ST. JAMES, La. (CN) – Twenty protesters, two of whom were arrested, stopped construction of the Bayou Bridge pipeline through a Louisiana coastal zone Thursday while demonstrating against continued construction despite a state judge remanding the permit.
The protesters walked among bulldozers and heavy equipment in the early morning, bringing the work to an immediate halt. The pipeline is visible on the site, trees have been cleared and a 20-foot wide trench has already been dug through much of the pipeline land in the Atchafalaya River Basin, the nation’s largest swamp.
St. James Parish Judge Alvin Turner Jr. ruled April 30 that the permit for construction through a coastal zone violates state law. On May 15, Judge Turner reiterated his prior ruling. But construction has continued.
The coastal zone in question is the last 18 miles of the Bayou Bridge pipeline, which includes land in St. James, Ascension and Assumption parishes. Because the land is considered coastal, the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources was tasked with reviewing state laws related to the construction and issuance of the permit.
In siding with plaintiffs – including HELP St. James, Gulf Coast Restoration Network, the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper and BOLD Louisiana – Judge Turner found that the department did not apply state-mandated guidelines that direct the activities of companies involved in oil and gas, a fact he called “troubling.”
Turner found that construction of the pipeline will leave St. James residents without an emergency and evacuation route in the event of a chemical spill, and he sent the permit back to the department for further review.
The nonprofit environmental groups involved in Thursday’s protest – L’eau est La Vie, 350 New Orleans and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade – said in an emailed statement that Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC “has defied Judge Alvin Turner's order to halt construction, not only continuing construction in the fragile coastal zone but accelerating it.”
“Water Protectors intervened today to enforce the law that the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources is failing to enforce,” the groups said.
“St. James residents haven't been listened to," said Alicia Cooke, a protester with 350 New Orleans who was arrested in the morning. "We've been fighting this pipeline on every level through every legal means for over a year. I'm not sure how many more ways Louisianans can say we don't want this or need this."
Environmentalists monitoring construction have cited numerous alleged permit violations and have reported them to the Department of Natural Resources.
Anne Rolfes, founding director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a nonprofit devoted to environmental health and justice, said Thursday that the only action the department has taken in response to being notified of permit violations along the pipeline route has been “retroactively modifying the permit to make Bayou Bridge's activities legal.”
"I am a New Orleans resident engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience today to stop the illegal continuation of work here in St. James Parish and to highlight the numerous harms of the petrochemical industry to the community of St. James and also throughout south Louisiana," said Jackie Bang, another woman who was arrested. "This is one of the regions most impacted by climate change, too. We should end all pipelines."
The Bayou Bridge pipeline is jointly owned by Energy Transfer Partners, which merged with Sunoco in 2012, Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC and Phillips 66.
The 162-mile crude oil pipeline will carry almost half a million gallons of oil a day across 11 Louisiana parishes and 700 water bodies, from Nederland, Texas, to St. James Parish, roughly 60 miles from New Orleans. Louisiana has parishes instead of counties.
Energy Transfer Partners also built and owns the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. The Bayou Bridge pipeline will be the final leg connecting the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota with Louisiana refineries and export terminals.
An April report by Greenpeace and Waterkeeper Alliance found that Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco are among the nation’s worst polluters, with a track record of a spill every 11 days.
Patrick Courreges, communications director for the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, said in a phone call Thursday afternoon that the environmental groups misunderstood what Judge Turner’s findings meant.
Courreges said since the judge merely sent the permit back to the department to review, there is no reason to think construction is supposed to stop.
“Actually, the judge ruled that the permit needed to be remanded,” he said. “It would have saved a lot of confusion if his order said construction needs to stop, but it doesn’t.”
Courregas said the department applied for an appeal of Turner’s decision Tuesday and the whole matter is on hold until the appeals process is run.
“If the plaintiffs ask for a stay or an injunction and the court grants that, then that would stop the construction,” Courregas said.
“Broadly speaking our agency still feels that our staff and our scientists applied the correct measures in issuing the permit,” he added.
Lisa Jordan of the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, who represents the plaintiffs, said in a phone call Thursday that a motion for stay was filed Tuesday in St. James Parish court.
“We think they need to stop construction and resolve the issue,” Jordan said.
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