Bhopal In The Making: Port of New Orleans Sets Itself (and New Orleans) Up for Disaster

BHOPAL IN THE MAKING:
Port of New Orleans sets itself (and New Orleans) up for disaster

It’s Monday morning, and the sun is shining, and the temperature is just right, and Spring is definitely in the air, so I hate to be that guy, but I really have to point out that New Orleans is about to get screwed. Again.

The backstory:

  • The Port of New Orleans is one of the largest ports in the country, and New Orleans Cold Storage (NOCS) is one of its biggest clients.

  • NOCS processes poultry for shipping. Recently deceased chickens are trucked to NOCS, where they’re frozen solid, loaded onto ships, and sent around the world.

  • NOCS used to have a facility on the Mississippi River, but that plant was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina. For the past three and a half years, the company has been operating from temporary digs on the Industrial Canal.

  • NOCS needs a new home on the Mississippi River so that big ships can have easier, faster access to the plant than they currently do. The company’s former location is unusable, so the Port wants to custom-build a new facility for NOCS on a wharf adjacent to the French Quarter in downtown New Orleans.

PETA may take issue with the whole livestock thing, but for me and for most of my neighbors, that’s not the real concern. We understand the need for commerce and industry, so chicken processing is fine by us. Our problem is with the facility’s location. Here’s why:

  • NOCS uses large volumes of anhydrous ammonia to do its work–a dangerous, highly flammable chemical compound.

  • Housing such a dangerous, highly flammable chemical just steps from the historic French Quarter and Faubourg Marigny neighborhoods is reckless and shortsighted and shows complete disregard for the residents and businesses of the area–not to mention the millions of tourists who visit each year.

  • At the very least, the planned NOCS facility will generate loads of traffic (approximately 100 big-rigs per day) and interrupt important city- and state-sponsored urban renewal plans that focus on the riverfront.

  • At the very worst, the facility could present a massive safety hazard, complete with explosions, evacuations of homes and businesses within a three-mile radius, and untold damage to one of Louisiana’s most historically (and fiscally) significant sites.

Let me reiterate: it’s not the project that most of us find offensive, it’s the location. Is it in anyone’s best interests to put such a high-risk facility next to the state’s most notable tourist attraction? Right next to two of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the state? Jindal and others–particularly legislators and lobbyists from north Louisiana–keep pushing for the project, apparently having forgotten what happens when the goose that lays the golden egg (for Louisiana’s budget, anyway) gets dealt a nasty blow.

You wanna see something funny? Check the video that accompanies this story, wherein the Port’s CEO, Gary Lagrange, calls complaints like mine “hogwash”. Which makes me wonder, (a) don’t you have to be wearing a Colonel Sanders bowtie to use that kind of language, and (b) who’s put the gun in Gary’s back and said, “Get this done, or you’re toast!”?

You wanna see something not so funny? Check the following video about a similar processing plant in Arkansas that experienced an explosion and ammonia leak exactly one year ago today. Not only were the government and the factory owner, Cargill, forced to evacuate local residents, but the company chose not to rebuild and forfeited its multi-million dollar investment. (There are follow-up stories here and here; free registration required.) Or you could read all about a similar accident that hospitalized a dozen people just last week in Connecticut.

THE MOST IMPORTANT PART: This is not a done deal. The Port still needs massive allocations from the state if it’s to proceed with construction. However, it’s making headway, and chances are good that Lagrange & Co. will find the requisite cash unless pressure from the general public forces the state to reconsider.

