Formosa agrees to defer major St. James Parish construction until February

Agreement signed after opponents seek injunction in federal court

An exterior view of the U.S. District Court August 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Formosa Plastics will not proceed with any major construction on a $9.4 billion plastics manufacturing complex it plans for the west bank of St. James Parish before February, according to a stipulation agreement it signed with the plant’s opponents Thursday.  Those opponents had complained to a federal court in Washington, D.C., that Formosa should not have been granted construction permits for its Sunshine Project and that its planned project could desecrate graves and would irreparably harm the environment.

Formosa calls its plans the Sunshine Project because it will be built near the Sunshine Bridge which spans the Mississippi River in St. James Parish.

Formosa and the Center for Biological Diversity signed onto the agreement Thursday, a week after the center sought a temporary injunction on behalf of Rise St. James, Louisiana Bucket Brigade and Healthy Gulf, three Louisiana environmental groups. Those groups say the Army Corps of Engineers did not properly vet Formosa’s plans and that by granting the company permission to build violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, the Rivers and Harbors Act and the National Historic Preservation Act.

According to a stipulation entered into the record, FG LA, as the company is known in Louisiana, is “deferring construction-related activities for the permitted facility until no earlier than February 1, 2021, with the expectation of this Court’s decision on the merits of the Complaint by that date.”

Opponents to the project describe Thursday’s signed agreement as a significant development.  “Those of us protecting St. James Parish have thankfully put the brakes on this monster,” Anne Rolfes, the founding director of Louisiana Bucket Brigade, said in a statement.

However, a Formosa official argues that major construction would not have started before February anyway and says Formosa didn’t agree to do or agree to put off doing anything inconsistent with its plans.

“FG is doing what it had already planned to do through 2/21,” Janile Parks, the company’s director of community and government relations, said in a written statement. “These plans were just formalized in a stipulation, which also contains provisions for updates to plaintiffs and additional flagging of sensitive areas.”

Even so, according to the document Fomosa signed, “FG LA LLC previously announced that it planned to build a construction/contractor dock in 2020…. FG LA LLC hereby confirms that it is deferring such work until no earlier than February 1, 2021.”

Parks said in her statement that that project on the Mississippi River had already been pushed back. “FG had previously decided to defer the contractor dock until no earlier than 2/21,” she wrote.

Formosa will be able to continue with some site preparation, including “soil testing, utilities relocation, removal of Florida Gas pipeline” and expanding Highway 3127.  But all those activities can only be done under the conditions that Formosa “not conduct any activities within jurisdictional wetlands” and not conduct activities that might potentially desecrate graves.

Rise St. James argues that in the vicinity of Formosa’s planned project, there are as many as seven burial sites containing the remains of Black people who died in slavery and that five of those sites are within the footprint of the planned construction project. Rise St. James made that determination after finding anomalies — features inconsistent with agricultural use — on aerial photography maps.

Parks said in a July 15 email that Formosa had identified two sites — Buena Vista Plantation and Acadia Plantation —  that potentially included graves but had determined that only the Buena Vista site actually included remains. Formosa has built a fence around that portion of land.

Per Thursday’s agreement, Formosa “will not conduct activities (including access to and from activity sites) within the Acadia site or the Buena Vista burial site, and will not  conduct activities that will impact the three anomaly sites on the Sunshine property that Plaintiffs have identified.”