Greenfield Louisiana, the company seeking to bulild a controversial $400 million grain elevator terminal in St. John the Baptist Parish, has missed its initial $4 million payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) due to the Port of South Louisiana, an unelected body party to the PILOT, according to documents obtained by The Lens. 

The port, in turn, extended the Colorado-based company’s deadline until the end of 2023. 

The project is “significantly” behind schedule due to “environmental opposition,” which has delayed the company’s process of obtaining a dock permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, Paul Mattews, CEO of the Port of South Louisiana wrote in a November email to the port’s commissioners, obtained by The Lens. 

In his email, Matthews advised the port’s commissioners that he would like to discuss the matter with them individually, and that the matter didn’t need to be resolved at the port’s December meeting because Greenfield would not default on the initial PILOT, and an additional $300,000 administrative fee the port was set to receive, until March. The port approved the CEA amendment during its February 8 meeting, although the nature of the amendment was not made clear to the public at the time, according to Jo Banner, who attended the meeting. 

There was “nothing,” Banner told The Lens. “All it was, they went into an executive session to talk about the Greenfield CEA. We had no idea what they were talking about.”

“Four of us went up…. we said we were concerned. We talked about transparency. We said the Army Corps just issued a response about this, about Greenfield, that they should know about,” Banner said. “[There was] nothing: not one question, not a pause, not anything. It was as if we didn’t exist.”

The minutes from the Feb. 8 meeting are not yet available online. 

Banner and her twin sister Joy are suing the port for allegedly violating the state’s open meetings statute. They are also suing St. John the Baptist Parish in a case alleging the underlying zoning ordinance that would allow for construction of the grain elevator in Wallace, La. should be nullified. Additionally, the Banner sisters are engaged in the Army Corps of Engineers’ review of the project, which is taking place under the purview of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. 

Under that review, the Corps sent a letter to Greenfield’s contractor in December, first reported by ProPublica, concluding that the grain elevator project would “cause adverse effects” to historic sites “by diminishing their integrity of setting.”

The Corps has also raised concerns about the project’s potential to add to the area’s aggregate adverse health and environmental conditions. St. John the Baptist Parish, located in a heavily industrialized corridor, is one of several parishes in which community members and environmental groups have expressed concerns regarding the overall health and environmental impacts of industrial activities. 

“The Port again has avoided even a basic level of transparency: our clients had to make a public records request to even figure out what the Port was voting on,” William Most of Most & Associates, who’s helping to represent the Banners in the open meetings petition, told The Lens via email.

Greenfield bought the tract of land at issue, which comprises some 1,100 acres, for $40 million in 2021. The company plans to build a large grain elevator on the property, worth more than $400 million, that would include more than 50 grain silos, a conveyor belt, railroad infrastructure and a dock. A study produced by the economic development agency Greater New Orleans, Inc., found that the grain elevator project would produce, among other things, 100 direct jobs.

“The initial timeline for the PILOT agreed to by Greenfield Louisiana and the Port of South Louisiana was based on an assumption that the project permits would have been issued and construction started by the time of the first payment,” Cal Williams, Greenfield’s chief operating officer, said in a statement provided to The Lens. “Given that construction has not yet commenced while permitting continues, the Port determined that modifying the schedule to reflect an amended timeline was the appropriate course of action.

“Greenfield has continued to pay taxes on the assessed value of the land while the PILOT agreement was pending,” he said. 

The CEA, which the port approved in April 2022,  would save Greenfield more than $200 million in ad valorem taxes, or property taxes, over its 30-year lifespan, according to an analysis conducted by the group Together Louisiana — during which time the port would collect nearly $7 million in administrative fees. 

Under the deal, Greenfield agreed to a one-time $4 million payment by the end of 2022, followed by $2 million annual payments beginning in 2025 or when the grain elevator begins operating, whichever comes first. Greenfield also agreed to pay the port $300,000 in administrative fees for each of the first five years of the agreement, and $200,000 for each subsequent year. Greenfield did not submit the payments by the original deadline. 

