In order to ease the concerns of residents who live near Bunge North America in Destrehan, the grain elevator promised $500 gift cards to 100 residents if the St. Charles Parish Council approved a zoning change that would pave the way for a $50 million construction project. The council gave Bunge the OK in October, but the gift cards have yet to materialize.
Matt Kerrigan, facility manager at Bunge, said the Home Depot gift cards will not be given to residents until the company has a start date for the construction project.
“While Bunge has received approval from the Parish Council for rezoning that allows us to move ahead with construction of the new dock and office building, we still have other steps to take, including the bidding process, before we are ready to break ground,” he said. “Once we have a start date, we will coordinate with local officials to determine the best way to distribute gift cards to homeowners in Destrehan Park and Gabriel Heights subdivisions.”
The $50 million project includes the construction of a new conveyor belt to transfer seed, the addition of a grain sprout aimed at controlling dust escaping from the facility and a new dock. The current dock and conveyor belt have been in place since the 1960s.
Kerrigan said that the new conveyor system and dock cannot be built in place of the current one because that would mean an entire plant shutdown for around two and a half years.
Instead, construction will begin just to the west of the current system so that Bunge can continue to use the old dock and conveyor belt until the new project is complete.Kerrigan said Bunge currently employees 150 workers and 50 contractors who would have lost their jobs if a shutdown took place.
Destrehan resident Caecilie Schwarz said that while no timeline was ever mentioned for the gift cards, she and other residents thought they would be distributed after the zoning change was approved.
“They do owe us more but something is better than nothing, especially with the bad economy and Christmas on the way,” she said.
Schwarz was concerned that since several residents thought Bunge should pay them much more than $500, the company would say the residents refused the cards.
Kerrigan said that’s not the case, but Bunge is still unsure when the cards will be delivered because it’s too early to tell when construction will start.
“Still several steps in the process to go, but possibly a mid-2014 start to construction is the best I can give right now,” he said.