State judge rules against coal exporting terminal in Plaquemines; says more research needed

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NEW ORLEANS — A state judge has halted plans to build a coal export terminal in Plaquemines Parish that has drawn opposition from residents and environmentalists concerned about pollution.

State Judge Kevin D. Conner in Belle Chasse ruled that the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources failed to adequately examine whether the coal terminal could be built somewhere else and did not take into enough consideration its potential to harm the coastal environment and communities.

His ruling was dated Dec. 23, but the plaintiffs, who include residents and environmental groups, received notice of the decision on Tuesday.

Conner ordered the state agency to re-evaluate the permit it issued to RAM Terminals LLC in September 2013. The judge wrote that the agency "breached its duty as a public trustee" by not doing more research before issuing the coastal use permit.

The coal terminal has become a point of contention. Some residents and environmentalists oppose it, arguing the terminal will pollute the area and that trains carrying coal pose dangers to neighborhoods. Town councils in Gretna and Westwego oppose allowing the coal trains to run through their communities.

"This is a blow to industry's plan to put another huge coal terminal right in our backyard — and a blessing for the people who live here," said Joyce Cornin, a Plaquemines resident who is part of the lawsuit.

DNR and RAM Terminals officials did not return telephone calls seeking comment. The agency could appeal the ruling.

The proposed terminal would be constructed near Ironton, a historic African-American community, and Myrtle Grove, home to recreational fishermen and a busy marina. Residents in both communities have opposed the terminal.

The terminal also would be built near the site of a proposed project where sediment and water would be diverted from the Mississippi River and flushed into adjacent marshlands. The diversion project is designed to restore a dying marsh.

In his ruling, the judge cited potential harm to the sediment diversion. He also said the DNR should have looked harder at whether the terminal needed access to a rail line. He said the company also should have been required to provide more information about what it planned to transport by train to its terminal besides coal.

Robert Wiygul, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said Conner's ruling was a rare rebuke from a judge, who tend to defer to government agencies when they make executive decisions.

"When you have a judge saying you didn't do your homework," Wiygul said, "that says a lot about the quality of the decision-making process that went into this permit."

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