The St. John the Baptist Parish Council on Tuesday approved a permit for a 214-acre dirt pit located on the property of Greenfield Louisiana, the Colorado-based company seeking to build a large grain elevator, but did so in a way that might have violated the council’s own parliamentary procedures.

“I can’t make decisions when I have no information,” Councilmember Tonia Schnyder said before the council first voted on the measure. 

“I have an email from our engineer… but that email says it’s a 14-acre pit in Edgard — that’s what the email says, if anybody read it,” she said. The measure before the council, however, involves “a 214-acre [pit] in Wallace. I’m not saying I’m against this, I’m saying I don’t have the proper information to make an educated decision.”

But when the 4-2 vote that followed, with two councilmembers abstaining, appeared to fail —Schnyder, who abstained from the vote — said she wanted to vote again despite her apparent earlier hesitation.

Without first entertaining a motion to reconsider, the council did, in fact, vote again — this time, approving the measure. One councilmember was absent during the meeting. 

“Excuse me, you misvoted?” Councilmember Thomas Malik said after the first vote, addressing Schnyder. “We have a misvote. Let’s go ahead and vote on this one more time,” he said. 

Robert’s Rules of Order, the parliamentary procedures the council purportedly follows, stipulates that, before taking up a new vote, a legislative body would first need to entertain a motion to reconsider offered by someone on the “prevailing side” of the original vote. That did not happen in this case. 

The council’s action “does appear to be a violation of Robert’s Rules of Order,” Lori Mince, a partner at Fishman Haygood, told The Lens, though she added that she is not an expert on the subject. 

The council and Schnyder did not respond to requests for comment in time for this article’s publication. 

Projects, artifacts

Greenfield bought an 1,100-acres tract of land in St. John Parish 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.

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 Greenfield’s property. 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. 

The Army Corps of Engineers’ is currently reviewing the proposed grain elevator project under the purview of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. 

“The whole reason why there is a Section 106 process going that involves this property is because there’s the strong potential for archaeological and historical and cultural artifacts in the ground in this area,” Kimberly Terrell, research scientist and director of community engagement at the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic (TELC), said at the meeting on Tuesday. 

TELC has helped represent twin sisters Jo and Joy Banner, co-founders of the nonprofit organization the Descendants Project, in litigation involving the project and is included in the Section 106 review process as a consulting party. 

The Banners are also suing the parish in a case alleging the underlying zoning ordinance that would allow for construction of the grain elevator should be nullified.

Greenfield withdrew its application for the borrow pit, 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.   

During the most recent Section 106 review meeting in January, a representative from Greenfield said “there is no current plan for the borrow pit,” according to the meeting’s minutes, which The Lens obtained. Greenfield did not respond to a request for comment before this article’s publication.

Map of the Greenfield site, courtesy of Justin Kray, cartographer with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade

According to a map that Ramboll Group, a contractor for Greenfield, produced, the dirt pit would overlap with a railroad spur that Greenfield plans to build as part of its grain elevator infrastructure, Justin Kray, a cartographer with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, said during Tuesday’s meeting. 

The dirt pit “is involved in the property under litigation,” Kray said, adding that he located a “major gas line” within the perimeter of the dirt pit. 

During the meeting, Jo Banner displayed what appeared to be shackles that she said were found close to where the dirt pit would be. 

“This is the type of artifact that we have,” she said.  “And you know our history, you know what happened on that land. And to find this right here — to have someone come and try to dig it out without considering what’s  there — this is real, this is what we find. So I want all of you to see this. And that’s what the [Section] 106 process is about.”

“There are artifacts of that piece of our history that need to be preserved.”

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...