If you live in New Orleans, please visit the Faubourg Marigny’s Stop Cold Storage website. The site’s still in development, but you can definitely sign a petition opposing the NOCS’s planned location. If you’re on Facebook, you can also join the “Stop Cold Storage Group“. And for free spirits who’d rather do things on their own, below you’ll find the email addys of city and state representatives; drop them a note and ask them to oppose funding for the project at the Governor Nicholls location–while there’s still time:

James Carter: jcarter@cityofno.com
Cynthia Hedge-Morrell: chmorrell@cityofno.com
Arnie Fielkow: afielkow@cityofno.com
Stacy Head: shead@cityofno.com
Jackie Clarkson: jbclarkson@cityofno.com
Mary Cunningham: mbcunningham@cityofno.com
Shelly Midura: smidura@@cityofno.com
Cynthia Willard-Lewis: cwlewis@cityofno.com
Rep. Juan Lafonta: larep096@legis.state.la.us
Rep. Charmaine Marchand: larep099@legis.state.la.us
Mike Moffitt, VCPORA: VCPORA@wildapricot.org
Meg Lousteau, VCPORA: meglousteau@gmail.com
Chris Bonura, Port of New Orleans: BONURA@portno.com
Chris Costello, FMIA: president@faubourgmarigny.org

Thanks for bearing with me. I haven’t had an Erin Brockovich/Karen Silkwood moment in a long time.

7 Comments so far

  1. Cap'n Ken (capnken) on March 23rd, 2009 @ 8:41 am

    Though I think invoking Bhopal is pretty far out of bounds (and diminishes your otherwise effective argument), it seems like a ridiculously stupid idea to build any new hazard-containing industrial facilities adjacent to the most important "people place" in New Orleans. How many ammonia-leak evacuations of the French Quarter would it take to kill tourism?

    Dealing with existing facilities of this type that have to exist in population centers is one thing; to build a new one is ridiculous.


  2. richard (rico) on March 23rd, 2009 @ 9:25 am

    I totally agree about the Bhopal part. Unfortunately, when I hammered this out, I wasn’t caffeinated enough to think of another example of a chemically dangerous facility. In fact, I still can’t. Oh well: I suppose there’s no point in trying to hide my drama queen tendencies…


  3. INDIA Priest accused of molesting woman arrested, then released… and other news « Bhopal Daily News (pingback) on March 25th, 2009 @ 3:10 am

    […] Bhopal In The Making: Port of New Orleans Sets Itself and New …By richard It’s Monday morning, and the sun is shining, and the temperature is just right, and Spring is definitely in the air, so I hate to be that guy, … Read at Metroblogging.com […]


  4. danfraz on March 25th, 2009 @ 10:28 am

    Total disaster if this happens. I live a stone’s throw from that spot, look at my window at the wharf everyday. Too close to the Quarter for this to ever work.


  5. Rayna (rayna) on March 29th, 2009 @ 7:26 pm

    Thanks for this info. I have been wondering what all the signs I have seen in people’s yards lately have been about and now you have answered that question. I live close enough to this spot to have possibly have my lungs frozen if there were an accident. I don’t have to tell you that would suck, so I am definitely on board against this thing.


  6. laurie2 on March 31st, 2009 @ 11:06 pm

    They say in the story that they are being courted and seriously considering moving o/o Louisiana.

    Tell them goodbye.

    Laurie


  7. Laureen Lentz (no_laureen) on April 6th, 2009 @ 5:42 pm

    My sister contacted me regarding the exceptional work you did on this post. I agree, Nice job! There is a clause in the access for the funding for this project which states that in order for the Cold Storage folks to get money from the gov’t for this project, they must have a statement from the NOPD stating that they have a policy of ‘non-violence’ against protesters of such a project. In other words, it seems that if someone protesting the efforts of Cold Storage took some tear-gas or something from a protest, the project would risk losing the government funding. I’m not suggesting it as a strategy but one could construe that compliance clause as such… I have to argue that there are thousands of pounds of much more dangerous chemicals going through that area on the train every single day, so the risk is not really in the warf plan at all, it exists already and is much worse than this cold storage plan. I think I’d have to support the cold storage plan at the end of the day, since we’re pretty desperate for commerce of any kind, particularly to keep us relevant on a global level. Great job though on your post! Wish we had more profitable options for the warf.



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