You might remember a post we did a few months ago detailing how LABB staffer Benjamin Leger was questioned by refinery personnel, Baton Rouge police and the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Department for taking pictures of a neighborhood near ExxonMobil.
Below is an account from LABB Program Manager Anna Hrybyk, who tells her story of recently being questioned by officials while driving through the Bonnet Carre Spillway:
On Sunday morning, March 6, I brought a friend visiting from out of town on a tour of the LaPlace-Norco-Destrehan area for a story she was doing on community resistance to Big Oil.
We stopped at the levee on the Bonnet Carre Spillway overlooking the mighty Mississippi River in the shadow of Shell Refinery, Shell Chemical, Valero Refinery and Dow Chemical. We talked about the sugar plantations that used to be there and the slave cemeteries buried underneath, discovered during the building of the Spillway. We discussed the unheard pleas from preservationists to place historical markers in the areas along the Spillway where slave cemeteries and Native American ceremonial mounds sit. Yet St. Charles Parish officials are instead focused on a plan to turn the land into a recreation area with manmade lakes for fishing and launching sites for remote-control aircrafts.
While we sat in the vehicle off River Road, a truck pulled up and a man got out and knocked on my window. When I rolled down the window, the man asked, “Are you Anne Rolfes?” He was referring to LABB’s founding director and obviously noticed the LABB decals on both sides of my car. When I replied “No” and introduced myself, he asked “Will you be taking any samples today? If so, we need to know about it. I know you are on public lands and everything, but we need to know about it.” I asked him who he was and he gave me his card that read:
Christopher G. Brantley, Ph.D.
Project Manager, Army Corps of Engineers
Bonnet Carre Spillway
After I got over my initial outrage that the federal government was intimidating us for possibly taking samples near the refineries and chemical plants, I told him we were not taking any samples that day. He got back in his truck and left.
My friend and I returned to our conversation on the historic ties between the plantation slave economy and the petrochemical industry that took its place as the main engine of economic development in the state. As we were discussing the historic free community of Sellers that was displaced in order to build Norco (short for New Orleans Refining Corporation), the truck returned.
This time when I rolled down my window, Brantley asked, “If you are doing any sort of tour, we need to know about it. You need to sign in with me. Can I see your driver’s license?” I handed him my driver’s license and my LABB business card explaining that he can find me at the LABB offices if he needs anything. He then asked, “Where are you headed after this? What will you be doing?” I explained we were headed back to New Orleans and we would probably be eating lunch. I almost invited him to join us, but he seemed preoccupied with writing down all the information on our suspected activities that Sunday on the Spillway.
Brantley actually had no business and no right to request my driver’s license or inquire about our activities that day. As he readily admitted – we were on public lands. This is the sort of blatant intimidation that communities next to industry face everyday. However, this intimidator was a not private security person hired by Shell, but a representative of the federal government. This leads me to believe that the feds are more interested in protecting the corporate bottom line than our public health.
An important distinction between this story and the Baton Rouge encounter linked above. The Baton Rouge encounter involved a misunderstanding of private property lines. LABB staffers were questioned because they were on property the refinery had swallowed up, even though one could rightly assume the street signs and stop signs indicated it was a typical neighborhood (albeit devoid of most of its homes).
The Bonnet Carre Spillway, however, is public land and Hrybyk was parked off a public road. The only reason why she was questioned is because Spillway personnel saw the Louisiana Bucket Brigade decals on the side of her car and thought she was about to take an air sample, which is perfectly legal and doesn’t require notification to authorities.
Sadly, this kind of intimidation happens. A lot.