Sparks fly at Sasol public meeting

By By Frank DiCesare / American Press

Sasol officials got an earful from Mossville residents Wednesday night, as a group from the Westlake community voiced their

anger over the company’s proposed multibillion dollar plant expansion.

More than 70 residents from around

Calcasieu Parish turned out at the Lake Charles Civic Center for what

was intended to be

Sasol’s public meeting on its U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

wetlands modification permit. Corps officials asked Sasol to hold

the meeting for the public to ask questions and make comments on

the company’s proposal to replace close to 2,000 acres of

wetlands in the Calcasieu Watershed.

Less than halfway through the meeting, however, a group of residents from Mossville asked Sasol officials if they had any

plans to give them the same considerations they would be giving to the waterfowl and wildlife their plant expansion would

disturb.

“It sounds good that you guys are

committed to improving the amount of wetlands that you’ll impact in a

negative manner in

building your facility,” said Mossville resident Jimmy Catlon.

“Well, you’re having an extremely negative impact on an entire

community that is basically destroyed at this point.”

Delma Bennett, a representative from

Mossville Environmental Action Now, initially wanted to know if Sasol’s

project would

cause any flooding in the Mossville area. Charles Dartez, vice

president and principal scientist of URS Corp., said the water

within the construction site would be collected and released at a

controlled rate to maintain the current flood elevation.

But after several business and political leaders voiced their support for the project, particularly Hal McMillin, the police

juror who represents the Mossville area, Bennett grew angry.

“It’s nice for the big boys to come and

stand here before everybody and talk about how much money that’s going

to be made

in this community because Sasol’s coming in,” he said. “For a

representative from your area to come in and say what he just

said is a sin and a shame!”

Mossville resident Erica Jackson wanted to know what her community was going to get out of Sasol’s expansion.

“We get to hear about the billions of

dollars you’re going to spend on your plant, but you don’t care anything

about me, about

my children, or the things that we go through in our community,”

she said. “You don’t even care about that. And then you won’t

even give us a job. You say you’ve got a million jobs out here.

Who gets them? You’re sure not giving them to the people of

Mossville.”

Sasol’s wetlands mitigation plans will

replace more than 1,900 acres of medium- to high-quality restored

wetlands in the Calcasieu

Watershed. More than 700 acres of those wetlands are on Sasol’s

property, said Michael Thomas, Sasol’s vice president of U.S.

operations.

Daniel Bollich, ecological program director of Delta Land Services, the Port Allen-based firm Sasol has hired to conduct the

wetlands restoration, said the initial construction in the watershed will take up to a year.

“There are areas, though, that will

develop into what they need to be over time,” he added. “For example,

we’re restoring

forest wetlands. But to plant the trees and prepare the site, that

will not take a year. It may take 10 to 15 years for the

forest to grow and develop and survive.”

Thomas said he hopes to get the Corps’ approval by spring 2014.

“At the end of the day, one of the most

difficult things to predict in our line or work is when permits will be

issued,” he

said. “We hope (the Corps) they will issue it soon. We can’t begin

building our projects until we have these permits. I hope

it only takes a month or two, but we’ll see; it could take

longer.”