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The Calcasieu Parish Police Jury approved Sasol's application to rezone land on which the company's ethane cracker and gas-to-liquids complex will be built.  (Rick Hickman / American Press)<br>

The Calcasieu Parish Police Jury approved Sasol's application to rezone land on which the company's ethane cracker and gas-to-liquids complex will be built.  (Rick Hickman / American Press)

Local environmental group protests Sasol decision

Last Modified: Wednesday, December 05, 2012 10:32 PM

By Eric Cormier / American Press

MOSSVILLE — Decades of environmental advocacy to educate and protect residents from industrial pollution took a major step back this week after Sasol’s announcement to spend billions of dollars to expand its Louisiana footprint, according to the president of Mossville Environmental Action Now.

Dorothy Felix told the American Press on Wednesday that the group is miffed that the company’s management team never met with residents in the hamlet — located on Old Spanish Trail between Sulphur and Westlake — to discuss long-range expansion plans.

“This announcement is a complete shock to us. It is one we are sure they sat on and never once came to the community as a good neighbor to let residents know that this plant would be so close to our homes,” Felix said. “We think this is unfair and unjust.”

On Monday, Sasol announced it would expand operations at its Westlake facility. The company wants to spend $21 billion on a facility that will cover 650 acres near its current site to convert gas into chemicals, diesel and other products, according to published reports.

At least 1,200 permanent jobs are supposed to be created, along with 7,000 construction jobs. The facility would be built in two phases, with the first to begin operations in 2018 and the second in 2019.

During Monday’s announcement about the facility — attended by Gov. Bobby Jindal, state Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret, other political officials and businesspeople — it was said that Sasol would have a $46.2 billion impact on the economy over 20 years.

The Jindal administration has pledged $135 million in state incentives toward the project, which is considered the largest private capital investment in Louisiana history.

“It was amazing to see how local and state officials stepped up to the front of the line so quickly to announce the expansion,” Felix said. “But there was no mention of the residents or community of Mossville and what effect the plant would have on us.”

She said the future of the community, which was settled by freed slaves after the Civil War, is at stake.

Michael Hayes, manager of public affairs at Sasol’s office of new business development, said the company intends to continue being a good neighbor. “A company can’t force a community to disappear,” he said. “The future of the community is in the hands of the community.”

Hayes said some residents in the Mossville area have talked to company officials. In the future, Sasol will talk to the community formally.

“We’ve been in and out of the community but did not have a community meeting. We announced intentions to conduct feasibility studies about expansion over a year ago,” he said. “At that time, people who had questions, we explained things to them. I talked to Ms. Felix a couple of times about property acquisitions.”

According to Felix, MEAN wants relocation of residents who want to move and access to health care for the community.

“What will happen to our community? Our health problems exist. Property will be devalued,” she said. “All the officials talk about is how businesses can benefit from Sasol’s project. What is Mossville going to do? How will we benefit?”

Hayes said the new facility will meet state and federal environmental standards and “will be a fairly clean operation.”

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