Proposed grain terminal would harm historic slave sites in St. John Parish, review finds

Corps of Engineers finds ’adverse effects’ in Greenfield project review

By: - October 4, 2023 5:00 am

Whitney Plantation in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana. (Creative Commons)

A proposed grain terminal would harm the setting, characteristics and economies of three historic Mississippi River plantations and a cemetery in the nearly all-Black community of Wallace in St. John the Baptist Parish, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has determined.

The findings are part of an environmental review the Corps conducted on the proposed construction of the Greenfield grain terminal, a $400 million grain elevator complex in a historic Black community around Whitney Plantation. Greenfield wants to build 54 grain silos and a conveyor almost as tall as the 305-foot Statue of Liberty less than a half-mile from the plantation.

The Corps identified 20 historic properties within the project’s area of potential effects and found the project would adversely impact five of them: Whitney Plantation,  Evergreen Plantation, Willow Grove Cemetery and the wider Whitney Plantation Historic District in St. John Parish; and Oak Alley Plantation in St. James Parish. Most of the properties are either National Historic Landmarks or listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Willow Grove Cemetery, which contains the burial sites of slaves and their descendants, is just 300 feet from the proposed construction site. 

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“The visual and vibratory impacts will alter the cemetery’s integrity of setting, materials, and feeling, all important characteristics of the Willow Grove Cemetery,” the Corps stated in its review. 

The review noted the proposed grain terminal would harm the future earnings of Evergreen Plantation, which operates as a research center and generates revenue as a film and television location. 

“The proposed project’s impacts, during both construction and operation, will greatly diminish the integrity of the property’s setting, resulting in economic hardships on the property that will cause additional adverse effects later in time,” the review said. 

The Corps made similar determinations for the other three properties, finding that construction lighting, noise and traffic, among other things, would have adverse effects. 

The agency conducted the review upon the request of multiple organizations and advocacy groups that appealed to the Corps of Engineers to consider the many historic sites in the area and block the construction of the grain terminal. However, it has still not decided on whether to grant Greenfield’s construction permit. 

All of the parties involved in the review have 30 days to submit comments. The Corps will then meet with parties to discuss steps to “avoid, minimize and mitigate the adverse effects.”

The Descendants Project, a nonprofit that advocates for the descendants of slaves in Louisiana, is spearheading a federal lawsuit to try to stop the Greenfield project. 

“To see it in black and white, that the vibratory impacts are adversely affecting the remains of the community’s loved ones, is especially disturbing,” Descendants Project Co-founder Joy Banner said. “There’s no way to mitigate that type of adverse impact.”

Greenfield said it plans to maintain a 450-foot buffer of trees and greenery to keep the facility’s buildings out of view of visitors, tourists and residents. The company also has a plan in place that in the event cultural resources are discovered, all construction in that area will cease and Greenfield will immediately notify all appropriate agencies to responsibly address those resources, according to the companys website.


LASHPO_Greenfield Holdings Wallace Grain Elevator Adverse Effects Letter (3)

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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots to 1997 when, at age 13, he built a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. Since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune and worked on staff at WAFB/CBS, the Sun Herald and the Enterprise-Journal, winning awards from the SPJ, Associated Press, Mississippi Press Association and McClatchy. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Muller is a New Orleans native, Jesuit High School alumnus, University of New Orleans alumnus and a U.S. Army veteran and former paratrooper. He lives in Southeast Louisiana with his two sons and wife.