$75M Secret: Project to bring 20 jobs to Raceland

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A central Lafourche Parish town devoid of industry for nearly a century could be on the cusp of a renaissance, now that a Houston-based oil company plans construction of a petroleum rail transfer station.

The company, Genesis Energy, has worked quietly for nearly two years preparing its applications for required permits, most of which were filed early last month, kick-starting its plans for the $75 million Raceland rail site.

Neighbors of the project – well removed from sight of an existing rail line key to the project – say they are glad the community was chosen, but they would have preferred more of an opportunity to learn of the plans and to express their views. The project is expected to generate about 20 jobs.

“I hadn’t heard anything about it until now,” said Lexi Griffin, a homemaker who lives near the intersection of La. Highway 308 and La. Highway 182, a short distance from Raceland Raw Sugar, the mill that sold acreage now in cane to Genesis. The rail line runs behind the mill, and will be used to bring crude in to the station. It will then be shipped by pipeline to refineries throughout south Louisiana.

Among the public officials who knew nothing about the project is Lafourche Parish Councilman Joe Fertitta.

“If they have permits and all the approvals you would think somebody would notify the local parish government at least to have an input and see what is going on,” Fertitta said. “You always have concerns about safety and different things like that, though these facilities are regulated a lot more stringently than in the past.”

The official description of the project, contained in papers filed with the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, is “development of a crude oil transload facility, where crude oil will be brought in by rail and transferred to a tank battery and then injected into a pipeline. The crude oil will be transported by pipeline to third-party refineries. The project is needed to ensure adequate and timely delivery of crude oil from existing and new fields to refineries.”

Applications already on file with DN R give some indication of the background work that has been done. They include a cultural resources survey – no known cultural resources such as cemeteries or historic sites are expected to be disturbed – maps, charts and engineering reports.

A Coastal Zone Management application was filed with Lafourche Parish, the only document in the parish government archives that hints at what is to come. The parish filed a notice of no objection, meaning there was no need for a hearing and that further steps could proceed.

Parish Administrator Archie Chaisson III said he and other officials, including Parish President Charlotte Randolph, met with Genesis company officials about two months ago to discuss the rail transfer station.

“They were still in the planning stages and asked us not to say anything until they made a public statement,” Chaisson said. “They didn’t want their investors getting caught off guard. We had asked them how much do you want us to talk about it.”

The lack of public discussion is acceptable from Chaisson’s perspective.

“In certain situations that would come in handy, say if you were building a Walmart in the middle of a residential section. This is in the middle of a barren cane field. It’s not like the railroad track is running behind somebody’s house. It’s the same railroad track that carries the Amtrak from New Orleans to Schriever.”

The papers filed with DNR and the understanding of parish officials indicates that there will not be a lot of construction.

“They will use some existing pipelines,” Chaisson said. “It’s not a lot of new infrastructure.”

Chaisson said all indications he has are that the 20 or so jobs expected to be related to the facility will be local hires, although he expects that initial workers will be from other Genesis sites.

“It might be a little bit of both,” he said. “In the beginning they might bring in some company folks to train. But we are hoping it is going to be new jobs, maybe hires from Nicholls or Fletcher graduates with petroleum services degrees.”

Genesis spokeswoman Jennifer Stewart said Chaisson’s guesstimate is on the beam.

“With our projects we try to hire locally as much as possible and train,” she said.

Chaisson agrees with other government voices that welcome the project and the prosperity they believe it can bring.

“It’s not every day someone drops a $75 million oil facility project in your lap,” he said.

Sugar and other agricultural endeavors have marked Raceland’s development in recent decades. At one time a lumber mill in the nearby town of Bowie – lost since a 1917 fire – processed wood from nearby forests.

A series of pipelines lies beneath Raceland’s streets, some unused for decades. The company may seek to reactivate some of those pipelines to tie the project in to refineries. When that process begins various permit requirements will kick in, officials said.

In the meantime, the company expects to have the rail depot and associated infrastructure complete and operational by mid-2014, according to documents filed with DNR.

Genesis Energy, a Houston-based oil company, plans to construct a petroleum rail transfer station in Lafourche Parish. The $75 million Raceland rail site is expected to generate about 20 jobs locally.