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Not Again, Flood-Battered Cajuns Say

BELLE CHASSE, La. (CN) - Residents sued Plaquemines Parish, Ground Zero of the BP oil disaster, claiming the parish's approval of a building permit for a 5 million gallon oil terminal on the Mississippi River is another catastrophe waiting to happen.

The proposed NOLA Oil terminal is to be a 5 million barrel, heavy oil blending and storage facility, built on 152 acres of floodplains along the Mississippi River.

Ironically, 5 million barrels, or 210 million gallons, is the U.S. government's estimate of how much oil spilled into the Gulf during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Lead plaintiff Michael Mudge and others who own property in a residential community next to the site seek judicial review of the Plaquemine Parish Council's Aug. 8 adoption of a resolution granting a building permit to NOLA Oil Terminal Inc.

A parish is Louisiana's equivalent of a county.

The lawsuit in Plaquemines Parish Court claims the council's action "violates the local zoning laws of Plaquemines Parish and poses a threat to plaintiffs' property and to others in the area, particularly during hurricane season."

The terminal site is next to Myrtle Grove Marina Estates, a residential and recreational waterfront community, and is close to at least two other residential communities, the lawsuit states. "Further, the proposed oil storage terminal is to be located in an area of the Parish of Plaquemines that sees substantial flooding and debris during tropical events throughout the course of hurricane season."

The land encompassing the proposed terminal site is zoned as floodplain under the Plaquemines Parish Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance, which allows for structures for residential or recreational purposes.

"The proposed oil storage terminal falls under the heavy industrial zoning designation ('I-3') and is not permitted in the FP zone," the lawsuit states.

"Additionally, under the I-3 zoning, this particular facility requires a special environmental use impact assessment, which was not performed in this case."

Building in a flood zone requires a development permit under the parish's Flood Plan Management Regulation. NOLA Oil did not seek one when it submitted its request for a building permit on March 1, according to the complaint.

But the Plaquemines Parish Council approved it on Aug. 8, despite knowing of its improper zoning classification, despite the risk of putting it in a floodplain, and despite public opposition, the lawsuit states.

"The Council failed to adequately consider whether the oil storage terminal poses economic, environmental, health, or safety concerns for the neighboring communities who have to live, work and enjoy recreational activities within the vicinity of this five million barrel oil storage facility," according to the complaint.

"The council failed to consider whether the proposed facility may increase the potential for flood, hurricane, and other storm damage, or increase the likelihood that damage will occur from such hazards."

Plaquemines Parish is a storm-vulnerable 100-mile peninsula that traces the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico and was all but wiped off the map by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

After Katrina, Mississippi Riverfront acres of citrus groves have been turned over to the levee board for improvements to the levees, and with improvements to the levees, industry has moved in.

Lead plaintiff Mudge could not be reached for comment. A Plaquemines Gazette story about the Council vote in March, when NOLA Oil Terminal received its first permit, quoted Mudge as saying at the meeting: "'It's a sad day when your constituents have to explain their concerns when 5 million barrels of oil [if spilled] could cut off the only evacuation route out of the parish,' Mudge said. 'Look at what happened with Stolthaven.'"

During Hurricane Isaac in 2012, Stolthaven New Orleans LLC, a London-based petroleum and chemical storage and transfer terminal in Plaquemines Parish, leaked thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals when 140 loaded railcars were flooded in 10 feet of storm surge.

The spill caused panic, as roads were closed for several days and residents near Stolthaven were prohibited from returning home except for a couple hours a day.

WWLTV.com reported in September 2012 that the Stolthaven facility had been flooded during a number of hurricanes, including Katrina and Gustav in 2008, but that Stolthaven failed to remove the railcars to prepare for Isaac, even though a 7- to 11-foot storm surge had been predicted by the National Weather Service.

"'It is a part of our plan, but there wasn't enough time,'" Steve Turchi, regional director of the North America Stolthaven Terminals, told WWLTV.com. "'The railroad did remove some cars from our facility prior to the storm. But it was just too many of them to move all at once.'"

The same article reports that while there are some 80 such oil terminals in the state, no agency, state or federal, requires them to have a hurricane evacuation plan.

Plaquemines Parish did not respond to a request for comment.

Plaintiffs seek reversal of the council's decision and cancellation of all permits granted to NOLA Oil Terminal.

The writ of mandamus was filed by Megan S. Peterson, with Simon, Peragine, Smith & Redfearn, of New Orleans.

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