Slave burial grounds found on Formosa Plastics proposed site

Sharon Lavigne, Founder and Director of RISE St. James / Guest Contributor

Rise St. James has recently learned that property bought by Formosa Plastics houses the remains of enslaved people.

Despite RISE St. James' consistent public engagement on this issue, at no time did Formosa or State authorities inform us, or anyone else in our community, that Formosa intends to build its plastics facility where there are burial grounds of enslaved people. This is not because Formosa and State authorities were not aware of the situation. Recently revealed documents show that Formosa and the State held detailed discussions about these burial grounds for more than a year.

RISE St. James discovered the presence of the burial grounds after reviewing Formosa's communications with and submissions to State authorities, which we obtained from a public records request submitted to the Louisiana Division of Archeology during the past few weeks.

Among these documents were emails between representatives of Formosa Plastics and the Louisiana Division of Archeology. These emails show that Division of Archeology officials directed Formosa Plastics to investigate the site twice after Formosa Plastics' original survey, and each time more graves were found. The emails also revealed that Formosa representatives have considered the possibility of removing remains if they are found on certain portions of the property because preserving them would be what the company called a "difficult option" for them.

Despite Formosa Plastics engaging in public hearings, appearing repeatedly before the parish council, and undertaking an aggressive community outreach program that included participation at a Black History Month observance this year, the company did not tell RISE St. James or the local community about the graves despite discovering them 17 months ago. 

We are calling on the St. James Parish Council and Governor Edwards to halt this project. Just weeks ago, Edwards was in St. James seeking African-American votes in support of his reelection campaign. He should respond to our calls now for the Louisiana Government to protect us, our environment, and respect the remains of our local ancestors, which are an integral part of our cultural and spiritual heritage.

All of the information mentioned here is contained in a submission that RISE St James submitted to the Department of Environmental Quality on December 18, 2019. The submission is RISE St James' public comment to DEQ as it evaluates whether or not to grant air permits for Formosa's project. Approving this project would violate our rights to preserve our cultural origins, which are guaranteed by the Louisiana Constitution.

We call on DEQ not to issue these permits. We urge the Governor once more to halt this project for the wellbeing of the people of St James. We ask the St. James Parish Council to reconsider Formosa's approved land use permit, seeing that Formosa never mentioned the burial grounds when applying for their permit.

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