FREETOWN, La. (CN) – “The trees are dying, the grasses are dying. The birds we have are all crows – no hummingbirds left, no songbirds,” a lifelong resident of Freetown, Louisiana, said as plans continued to build a controversial oil pipeline that will end nearby.
Opponents of the pipeline, now that it has received the go-ahead from the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, are urging the state to require the company building it to conduct an environmental impact statement for the land it traverses.
Freetown and St. James Parish, between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, are known as Cancer Alley. It is an area with a heavy concentration of industrial plants. The parish — Louisiana’s version of a county — has a population of about 2,000, most of them black.
Sitting on a sliver of land along the Mississippi River about 50 miles upstream from New Orleans, Freetown was established 145 years ago by freed slaves.
“They were family people, coming together as neighbors and friends,” a resident of the community whose family has lived in Freetown from its inception told the Washington Times in 2014. “They made gardens and everybody shared their gardens. They reached out and helped each other. They didn’t have that much.”
Today in Freetown you would be hard pressed to get a garden to grow.
“Fruit is falling off the tree before it gets ripe,” Eve Butler, a lifelong resident, said. “It doesn’t matter what you’ve planted, it doesn’t grow. If this was a problem we caused ourselves, that would be one thing. But this is not a problem we caused.”
Butler blames the oil and gas industry for the horrible pollution in St. James Parish, saying it has caused asthma and cancer in the young and old, tainted the drinking water and ruined the soil.
“People say, ‘You’ve always had pipelines. What’s the big deal?’ in adding one more,” Butler said.
“The big deal is that fruit falls off a tree before it is ripe. It doesn’t matter what you plant in the ground, it isn’t going to grow.”
She added: “Industry has no respect for regulation.”
In February, hundreds of opponents gathered to object to the proposed $670 million Bayou Bridge project, but the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources approved the proposal by Energy Transfer Partners.
Energy Transfer Partners is also responsible for the Dakota Access Pipeline, of which this, the Bayou Bridge, would be the final leg.
This portion of the pipeline, as proposed, would stretch 162.5 miles, running through 11 parishes, from Lake Charles to St. James, and cutting through the Atchafalaya Basin, a national heritage area known for its vast cypress-tupelo swamps and the largest remaining contiguous tract of coastal cypress trees in the country. As least 6.6 miles of the proposed pipeline would crisscross its forested wetlands. In total, the pipeline would cross 700 waterways.
The southernmost section of the pipeline is to carry crude oil from an oil and gas hub in Nederland, Texas, to a terminal in St. James Parish.
Opponents say it would cause significant harm to the region’s crawfish industry, harm the wetlands it crosses, and threaten the drinking water supply.
And, they say, once construction is complete, only 12 permanent jobs will be created locally.