NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A Taiwan-based company and opponents to plans for a $9.4 billion plastics complex have agreed that site preparation can continue except in wetlands and in five known or possible sites of enslaved people’s graves.
“It’s important that these sites be protected,” Center for Biological Diversity attorney Julie Teel Simmonds said Thursday. She represents environmental and citizens’ groups in a lawsuit asking a federal judge in Washington, D.C., to overturn permits granted by the Army Corps of Engineers.
They had asked last week for an order halting all work until the judge could rule.
The agreement lets current preliminary work continue, said Janile Parks, spokeswoman for FG LA LLC, Formosa Plastics Group’s Louisiana member. The corporation plans 10 chemical plants and four other “major facilities” on 2,500 acres (1,000 hectares) on the Mississippi River in St. James Parish, between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
“The current limited and unintrusive activities FG is conducting on the project property are being done in a safe and environmentally protective manner. FG will provide regular updates” about the work, she said in an emailed statement.
Attorneys for FG LA and for Healthy Gulf, Rise St. James and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade signed the agreement Wednesday. It was accepted Thursday by U.S. District Judge Randolph D. Moss, according to online court records.
Soil testing will be the only activity allowed in wetlands under the agreement. It said all affected sites will be clearly marked, with additional flags or markers 20 feet (6 meters) from wetlands and 50 feet (15 meters) from three “anomalies” which archaeologists have said could be unmarked cemeteries and a site marked on old maps as a graveyard. A confirmed cemetery already is fenced off, it noted.
Additional sites described by archaeologists as possible cemeteries are on Formosa property but not within the area covered by Wednesday’s agreement, Simmonds said.
She said last week’s request covered “a narrow slice” of arguments against the project. “Now the judge can look at all of the claims and all of the facts,” she said.
The lawsuit accuses the Army Corps of Engineers of failing to disclose environmental damage and public health risks, and of failing to adequately consider the complex’s likely effects on the environment and historic sites.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a friend-of-the-court brief last week saying the Corps failed to consider environmental racism.
Since it was filed to support the request for a stop-work order, it is now legally irrelevant, Parks said.
Work begun so far includes highway improvements, soil testing, driving test pilings and utility relocation, Parks said last week. Pipeline work needed to deepen and widen drainage areas also is planned this summer, she said.
A notice published earlier in newspapers and mailed to area residents also listed construction of a dock for contractors as planned for the summer. Parks said last week that, after the request for a stop-work order was filed, she received word that it had been put off at least until Feb. 1.
The judge set out a schedule for a series of motions and briefs, including an Oct. 1 deadline for a motion from the center asking for a ruling based on agency records, without a full trial. The final deadline is Dec. 14 for papers from the Corps and FG LA.