Opponents of a long-range plan to build a major logistics and manufacturing hub along Interstate 12 through St. Tammany Parish may get a chance to plead their case to the St. Tammany Parish Council after all.
The opponents asked for a shot to appeal the creation of the plan to the council but had been turned down. But a ruling last week by a state appeals court puts that option back on the table.
The ruling by the state’s First Circuit Court of Appeal doesn’t kill the development plan, opponents’ ultimate goal, but they consider it a win nonetheless.
The lawsuit filed by opponents is a continuation of numerous recent land-use battles in St. Tammany, as developers and some residents clash over the direction the parish should take in regards to adding new homes and businesses.
The St. Tammany Parish Planning Commission adopted the long-range plan, called “New Directions 2040,” in May 2022. It broadly outlines future development, including designating 17,000 acres, mostly along the north side of I-12 through the parish, for advanced logistics and manufacturing businesses. The goal is to attract big companies — like Amazon, UPS, or FedEx — and create local jobs.
But the project has garnered opposition from some residents, who are concerned about the number of 18-wheelers that would be added to the parish’s highways, the pollution from truck exhaust, and the paving over of wetlands, which would affect local wildlife and could increase flood risk.
Opponents wanted to appeal the adoption of the plan to the Parish Council, but were not allowed to, so they filed suit in 22nd Judicial District Court in Covington.
“It would dramatically change the face and feel of St. Tammany forever,” said Jennifer Coulson, the president of the Orleans Audubon Society, which was the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. “As a biologist, I can say that a lot of these streams have sensitive species — amphibians and fish and plants, things that are unique to the northshore.”
The parish government argued that the opponents couldn’t appeal the master plan because it’s a non-binding blueprint that lays out, in broad strokes, what kinds of development the parish government would pursue. State District Court Judge John Keller agreed.
But last week, the appeals court overturned Keller’s ruling, potentially giving the plan’s opponents a chance to try to convince the Parish Council to kill it.
“We have information related to all the studies that they didn’t do,” said Andrew Wilson, the attorney representing the plaintiffs and a plaintiff himself. “That’s what we plan to present to the council.”
Several of the 14-member Parish Council have been supportive of the master plan. But that support could change: After this fall’s elections, the council will have at least five new members, and possibly seven new members after the smoke clears from the Nov. 18 runoff elections.
The opponents of the development hope that the new council will be more receptive to their concerns.
“I certainly did hear candidates talking about this development during their campaigns,” Coulson said.
The parish government of course can appeal last week’s ruling, and Parish President Mike Cooper, who was reelected Oct. 14, indicated that he might request a rehearing on the case. Cooper “respectfully disagrees with the First Circuit,” said his spokesperson, Michael Vinsanau.
For the parish’s business community, having a master plan that lays out how the parish will continue to grow is a must-have.
“The reality is that the northshore is going to continue to grow and we need to do it in a smart way,” said Chris Masingill, the CEO of St. Tammany Corporation, an economic development organization. The 2040 plan “gives us a roadmap, a real clear, intentional direction for certain types of development,” he added.