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St James Parish will study the economic benefits of solar but will not vote on projects while they consider the values.

A St. James Parish Council majority agreed Wednesday night to study the economic and environmental impacts of new solar farms but narrowly held off on a bid from the parish president and some council members to halt those projects temporarily while that analysis occurs. Parish President Pete Dufresne proposed the moratorium on solar farms after hedge fund D.E. Shaw Renewable Investments had tried unsuccessfully in recent months to have 3,900 acres of solar farms approved in the residential Vacherie area of western St. James. Parish officials had said they wanted time to develop an ordinance regulating commercial solar farms and to understand the long-term impact of replacing valuable agricultural land along the Mississippi River with low-paying jobs producing solar operations. But council members heard from their land use attorney, Victor Franckiewicz Jr., that while the council has the power to adopt a moratorium, it also retains the discretion to approve or reject new solar projects under the existing land use rules without a moratorium.

Would they have done this for a refinery? Do some want to say no?

Franckiewicz said the moratorium would only have served to halt the initial application process from starting. Dufresne said later he wanted the moratorium resolution so potential solar developers would know not to try to start that process while the solar farm analysis is underway. The parish Planning Commission had unanimously rejected D.E. Shaw’s solar farm plans on May 23 amid public opposition. Those plans would have generated six permanent jobs, in addition to some grass cutting and other maintenance workers, after the initial wave of construction, backers said. The farms would also provide some short-term sales tax boosts and longer-term property tax dollars. The proposed farms had been eyed by Entergy Louisiana to meet the utility’s renewable power goals, a company spokesman said, but the projects would have consumed residentially zoned farm land south along the river and also farther inland, west of La. 20 and north and south of La. 3127. The area is still heavy in sugar cane and other farming but is also near a relatively new parish high school that replaced an old west bank school that was moved several years ago to make way for the YCI Methanol One plant in the St. James area.

St James seems to want to be a suburb with housing tracts to grow the numbers in the parish.

Dufresne and other parish officials see the Vacherie area as a major zone for new housing development in the future and note that La. 3127/La. 20 area has new road expansions and a bypass planned that could accelerate housing and commercial development. In rejecting the moratorium, the council also took a pass at a resolution developed by Franckiewicz that would not have barred new solar projects but asked the parish Planning Commission to make a number of considerations as it weighed future solar farms. Those considerations would have included comparing the job impact of new solar farms versus the jobs from existing sugar cane farms, whether solar farms would impair more beneficial land uses in the future, and what the solar farms’ impact on infrastructure would be. The council voted, 3-2, to table the moratorium resolution. Council members Clyde Cooper, Donald Nash and Vondra Etienne-Steib voted for delaying the moratorium, while Councilmen Jason Amato and Ryan Louque voted no. Councilmen Alvin “Shark” St. Pierre and Mason Bland were absent.

There was no consistent reason for opposition and it was not opposition to solar per se but rather what is the best use of the land.

While Cooper said he opposed the measure because the council already retained the discretion to approve or reject solar projects, Etienne-Steib said she was trying to be consistent with past council decisions not to support other proposed moratoria previously. She noted that while the council may forget what it has done in the past, the people do not. After delaying action on a moratorium, the council voted 4-1 to support Dufresne’s speaking with the parish’s third-party planning agency about the solar farm study. Only Nash was opposed. Before the votes, Tripp Roy, director of development for D.E. Shaw, also known as DESRI, had asked the council to hold off on a moratorium and pledged to work with members in developing a reasonable ordinance as his company had in Tangipahoa and Washington parishes. He suggested one solution might be creating wide buffers along La. 3127 for new commercial development.

The growing pains of a parish in transition from farming to something else.

St James defers vote on solar farm
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