Sasol's Voluntary Property Purchase Program begins Monday

By By Frank DiCesare / American Press

It’s been three weeks since Sasol unveiled its Voluntary Property Purchase Program to Mossville and Brentwood residents. Now

the program is set to begin.

Monday morning, Community Interaction Consulting, the Buckhead, Ga.-based firm in charge of managing the program, will begin

community meetings with area residents at the former Mossville Elementary School. CIC representatives will explain Sasol’s

program in depth and schedule individual meetings with residents to see if they qualify for the program.

John C. Mitchell, president of CIC, described Sasol’s proposal as “very generous and comprehensive.” He encouraged residents

to speak with a CIC counselor to learn about the program.

“There are always rumors in any of

these projects that we put together,” Mitchell said. “And they are

rumors that are not

true. Residents’ best source of information is the information

center. We encourage them to call us. If they picked up on

a rumor and they want it verified, we’re the people they should

verify the information through, not their next-door neighbor.”

Under the program, Sasol will buy

properties from owners in Mossville and Brentwood who want to

participate in the program

and have a free and clear title on their homes. Sasol’s purchase

price will include money for relocation and a premium for

travel costs. 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.

He said Sasol wants to help Mossville and Brentwood residents move so that others do not take advantage of them.

“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.”

Mitchell said interested residents must

register with a CIC counselor to confirm their status as a homeowner or

renter. Counselors

will then give residents a book that provides an in-depth look at

Sasol’s program. Residents will also receive a list of nearly

40 home appraisers taken from the Louisiana Real Estate

Commission’s website.

Residents can choose three appraisers from CIC’s list. CIC has verified that each listed appraiser is in practice. If a resident

finds a Louisiana-licensed appraiser that is not on the list, but is local and full time, Mitchell said, CIC will use that

appraiser. He said CIC will pay for all property appraisals.

Sasol’s offer will be based on the average appraised price for each home presented to the company for purchase. The average

appraised price, Mitchell said, will be based on the two highest appraisals residents receive on their property.

CIC officials will get the first two

appraisals from each resident. If the amounts come back within 10

percentage points of

each other, an average of the two will be taken to calculate

Sasol’s property price offer. If the difference in the appraisals

is greater than 10 percentage points, CIC will order a third

appraisal and average the two highest amounts, Mitchell said.

The program has a minimum appraised price, but Mitchell said he would not divulge the amount prior to CIC’s initial meetings

with residents this week.

“If the average appraised price comes in below the minimum, we will start at the minimum and they get a percentage of the

average appraised price,” he said.

Once Sasol’s offer is made, residents

can either accept or reject it. Since all of Sasol’s offers will be made

on a non-negotiable

basis, rejected offers will be considered terminated.

Mitchell said Sasol’s new program is

different from other home purchase programs it has offered in the past.

In previous programs,

he said, Sasol negotiated with homeowners; offers were not based

on an appraised price.

Mitchell said the program will run Aug.

12-Dec. 12. Residents who register for the program within the first two

months will

receive a sign-on bonus, he said. Mitchell, however, would not

divulge amount. He said the program’s website —

— is expected to be online Monday and will provide visitors with a

comprehensive overview of the program.

The program also has a home-finding feature. As soon as Sasol’s offer is made, CIC will ask residents for their permission

to set them up with a local real estate company with brokers who have been trained in the program.

“We will be using local real estate

firms that have indicated to us that they are willing to invest time and

energy in understanding

our program,” Mitchell said. “They will make sure that our program

participants don’t make a commitment on a new house that

they really can’t afford. We are responsible for helping these

people find alternative housing. We take that very seriously.”

Renters are also eligible to receive assistance through the program. Mitchell said renters who sign up for the program will

get help from CIC in their search for a new home.

He said that once residents accept Sasol’s offer they will have “a considerable length of time to close the sale.”

“We want residents to shop the offer,” he said. “After we’ve given them an offer we want them to go to a real estate company

and see what they can find for the amount we give them.”

Registering for the program commits residents to nothing. Rather, Mitchell said, it commits CIC to having the property appraised

and giving residents an offer to purchase.

Residents also have the option to get quotes from outside real estate agents.

Monique Harden, co-director and

attorney for Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, a New

Orleans-based law firm that is

representing Mossville residents, said Sasol’s offer sounded

“promising” to her but that “the devil will be in the details.”

“We need to make sure that it is a plan

that meets residents’ needs and that it is not something that Sasol

dictates,” she

said. “I’m in support of having the residents’ needs met around

relocation. But for those residents who may opt out, who may

not want relocation, I want to know what kinds of things they

would like to see with respect to community improvement.”