By Andy Zellinger, Research Analyst
The same day many in Louisiana are celebrating the potential economic impact of a proposed ammonia plant in Waggaman, La there was a deadly explosion at a similar facility in West, Texas. The new 850 million dollar Dyno Nobel International ammonia plant is planned to be built approximately a half a mile from the Mississippi River levees that protect the residents of Jefferson Parish. The company’s motto is “groundbreaking performance” which leads me to hope there is no ground broken on either side of the levee – including the nearby levee on the East bank – where Louis Armstrong International Airport is only a couple of miles away.
There have been a series of media appearances in favor of the facility, and concerns from others. The announcement by Governor Bobby Jindal was followed by a news report on WWL radio which featured both Louisiana Bucket Brigade Founding Director Anne Rolfes and Jefferson Parish President John Young. Echoing Governor Jindal and others in the state focused solely on creating jobs, John Young highlights the 65 permanent jobs the facility will bring, and the potential use of land that was already spoiled by years of ammonia production at a previous facility. Similarly reassuring information was also found in an article on nola.com that cites Dyno Nobel’s 30 million dollar feasibility study, “The proposed site was used to manufacture ammonia until about a decade ago, and it’s now considered a brownfield site. The feasibility study called for building a plant that would produce 800,000 metric tons of anhydrous ammonia per year. The material would be used to make explosives at Dyno Nobel plants elsewhere.” Anne Rolfes juxtaposed the praise for this proposal with her hope that there is a way for us to make economic news that doesn’t put our state in danger. Even the moderator of the discussion found it peculiar; while Louisiana chose Waggaman which is not “out in the boonies” rather it’s near somewhere where a lot of people live.
While some state officials praise this dangerous new plan as an obvious and savvy addition to our state’s economic development plan, others call for a closer look at the proposal. I agree that we should rethink our approach and remain hopeful that there may be a public hearing on the topic if enough Jefferson Parish residents contact their local representatives or write letters to LDEQ and local media outlets. Jefferson Parish Councilman Mark Spears would want the Govornor and Jefferson Parish President at this hypothetical meeting. Spears was quoted in an article on nola.com, “Economic development is key to the growth of any community,” Spears wrote in an email. “Nonetheless, it must be done so keeping the interest and concerns of existing residents in mind…As elected leaders we must ensure that the safety of our residents is the primary focus before this plant is allowed to proceed to construction.” In a letter to the editor following the story featuring Jefferson Parish President, one New Orleans, Louisiana resident Teresa MacMurray thinks “Additional research involving the Army Corps of Engineers, as well as discussion with the communities involved may be needed before this project moves forward. I agree with Anne, Mr. Spears, and Ms. MacMurray that we need to rethink our economic development plan starting with this proposal.