Proposed oil terminal in Plaquemines Parish could disrupt Louisiana’s $2B wetlands project

A massive oil export terminal proposed in Plaquemines Parish would likely undermine Louisiana’s $2 billion bid to restore the degraded wetlands of Barataria Bay, according to a draft study commissioned by the Midwestern company leading the project. 

Modeling completed in February 2020 suggested the construction of the $2.5 billion terminal’s dock could reduce the amount of sand entering the mouth of the state’s planned Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion by up to 15%. Add a ship parked in front of the terminal, and nearly half of the sediment that could be used to rebuild land off the parish’s west bank might be blocked.

Consisting of a 2-mile long gated, concrete channel, the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion would transport silt- and clay-laden water from a sand bar in the Mississippi River to the Barataria Basin. It’s the one of the cornerstones of the state’s 50-year, $50 billion plan to sustain a portion of Louisiana’s lower third amid severe coastal erosion, subsidence and rising seas.

Planned liquids terminal site, sediment diversion project in Plaquemines

Located on the former St. Rosalie Plantation site, the crude oil terminal would store up to 20 million barrels on site and load them onto huge ocean-going “Panamax” ships and barges for export. It’s a joint project of Tallgrass Energy LP, headquartered in Leawood, Kansas; Drexel Hamilton Infrastructure Partners, LP, a New York-based investment firm; and the Plaquemines Port, Harbor and Terminal District, which is governed by the Parish Council.

Interfering with the state’s restoration project is just one of the terminal’s challenges. Developers are also facing opposition from residents of nearby Ironton, who fear increased air pollution and oppose plans to excavate and build on top of gravesites of people formerly enslaved on the plantation. 

The study became public after the environmental group Healthy Gulf filed a public records request for it in May. Now, the nonprofit, joined by the Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, Environmental Defense Fund and Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, have renewed calls for the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority to kill the proposed terminal by finding it inconsistent with the Coastal Master Plan.

Secured through a public records request by Healthy Gulf, the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority provided the draft sediment study c…

It isn’t the first time such a study has been done. Tallgrass’ study, conducted by New Orleans-based civil engineering firm AECOM, resulted in findings similar to those in 2015 modeling done by The Water Institute of the Gulf in response to plans for a coal terminal on the same site. That effort failed after environmental groups and Ironton residents sued, and a judge required the company to consider other options.

“It’s clear from this report that this site is going to forever be inconsistent with the master plan,” said Scott Eustis, Healthy Gulf’s community science director. “This is the second engineering report about establishing a port on this property that says that it will sabotage our coastal restoration effort. So, Tallgrass has to find a different place under the law.”

But the state coastal authority, which could require the company to find another site, has so far opted to work with the company to mediate the conflict. Executive Director Bren Haase and Mid-Barataria project manager Brad Barth say the agency maintains an “open line of communication” with Tallgrass. 

Thick woods overtook the old St. Rosalie Plantation house more than 70 years ago.

In 2019, the state agency signed a memorandum of understanding with the parish port and terminal developers that found the project consistent with the Coastal Master Plan contingent on the finalized sediment study and the ability to mitigate the terminal’s impact on the diversion. On Monday, Haase said there wasn’t a clear threshold for when the agency would find the project inconsistent with the master plan — though he said a 45% reduction in sediment was out of the question. 

“Just like any project that we would be considering along the coast that may have another project that would impact it, they’re all evaluated on a case-by-case basis,” he said. 

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Changes to project design and operation could lower the terminal’s impact, agency officials said, noting that it’s not crystal clear what the current design calls for.  

“There’s really not a lot of information about what’s being proposed there and what that impact might be. So, we certainly want to gather some more information [and] have a better understanding of what the project actually would entail before we were to make any call like that,” he said.

In a memo to Tallgrass, consultant Paul Tschirky noted that the modeling results could distort the terminal’s impacts as it overestimated how often a ship would be docked at the facility. 

“Since these are not actual operational conditions reporting these results risks misrepresenting project impacts. True project impacts of ship at berth cannot be properly evaluated without accounting for both diversion and PLT operational criteria,” he said. He also noted the biggest sediment reductions came at higher river flows, when the state expects the highest influx of sediment.

Tallgrass is pursuing an air permit from the state Department of Environmental Quality. A coastal use permit has been on hold with the Department of Natural Resources for over a year as the coronavirus pandemic has delayed finalizing the sediment study results.

Tallgrass Terminals Director Matt Kegg noted that the project’s impact on the diversion is still under review and will be published to the DNR once finalized.

Export terminal would be built on slave cemetery, emit 566,466 tons of greenhouse gases per year

He said the project’s backers are “committed to working closely with the local community and CPRA to ensure that PLT’s activities on the property are respectful of the surrounding communities” and in sync with the master plan, he said Monday.

Eustis argued any reduction in sediment load entering the diversion must be considered by the DNR should the review process reopen. 

“Taking 45% of the sand out of the project is wetland damage,” he said. “So, under the coastal use law, Tallgrass needs to evaluate all the other alternative sites for that kind of damage as well.” 

Here’s why Mississippi River diversion was proposed, how it might work

Here’s how much greenhouse gas Louisiana emitted in a single year, according to latest report

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