Site Plan Hijinks Vitiate Council’s Consent
A copy of the letter is available here.
May 12, 2021, St. James, LA – Lawyers for RISE St. James and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade today sent a letter to St. James Parish Council members advising them that the 2019 land use approval of Formosa Plastics is null and void. Earthjustice and the Center for Constitutional Rights, the attorneys for RISE St. James and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, noted that Formosa Plastics did not alter its site plan to lessen threats to the health and safety of nearby school children and residents the way it told the council it would. Instead, changes the company made to the site plan before its application to the council actually worsened the threats to those nearby. “As a result of Formosa’s misrepresentation, the land use approval is a legal nullity under Louisiana law and must be deemed as never having existed,” they wrote.
At issue is Formosa Plastics’ false claim to the St. James Parish Council in regard to its site plan. In late 2019, Earthjustice attorney Corinne Dan Dalen informed the council, on behalf of her clients, that Formosa had not moved dangerous production units away from the population, as it had told the council, but had in fact moved an ethylene glycol production unit that emits highly carcinogenic ethylene oxide closer to the nearby school and church. Today’s letter informs the parish council that the factual error and the council’s failure to rectify it results in the nullity of the contract under Louisiana law.
“Acts and agreements that violate rules intended for protection of the public are absolute nullities under Louisiana law with the effect that they do not exist,” said Pam Spees, a senior staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. “That is the case here. If the Parish Council is serious about protecting school children and churchgoers from some of the most harmful emissions known, it should formally acknowledge this, declare its land use approval null and void, and make Formosa Plastics go back to square one.”
While the issue of the site plan has been before the council for a year and a half, today’s letter brings in new information about contract law and the implications for the land use approval since it was based on misinformation.
“It shouldn’t be up to residents of St. James to go over things with a fine-toothed comb to find the problems,” said Sharon Lavigne, President of RISE St. James. “Our parish council members should thoroughly read what they’re approving and respond to us when we raise our concerns. We should be their first priority, not industry. They should consider our health not their wealth. Why do we even have an approval process if they’re going to approve everything that comes across their desks? Our lives are in their hands. It’s because of them that we are suffering and dying.”
The implications are significant given the stakes of chemical exposure and human health.
“Moving a massive ethylene oxide-emitting plant closer to young school children and area residents in no way could constitute a ‘step to enhance the health and safety of the community’ as Formosa Plastics claims it did by reconfiguring its site plan,” said Van Dalen. “Yet, the council has accepted Formosa’s false claims and has failed to investigate even though we brought this critical issue to the council long ago.”
“Other states around the U.S. are on high alert, taking vigorous steps to limit exposure to ethylene oxide,” said Anne Rolfes, Director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “In St. James Parish, the councilmembers lack any sense of urgency. Nine months ago, they said they’d look into the issue of Formosa’s site plan, and we haven’t heard a peep from them. We are relieved that Louisiana law protects us in the face of this inaction, and that the land use approval is already null and void.”
For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights Case Page.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.