Scott Eustis did not stop smiling for hours. The coastal wetland specialist with the Gulf Restoration Network was attending a public hearing in Baton Rouge. Its subject was a pipeline extension that would run directly through the Atchafalaya Basin, the world’s largest natural swamp. Eustis was surprised to be joined by more than 400 others.
“This is like 50 times the amount of people we have at most of these meetings,” said Eustis, adding that the proposed pipeline was “the biggest and baddest I’ve seen in my career”.
The company behind the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), had seemed to turn its attention to Louisiana just one day after Native American protesters thwarted the company’s Dakota Access project last month.
A spokeswoman for ETP, Vicki Granado, said the Bayou Bridge pipeline extension was announced in June 2015. If approved, the project will run though 11 parishes and cross around 600 acres of wetlands and 700 bodies of water, including wells that reportedly provide drinking water for some 300,000 families.
At the public hearing in Baton Rouge on Thursday, the first speaker, Cory Farber, project manager of the Bayou Bridge pipeline, said it was expected to create 2,500 temporary jobs. When Farber then said the project would produce 12 permanent jobs, the crowd laughed heartily.
“Those who have airboat companies and equipment companies that specialize in putting in equipment, they’re not opposed to pipelines because of the short-term jobs,” said Jody Meche, president of the state Crawfish Producers’ Association, one of dozens who spoke at the hearing.
wq“But once that pipe is in there, the jobs are gone.”
Other attendees applauded in favor of the pipeline, and former US senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, a supporter, was in attendance. But Native Americans also dotted the crowd, many of them fresh from Standing Rock.
“The Native Americans in North Dakota get a lot of credit for showing people their power,” Eustis said.