GONZALES — The City Council is set to vote Monday on whether to rezone land for the location of a regional campus of a St. Louis company that refurbishes and remanufactures valves for the region’s chemical plants and other industries, city and company officials said.
Emerson Process Management, a Fortune 500 company, is planning a $10 million expansion on about 18 acres of a 75-acre wooded tract on the north side of West Orice Roth Road in Gonzales.
The new site would be used to consolidate six Emerson or subsidiary operations in Louisiana, including two in an unincorporated area of Ascension Parish, company officials said.
The proposed regional campus for Emerson includes a regional headquarters for Instrument and Valve Services, a subsidiary of Emerson.
The campus will have a training center with a lab designed to simulate plant control systems for customers but one that the company is offering for use by the public school system.
Company officials say the expansion will bring 180 permanent jobs to Gonzales, including 90 moved from the sites in the unincorporated area of the parish, with an annual payroll of $9.2 million. Emerson has been in Ascension Parish for 40 years.
Of the total, the project would add 50 new jobs to Louisiana, said Marlin Wilson, Emerson’s project leader.
But the project has encountered stiff opposition from some residents and black leaders.
While they say they favor Emerson’s locating in Gonzales, they argue the project and its truck traffic will be too close to homes in primarily minority neighborhoods and to Gonzales Middle School when other properly zoned sites are available in the city.
“We all support Emerson coming to Gonzales, but it’s not proper nor is it fair to locate in such a congested area and an area where it is not properly zoned to accommodate it,” said Councilman Terance Irvin, who lives near the project in Kennedy Heights.
Other councilman, some of whom support the project, did not return calls for comment Friday.
After months of debate and backing from the city Zoning Commission, Emerson officials will go to the council at 5:30 p.m. to ask it to rezone the property from residential to commercial, C-2. The council meets in chambers, 120 S. Irma Blvd., Gonzales.
The 18.62 acres up for rezoning is near the intersection of South Veterans Boulevard and West Orice Roth, near the Interstate 10/La. 30 interchange and just down the road from Gonzales Middle School and homes on Darla Avenue.
Irvin, who supported the annexation and a 2 percent city sales tax rebate for the project, said he would like to see Emerson move to properly zoned sites off La. 30 or La. 44.
Emerson looked at a site off La. 44 near I-10, but the cost for that 25-acre site, including foundation and required road work, was more than $1 million greater than what the current tract costs.
Emerson is reinvesting the savings into the project, Wilson said.
On June 4, opponents presented the Zoning Commission with a letter of opposition from state Sen. Troy Brown, D-Napoleonville, who objected to the facility because it would be too close to the school and a residential area.
In an interview Friday, Brown, who represents the area, said he wrote that letter with limited information.
After speaking with company officials and getting a better project synopsis, Brown said he believes the project is not too close to homes, and traffic concerns are not as severe as he was led to believe.
“And because of that, I am for this project. I would like to see it move forward,” Brown said.
Wilson alleged Emerson is the victim of a misinformation campaign with the project portrayed falsely as a trucking company handling hazardous waste.
He claimed he went door to door in Kennedy Heights and was told that same false story at 15 different households. Earlier this month, Emerson had a town hall meeting and, last week, sent a four-page mailer throughout the city.
“I think it is a great project. It was really baffling that there would be opposition,” said Wilson, who is general manager at one of Emerson’s operations in Ascension.
He said the company’s fabrication work will be enclosed in a warehouse. The only hazardous material will be the paint used on refinished valves. Emerson has also signed agreements that say delivery companies will use South Veterans, he said.
Wilson said if the project fails to be rezoned, it could end up in East Baton Rouge Parish at a reduced scale.
Councilman Irvin blamed Emerson on the wrong information getting out.
“Whatever rumor is put out there, they put it out because they didn’t properly educate,” he said.