Tax breaks are a subject here as the state loves to give them. So do corporations.
In the latest hurdle for plans to build a grain elevator in St. John the Baptist Parish, activists have sued the Port of South Louisiana, claiming the Port ran afoul of state law when it signed off on a tax break for that project last year. The Descendants Project, a community activist organization that opposes the continuing industrialization of the river parishes, said in a Friday lawsuit that the Port violated the state’s open meetings law by deciding behind closed doors to back the project before a public hearing was ever held. Before their April 2022 approval of a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, for Greenfield Louisiana’s $225 million grain export terminal, Port board members and staff exchanged emails that discussed the project in depth, the lawsuit states. In one email activists touted, Port Vice President D. Paul Robichaux told his colleagues, “I trust you have all matters in order and in place to proceed with successful passage of this PILOT at our April 6 meeting.” The state’s open meetings law mandates that public bodies do business in public. Votes must also be held publicly. “The lengths that the Port will go through to keep their operations off the record and away from public scrutiny is unconstitutional and a threat to public safety,” said Descendants Project cofounder Joy Banner said in a statement.nola.com
The Port, of course who has a record of not being open, objected.
A Port spokesperson said Monday that no violation of state law occurred. “The Port of South Louisiana Board of Commissioners has always strictly adhered to the Open Meetings Law,” said Micah Cormier. “Frankly, the Petition is ludicrous, has no basis in law or fact, and reeks of rank supposition, if not fantasy.” The meeting allowed for public comment, and board members voted on the deal publicly, Cormier pointed out. The only person who spoke during the public comment period was David Rollo, Greenfield’s chief administrative officer. According to the meeting’s minutes, Rollo presented the Port with an agreement that had already been approved by the Parish Sheriff’s office. Port Commissioner Louis Joseph, who represents St. John, said that the Parish’s president, sheriff and assessor thought they could’ve gotten more than the agreed upon price in PILOT payments. Commissioner P. Joey Murray III agreed, saying the agreement should have included input from the school board and parish council before the Port considered it. But Port Chief Executive Officer Paul Matthews called for the board to approve the deal, which passed 8-1, with Murray dissenting. “This obviously is another attempt to baselessly impugn the Greenfield grain elevator project, even though that project, if implemented, would provide hundreds of the best-paying, safe jobs in St. John Parish, and improve its community and schools, especially on the underdeveloped west bank of the river,” Cormier added.
The Descendants Project want the decision voided.
The Descendants Project is asking 40th District Judge Vercell Fiffie to void the PILOT agreement Greenfield received, which lets Greenfield avoid more than $200 million in parish taxes over the next 30 years. “The Port of South Louisiana is a powerful entity that has gone unchecked for too long,” Banner said. “Decisions about our lives, our homes, and our communities are being made for us and about us, so why shouldn’t those decisions include us?” The activist group already has a pending lawsuit against St. John related to the zoning of the grain terminal site.
I support the decision to take them to court. The citizens need a voice. Why is the Port able to grant tax exemption?