“With Greenfield Louisiana continuing its due diligence in seeking federal permits, Port of South Louisiana Commission recognized that this amendment would simply allow for more time for Greenfield to remit owed payments due to unforeseen changes in the permitting process,” Micah Cormier, spokesman for the port, told The Lens via email. “The taxing bodies and Port will continue to receive payments spelled out in the PILOT with this amendment. We look forward to the Greenfield Grain Elevator project becoming a reality which will 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.”

In his email to the commissioners, Matthews, with the port, suggested that if the port were to defer the agreement’s start date, then it would capitalize on its leverage to negotiate significantly higher PILOT dues and administrative fees. Under that framework, Greenfield would pay $4 million annually in PILOT dues and $1.7 million annually in administrative fees to the port. 

Under those terms, instead of collecting nearly $7 million in administrative fees, the port would have been set to collect $51 million. And instead of collecting $64 million under the PILOT (as outlined in the analysis), local taxing bodies, like the parish’s city council and school board, would have been due more than $120 million. 

The port, though, ultimately kept the terms of the PILOT the same, save for the delay in implementing them. 

The St. John Parish Council and the St. John The Baptist Parish Public Schools did not respond to requests for comment in which The Lens asked whether they had been consulted before the port voted to amend its CEA with Greenfield. The port and Greenfield, likewise, did not answer that question.

“Again, it’s really easy to give away somebody else’s money,” Erin Hansen, an analyst at Together Louisiana, told The Lens. Hansen drafted Together Louisiana’s analysis, referenced earlier, regarding the amount of revenue local taxing bodies would miss out as a result of the CEA.  

Potential options

In his Nov. 23 email, Matthews told the commissioners that Greenfield was “in discussion” with a company as part of an attempt to sublease land to a clay contractor. 

“We have not received official notice of a sublease agreement signed by both parties. Nor have we seen the terms of the agreement,” Matthews said. 

But documents previously obtained by The Lens demonstrate that on Oct. 3, 2022, Greenfield and the company D Hayes Enterprise entered into a contract, in which D Hayes would excavate and remove over 8.6 million cubic yards of clay from the tract of land on which Greenfield plans to construct its grain elevator. D Hayes would pay Greenfield $2 for each ton excavated and removed, which would amount to approximately $24 million. If executed, the contract would supply material to the Corps’ West Shore Lake Pontchartrain levee project. 

The Corps received a permit application from Greenfield in October for the clay excavation project. It would provide clay for the Corps’ $1.2 billion levee project — which is meant to protect the river’s east bank communities from flooding — Ricky Boyett, spokesman for the Corps previously told The Lens. But the Corps was not in a position to evaluate the borrow pit project, Boyett said at the time, because of the potential “overlap” between the grain elevator project and the proposed clay pit project.

Greenfield withdrew its application, Boyett told The Lens on Monday. In its place, D Hayes filed an application on Jan. 9 to excavate at the Greenfield site, Boyett said, but the new application is currently incomplete.   

The St. John Parish Council was planning to vote to permit the 214-acre clay pit during its Nov. 22 meeting, but the council removed the item from its agenda. The council, however, added the item to its Feb. 28 agenda. 

The port has the authority, to some extent, to weigh in on the sublease agreement Greenfield pursued with D Hayes, Matthews said in his email to the commissioners. 

“It is important to note that our agreement with Greenfield allows us to agree to [a] sublease agreement or we can pull the PILOT as recourse for not agreeing to the sublease,” he wrote. “As we get more information, we will provide to the board for guidance.”

Editorial note: David Lanser, an attorney at Most & Associates, is the partner of Marta Jewson, The Lens’ interim editor.

Joshua Rosenberg

Joshua Rosenberg covers the environmental beat for The Lens. Joshua is a Report for America corps member, and is working in collaboration with the Mississippi River Basin Ag and Water Desk. Prior to joining...