Greenfield Louisiana

Aerial view of the proposed Greenfield Louisiana LLC grain terminal and dock adjacent to Wallace, La. On Thursday, March 21, 2024, the Descendants Project requested a St. John the Baptist court to block rezoning for the project. (Rendering courtesy of Greenfield Louisiana)

A controversial grain export terminal planned for a rural stretch of St. John the Baptist Parish has moved closer to reality with a vote to approve a zoning change.

The vote by the St. John Parish Council on Tuesday night comes after a long legal and political battle between local activists seeking to keep the grain elevator out of the community of Wallace and the company behind the plan, Greenfield, as well as parish officials.

The controversy is also linked to longstanding environmental justice concerns in the surrounding industrialized area of the state known as Cancer Alley.

The Descendants Project, a group of local activists, warns that the large industrial development will badly harm neighboring historic areas, including those dedicated to commemorating the legacy of slaves who worked the River Parishes' plantations. They are also concerned over pollution.

The company says it will operate safely and provide 100 jobs once built. It has also been providing charitable contributions in the area in an effort to show it is committed to the small community, located on the parish's west bank.

Opponents of the project say more legal challenges are on the way. The company is also waiting on a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers for the project, and no timeline is in place for when that may be granted.

The vote rezones about 1,300 acres of land between the Wallace community and the Whitney Plantation Museum from residential to industrial use. It allows Greenfield Louisiana LLC's facilities to be located as close as 300 feet from Wallace homes.

Still, Greenfield officials say all structures that are part of the project will be at least 500 feet from the nearest home, and that a 10-foot-high fence and a tree line will also provide a buffer.

Joy Banner, co-founder of The Descendants Project, says parish ordinances require a 2,000-foot buffer?-- an argument that is part of opponents' legal arguments. She also says the change overriding it is inconsistent with the parish's ordinances, and alleges it opens the door to similar moves parishwide.

"Your health, your safety, your community, your homes are in danger," she said at Tuesday night's meeting.

In a later interview, she criticized parish officials and council members for not pressing Greenfield on such issues, and accused them of simply acceding to the company's wishes. A spokesperson for Parish President Jaclyn Hotard did not respond to a request for comment.

Greenfield welcomed the decision in a statement. The company's legal team disputes the activists' contention that the zoning change is inconsistent with parish ordinances and that it would set a bad precedent for future development.

"We are committed to taking the parish into a safer, greener and more prosperous future," said the company.

Greenfield Louisiana LLC is a subsidiary of Denver-based Greenfield Holdings. Parish officials and residents who support the project point to the need for economic development in the area.?

Among those raising concern over the project is the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which lists the west bank of St. John among the country's 11 most endangered historic places.

Staff writer Mark Schleifstein contributed to this report.

Email Mike Smith at msmith@theadvocate.com or follow him on Twitter, @MikeJSmith504. His work is supported with a grant from the Walton Family Foundation, administered by the Society of Environmental Journalists.

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