacate the PILOT agreement Greenfield received, allowing Greenfield to avoid more than $200 million in council taxes over the next 30 years.

“The Port of South Louisiana is a powerful entity that has gone unchecked for too long,” Banner said. “Decisions about our lives, our homes and our communities are made for us and about us, so why shouldn’t those decisions include us?”

The activist group already has a pending lawsuit against St. John related to the zoning of the grain terminal.

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