Tangipahoa commission rejects graphite battery plant

PONCHATOULA, LA (WVUE) - A big vote today on a controversial graphite plant south of Ponchatoula.

An Australian company proposed building a plant that would make graphite components for an ever-growing battery industry. The company, Syrah  Resources, wants to build the plant at Port Manchac. It would process graphite from Africa, and residents have concerns.

"We don't water pollute our lake or our marshlands. W we would like to see it recreational," said Alton Farbe of Ponchatoula.

"The process will emit a lot  of air particles. All of that would go in the air and settle on the grounds, which could be washed into the river and estuaries," said Kim Coates with the Save our Manchac coalition.

With easy access to water, rail and highways for movement of goods, Syrah believed it was the right place for its plant.

"This is a good project for Louisiana, to bring a number of quality jobs, and establish the state in a leadership position in an emerging industry supporting electric vehicle production worldwide," said company spokesman Paul Jahn.

But almost as soon as the meeting began, there was a motion to kill the graphite plant and the 100 jobs it promised to bring in.

"I don't think this is a good project for the Port Manchac community," announced board member Patrick Dufresne, sparking applause.

The motion passed unanimously.

While many welcomed  the proposed jobs and the potential for more, there were concerns, about thousands of  pounds of air- and water-borne chemicals being dumped in the Manchac swamp, which connects the massive Lake Pontchartrain and  Maurepas estuaries.

"We have to protect that for our next generation," said Coates.

"The EPA does not have any effluent guidelines for this type of operation," warned Brady Skaggs with the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.

Residents were relieved.

"I'm  proud of the people of this parish standing up for righteousness and keeping our sacred waters," said Farbe.

But the company says it's looking at other Louisiana sites.

"Other sites have reached out, and we're confident we will find a home for the project here in Louisiana," said Jahn

Tangipahoa residents say they'll be watching.

"We have the documents and we will become the guardians of Manchac," said Coates.

Opponents of the project formed the 'Save our Manchac' coalition when this project was first proposed last year. Plant opponents say social media was key to today's vote.

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