$9.4 billion plastics facility to be built on slave burial grounds, report says

(ST. JAMES PARISH, La.) — Community activists in St. James Parish, Louisiana, are demanding land permits for a $9.4 billion plastics facility be revoked after archaeologists may have discovered the project is scheduled to be built atop several slave burial grounds, a report shows.

Organizers with RISE St. James provided a “comprehensive and detailed report” by Coastal Environments Inc. to the St. James Parish Council that shows FG LA LLC, better known as Formosa Plastics, has been aware since 2018 that the land set aside for the project is above as many as seven cemeteries that could contain hundreds of slaves.

Formosa Plastics didn’t immediately respond to repeated requests for comment from ABC News.

“The enslaved people in these gravesites had no choice in where they lived, where they worked, where they died and where they were buried,” said Sharon Lavigne of RISE St. James. “Our ancestors are crying out to us from their graves — they are telling us to not let industry disturb their burial sites. Formosa Plastics did not inform the citizens of St. James or the parish council of the existence of the graves when they knew — they don’t care, they just want to profit from St. James Parish.”

Ethylene oxide is used to produce other ingredients that are used in other chemicals like antifreeze.

Coastal Environments, aka CEI, a firm that specializes in environmental and archeological services, alerted to the Louisiana Division of Archaeology in 2018 that based on maps from 1877 and 1978 the existence of two cemeteries on the former Acadia and Buena Vista plantations.

“The significance of this discovery for descendants, and for history, cannot be overstated,” said Pam Spees, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights who’s representing RISE. “This land has a value and meaning that should be honored and protected against this kind of harmful development that will only serve to destroy, rather than help, build the community of descendants of those from whom so much was taken.”

Members of RISE St. James have long known there are burial sites of enslaved people along the Mississippi River.

“Formosa’s consultants were sent back out to survey the site again, having not found any cemeteries the first time,” according to a letter sent to the parish on Wednesday from Spees and other representatives for RISE. “They marked out a cemetery on the former Buena Vista plantation but believed the cemetery on the Acadia plantation had been destroyed under previous ownership.”

The letter also said that the plastics company didn’t mention the findings by Coastal Environments, and that the company’s consultants “chose to investigate an area where the cemetery was not located.”

Formosa Plastics’ spokeswoman Janile Parks told The Associated Press via email on Wednesday that the company is following the law and has fenced off the burial ground they found.

“FG will continue to be respectful of historical burial grounds and will continue to follow all applicable local, state and federal laws and regulations related to land use and cultural resources,” Parks wrote.

“Historically, it has been a challenge to locate the burial grounds of enslaved people before harm was done to such graves upon inadvertent discovery,” Spees wrote. “Had it not been for the archaeologist at CEI working independently and going out of his way to alert the Division of Archaeology to the likely existence of these graves, more graves may have been destroyed and lost forever to history and to descendants.”

The aerial views of the possible graveyards within CEI’s 146-page report shows the land with “difficult to see” images of crosses, according to the report that makes recommends to prove their hypothesis including excavating the land.

The Taiwan-based company went forward with submitting land approval applications to build the ethylene complex on St. James Parish’s West Bank on the approximately 2,500-acre plot that is also in the middle of a historic African American community, according to RISE.

Formosa Plastics said working with the District No. 5 community has “enabled us to partner with local schools, churches, senior centers, businesses and others to implement much-needed programs.”

The St. James Parish Council did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

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