St. James residents, environmental groups sue over Bayou Bridge - KATC.com | Continuous News Coverage | Acadiana-Lafayette

St. James residents, environmental groups sue over Bayou Bridge permit

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Residents living near the proposed Bayou Bridge Pipeline's end point in St. James have joined environmental groups to sue over a state permit authorized for the project.

The suit alleges the Department of Natural Resources' Office of Coastal Management "violated the Louisiana Constitution and its own Guidelines" by issuing the permit through "the sensitive Coastal Zone of Louisiana."

According to the suit (which can be read in full at the bottom of this story):

In issuing its decision, the Department refused to consider potential adverse environmental impacts of the project on the majority African-American residents of St. James, Louisiana, who are surrounded by crude oil terminal facilities, pipelines and associated industry. It ignored its Constitutional and regulatory duties to consider the cumulative impact of this pipeline when added to other past, present and future operations on this community in the Coastal Zone. It ignored evidence that the St. James community may be trapped in the event of an emergency and that no viable evacuation plan is in place for their safety. Finally, it ignored and misapplied its own Guidelines intended to insure that projects impacting the sensitive Coastal Zone have no alternative and that they minimize that impact as much as possible. Its action issuing the permit was arbitrary and capricious and in violation of the Louisiana Constitution and proper procedure, and its decision granting the permit must be vacated.

St. James residents Harry Joseph Sr. and Genevieve Butler — along with the Humanitarian Enterprise of Loving People (H.E.L.P.) a nonprofit organization of pastors and residents in the parish — filed suit on May 31, along with environmental-protection groups Gulf Restoration Network, Atchafalaya Basinkeeper and Bold Louisiana.

The plaintiffs are seeking a judicial review of the project's Coastal Use Permit, issued by the Department of Natural Resources in April and which covers the roughly 16-mile end stretch of the 162-mile proposed pipeline. The department then denied two petitions for reconsideration, the first filed by the environmental groups and the second by H.E.L.P. and residents Joseph and Butler.

Lawsuit: Overwhelmingly minority community threatened

According to the suit, there are already at least eight crude oil facilities, including pipelines, within a two-square-mile radius of the community of St. James, a town of just more than 2,000 residents who are nearly 95 percent African-American. Within a two-mile radius of the proposed pipeline, the population is 97 percent minority.

The plaintiffs point to Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration statistics that show St. James has "a high rate of fires, spills and releases, among the highest in the state of Louisiana, averaging two incidents each year since 2010" — all in a community without a fire department. And in the three neighborhoods within two miles of the town's crude oil facilities, there's only one access road on the east end of the area; it's often closed off in the event of emergency, the plaintiff's attorneys write.

The suit also argues the pipeline poses a threat to Bayou Lafourche, which supplies drinking water to about 300,000 residents and is also site to coastal restoration efforts. It alleges DNR didn't impose more stringent restrictions on the pipeline to help protect the water source.

Attorneys with the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic are representing the groups in the suit. They recently succeeded in a St. Martin Parish case, where the DNR superseded local government's denial of an oil-and-gas waste facility's proposal to relocate to a residential area. Read more on that here.

A date has not been set in the Bayou Bridge case, which has been filed in 23rd Judicial District Court in St. James Parish.

Construction has neither begun for the pipeline, as the company awaits permits from the state Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. But Energy Transfer Partners, one of the companies behind the projects, along with Phillips 66 and Sunoco Logistics (which recently merged with ETP), is suggesting to investors the project will be online at the end of this year.

Read the full suit:

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