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Editorial: Sasol’s Property Purchase Program fair option for residents

Last Modified: Wednesday, August 21, 2013 5:32 PM

Economic growth isn’t always antiseptic. It comes, at times, with inconvenience, turmoil and pain.

Such is the case with Sasol’s coming mega-investment in its unique gas-to-liquid and ethane cracker units in Westlake. The South African company plans to spend between $16 billion and $21 billion ­— the largest capital investment in the history of Louisiana — for the new facilities. With it comes the promise of 7,000 construction jobs at peak period, 1,200 permanent jobs at the facility and thousands of in-direct jobs.

But that expansion also means encroachment on the historical areas of Mossville and Brentwood and the displacement of residents whose families have lived there for generations.

If Sasol was a public entity, it could declare eminent domain to acquire the property needed for the expansion.

As a private company, though, it must barter with individual property owners.

That process got under way recently with Sasol’s Voluntary Property Purchase Program. Sasol has wisely hired a third party, Georgia-based Community Interaction Consulting, to handle the property acquisitions.

Residents have been encouraged to register with a CIC counselor to note their status as a homeowner or renter. Residents can choose three appraisers from a list of 40 taken from the Louisiana Real Estate Commission’s website, or select a local, full-time appraiser that is not on the list.

All property appraisals will be paid by CIC. Sasol’s property purchase offer will be based on the average appraised price on the two highest appraisals residents receive on their property. If the appraisals vary by more than 10 percent, a third appraisal will be ordered and Sasol will pay the average of the two highest amounts.

Renters are also eligible for moving compensation.

The purchase program will also match residents agreeing to sell with local real estate companies that will help them relocate.

Michael Hayes, Sasol’s public affairs manager for U.S. megaprojects, said the final price offered to residents will amount to more than fair market value.

“Many of these people have never moved before,” he said. “We want them living in a place where they are happy and have a soft landing. We’re about to intrude on their existence. Helping them move is just the right thing to do.”

Deadline to register for the program is Wednesday, Dec. 4. Registering for the program, according to CIC officials, is not a commitment to sell.

While unsettling for residents, the property purchase is nothing new for our area as residents who have lived near Fort Polk can attest.

It is a necessary, albeit worrisome, aspect of progress. It also represents a fair option for Mossville and Brentwood residents who have bitterly complained for decades about industry’s encroachment on their neighborhoods.

• • •

This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

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