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NOLA City Council Opposes Formosa Plant in Mostly Symbolic Vote

From left, Myrtle Felton, Sharon Lavigne, Gail LeBoeuf and Rita Cooper, members of RISE St. James, on property where Formosa Petrochemical wants to build a plastics complex in St. James Parish, La. Archaeologists have found the land may include up to seven slave cemeteries.
From left, Myrtle Felton, Sharon Lavigne, Gail LeBoeuf and Rita Cooper, members of RISE St. James, on property where Formosa Petrochemical wants to build a plastics complex in St. James Parish, La. Archaeologists have found the land may include up to seven slave cemeteries.

After several delays, New Orleans City Council has voted unanimously in favor of a resolution to oppose the construction of a Formosa plastics plant in St. James Parish.

In a regular City Council meeting on Thursday, Councilmembers Kristin Gisleson-Palmer and Cyndi Nguyen, who sponsored the resolution, referenced several Formosa spills in their arguments, including a 2016 toxic chemical spill in Vietnam that Nguyen said impacted her family members.

Councilmembers also recalled the spill of possibly billions of plastic pellets called nurdles, used to manufacture everyday plastic products, into the Mississippi River last August.

Gisleson-Palmer said her staff members have contacted federal and state agencies regarding cleanup, but none will accept responsibility.

She also pointed out that toxic chemical and micro-plastic waste could affect the restaurant industry in New Orleans, which relies heavily on seafood caught in nearby parishes.

“This isn’t just our city banging on another parish, all of us are interrelated and interconnected and it’s very symbolic of how our waterways are interconnected,” Palmer said.

Despite the potential impact on New Orleans, City Council’s move to oppose the project — known as the Sunshine Project — is largely a symbolic one.

The council received more than 100 public comments. All of the comments that were read supported the resolution against the complex.

“Make no mistake, should this plant be constructed, our characteristic way of life will be permanently altered. At the least, we’ll be getting our fish frozen from Wal-Mart,” one commenter said.

Gisleson-Palmer added that everyone should examine their use of plastics.

“All of us are culpable because of our over-reliance on plastics,” Gisleson-Palmer said. “This past Mardi Gras was very different but we also weren’t throwing millions of pounds of plastic beads into our streets. … We need to start reassessing how we deal with our environment and how we pollute it.”

There are already more than a dozen chemical plants in St. James Parish, which lies within a predominantly Black region of Louisiana called Cancer Alley, where cancer rates are high. The Sunshine Project site is located next to a historically Black community in the parish. The project’s website boasts more than 8,000 construction jobs and 1,200 permanent jobs.

But Councilmember Jay Banks said, “No economic development justifies jeopardizing human life.”

Support for the Coastal Desk comes from the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and local listeners.

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