RISE St. James - The Fight to Protect Burial Sites of Enslaved People

At a Glance

Date Filed: 

December 18, 2019

Current Status 

Public comments to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality were submitted on December 18, 2019. Letters submitted to St. James Parish Council on December 23, 2019, requesting the Council to rescind its land use decision. The Louisiana DEQ issued the air permits for the facility on January 6, 2020. The request to the Parish Council is still pending.

Co-Counsel 

Bill Quigley

Client(s) 

RISE St. James

Case Description 

RISE St. James, a faith-based grass-roots organization formed to advocate for racial and environmental justice in St. James, Louisiana, learned in November 2019 that graves of people enslaved on former plantations had been discovered in an area in their community slated for a massive plastics facility. 

The facility that Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics group is seeking to build would be the largest in North America and would double the level of toxic emissions in St. James Parish, which is already among the highest in the country. On behalf of RISE, CCR has submitted public records requests to the Louisiana Division of Archaeology seeking more information about the sites, and comments to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality urging the agency to deny air permits sought by the company. CCR also submitted on behalf of RISE a request to the St. James Parish Council to rescind its land use grant on the grounds that the company did not disclose the cemeteries while it's land use application was pending with the Council. Despite RISE St. James’s consistent public engagement on this issue and significance of these burial grounds for many of its members and people in the community, Formosa did not inform them of the situation.  Emails obtained through public records requests reveal that Formosa representatives have discussed removing some graves if found because reconfiguring their construction plans would be a "difficult option."   

On January 6, 2020, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality issued the permits sought by Formosa, which cleared the way for the company to begin construction on the site.

On behalf of RISE, the Center for Constitutional Rights enlisted the expertise of the independent archaeologist who first discovered the sites to assess the previous site investigations undertaken by Formosa's archaeological consultants and to do a broader analysis of the entire project area. They put the results of their findings in a report submitted to the Louisiana Division of Archaeology. They found that there are possibly as many as five additional cemeteries on the site, and that Formosa's consultants looked in the wrong location each time they investigated for graves on the site of the former Acadia Plantation.

Case Timeline

March 11, 2020
New expert report finds five additional possible cemeteries on Formosa site
March 11, 2020
New expert report finds five additional possible cemeteries on Formosa site
On behalf of RISE St. James, the Center for Constitutional Rights submits a new expert report to St. James Parish Council and responds to Formosa Plastics letter.
January 22, 2020
EarthJustice submits supplemental letter to St. James Parish Council on behalf of RISE St. James and Louisiana Bucket Brigade
January 22, 2020
EarthJustice submits supplemental letter to St. James Parish Council on behalf of RISE St. James and Louisiana Bucket Brigade
EarthJustice submits supplemental letter to St. James Parish Council on behalf of RISE St. James and Louisiana Bucket Brigade.
December 23, 2019
CCR and EarthJustice submit letters to St. James Parish Council on behalf of RISE St. James and Louisiana Bucket Brigade
December 23, 2019
CCR and EarthJustice submit letters to St. James Parish Council on behalf of RISE St. James and Louisiana Bucket Brigade
Letters submitted by RISE St. James on behalf of CCR and EarthJustice
December 18, 2019
CCR files comments on behalf of RISE St. James
December 18, 2019
CCR files comments on behalf of RISE St. James
On behalf of RISE St. James, CCR files comments with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, along with supporting attachments.