Last week, local advocates gathered across the street from a petrochemical tank farm in the fifth ward of Louisiana’s St. James Parish to speak out about high rates of cancer and health problems in a neighborhood first settled by free people of color during the days of slavery. For years, St. James residents have battled air pollution from rows of petrochemical facilities dotting the Mississippi River, and they had just learned that state officials lured a $9.4 billion plastics plant to their area with lucrative tax breaks.
While local leaders celebrate the promise of new jobs for the region, fifth ward residents worry about placing yet another industrial facility in an area that suffered 37 chemical accidents over the last year. They also worry about ongoing construction of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, an oil pipeline that would stretch 162 miles across southern Louisiana between Texas and St. James Parish to feed refineries and export terminals.
Like the new plastics plant in St. James, Bayou Bridge has plenty of support from politicians, but a coalition of activists is still trying to stop it. Activists regularly deploy from L’eau Est La Vie (Water is Life), a protest camp about two hours west of St. James Parish, to visit construction sites along the pipeline route. They have found increasingly colorful ways to stop work for a few hours a time, including with a musical shout-out to the crawfishers who say their livelihood is threatened by Bayou Bridge.