Opposition to a proposed plastic manufacturing complex in St. James Parish is growing in New Orleans.
Citing the interrelated concerns of harm to local waterways, fisheries and tourism, two City Council members are set to introduce a resolution this week opposing the construction of the Sunshine Project by FG LA LLC, a subsidiary of Taiwanese chemical giant Formosa Plastics. And now New Orleans restaurant group Dickie Brennan & Co. is offering support of the measure.
Dickie Brennan & Co. owns several well-known New Orleans restaurants, including Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse, Bourbon House, Palace Cafe and Tableau.
Formosa’s proposed complex would be composed of 14 separate plants and would manufacture “the plastic building blocks found in everyday products,” according to the project’s website. Permitting for the plant is currently on hold as it awaits additional environmental analysis.
St. James Parish is home to more than a dozen chemical plants already, and local residents and environmental advocates have been trying to keep the project from moving forward since it was announced in 2018.
The resolution, sponsored by Councilmembers Kristen Gisleson Palmer and Cyndi Nguyen, draws connections between plastic pollution and tourism.
“Expanding plastics production, without preventing plastics pollution,” the non-binding resolution reads, “threatens the prosperity of our seafood industry, which is essential to the vitality and success of New Orleans’ and Louisiana’s food culture and the tourism we rely on.”
As an example, the resolution points to a large spill of plastic pellets into the Mississippi River in 2020. The fish-egg-sized pellets known as nurdles continued washing up onto Mississippi River levees several months later. Volunteers mobilized a cleanup effort after both the company responsible for the spill and the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) refused to assign responsibility.
In a press call Monday, Palmer said she hopes the resolution will encourage the state to hold polluters accountable and to “figure out systems for cleaning this up.”
“I basically posit: why are we then building more and expanding the footprint of our plastic companies if we’re failing to even do basic cleanup in our waterways?” asked Palmer.
Palmer said she doesn’t think many New Orleanians fully grasp the connection between the health of local waterways and the health of existing industries and made the case that water pollution has trickle-down effects on the hospitality sector.
“And let’s be frank: we’ve already had a massive disaster with COVID and our hospitality industry is trying to recover from that. Now we’re going to have a double-hit, a potential double-whammy, with pollution to our fisheries? I think we really have to take a minute and think about that.”
The resolution, which is expected to be introduced to the City Council on April 8, also links plastic production to environmental racism concerns. It notes that the industrial corridor between New Orleans and Baton Rouge known as Cancer Alley is home to more than 150 petrochemical plants, and those plants have a disproportionate effect on communities of color.
“It is the responsibility of all New Orleanians to prioritize the health of our citizens as well as stand in solidarity with the residents of Cancer Alley,” the resolution reads.
In a letter to City Council members, Dickie Brennan & Co. managing partner Steven Pettus offered his company’s support for the resolution.
“We have learned that the delicate nature of our seafood products can be decimated by seemingly unrelated acts,” Pettus wrote, citing the BP oil spill, the repeated openings of freshwater diversions into coastal estuaries, and the recent nurdle spill.
“This plastic will exist in our waterways for thousands of years, obstructing the bellies of birds and fish. The petrochemical industry is a threat to our wildlife, our communities, our seafood industry, and our economy in Louisiana.”
The letter points out that Formosa has come under fire for pollution near manufacturing locations in Texas and, and suggests the Mississippi River could see more nurdle pollution if the Sunshine Project is ultimately approved.
The letter concludes with the admission that the Formosa project could positively benefit the regional workforce with new jobs, but makes the case that “we should recognize the negative impact this would have on our seafood industry and the scores of jobs dependent on that sector of the economy.”
Support for the Coastal Desk comes from the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and local listeners.
Correction: a previous version of this story misspelled the first name of Councilmember Cyndi Nguyen.