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New Orleans East residents decry utility committee vote

26th February 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Ryan Whirty
Contributing Writer

At the Mary Queen of Vietnam Church last Friday morning, a couple dozen people hustled and hurried across the church parking lot and in and out of the kitchen. With expansive tents ringing the lot and forklift operators scooting to and fro in preparation for Mary Queen of Vietnam’s annual Tet Fest celebrating the Vietnamese New Year, it was generally quiet before the joyous storm of celebration over the weekend.

But another, and some say more ominous, storm has been raging in New Orleans East, one that could completely remake the proud community. After several years of debating – and, at times, protesting – Entergy’s proposal for a gigantic new, $210 million, natural gas-fired energy power plant, many residents of the New Orleans East neighborhoods are at their boiling point.

On Feb. 21, the City Council’s Utility Committee voted 4-1 to approve the corporation’s plans. Next up is a decision by the whole Council that would give one final OK for Entergy to move ahead.

But some New Orleans East activists say such a massive power plant would be detrimental to their community in myriad ways.

“If this plant does get voted in, I think it will play a big role in terms of the future of the people living here,” said Minh Nguyen, head board member of the Vietnamese-American Young Leaders’ Association-New Orleans. “We’re concerned about our health, we’re concerned about our safety. The community needs to come together and figure out what to do.”

Last Wednesday, a busload of New Orleans East residents arrived at the Pan American Center on Poydras – where the City Council is holding its meetings while its regular chambers in City Hall are being renovated – to protest the power plant proposal.

However, most of them were turned away at the door because of the overflow crowd at the Utility Committee meeting, leaving many of those residents’ voices unheard, at least last week. And one of New Orleans East’s biggest voices is the Eastern New Orleans Neighborhood Advisory Commission (ENONAC), which has voted unanimously to recommend the rejection of Entergy’s proposal; the advisory panel issued a comprehensive statement of opposition when they discussed the plant. ENONAC was joined in endorsing the resolution by VAYLA.

“People certainly do live near the plant [site],” said Sylvia Scineaux-Richard, the president of the ENONAC, “and we at least want to have our opinions weighed [by city leaders] when they’re making their decisions. We at least need to make absolutely certain these projects are properly vetted.”

In addition to concerns about the possibility of plummeting property values and increasing safety concerns, Scineaux-Richard said, residents are concerned that the community’s wetlands would be in danger with the construction of the power plant. There’s also the matter of potential drainage problems that could arise with the completion of the project.

All of this has left many New Orleans East residents frustrated and angry. But their ire isn’t just pointed at the City Council – they’re concerned that a massive corporation like Entergy could be steamrolling city leaders.

“It’s very hard to fight City Hall,” Scineaux-Richard said, “especially when the corporations bring their big money.”

Nguyen agreed, expressing worries that city leaders, including the Council, aren’t being given the straight story from Entergy – or, at the very least, the company hasn’t presented all possible options for solving the city’s power problems.

Nguyen said that lack of information has tied the hands of city leaders who are under pressure to address New Orleans’ energy issues.

“I think they do hear us,” he said, “but I also do know they believe they are in a hard spot. Entergy has really played their game and put [the Council] in a hard spot.

“We need to make sure Entergy is held accountable,” he added. “[Council members] aren’t being given the best options, and now they have to make decisions without that information.”

This article originally published in the February 26, 2018 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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