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Sisters in 'Cancer Alley' protect land in court battle: '[We're] finally resolving a corrupt act'

"This is a big moment."

Banner sisters in 'Cancer Alley' protect land in court battle

Photo Credit: iStock

Two sisters from a small town in Louisiana have won a court decision to stop an area of historical and cultural significance from being sacrificed for industry. 

The 19th News reported that the Banner sisters, Jo and Joy, won a court hearing in early August that ruled a 33-year-old industrial zoning ordinance in St. John the Baptist Parish is null and void, stopping the construction of a grain export facility. 

If proposals were approved, the facility would have been built upon land that has been listed as one of 11 endangered historic spaces by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

According to 19th News, the West Bank of St. John the Baptist Parish, where the grain facility was intended to be built, "could contain burial grounds for enslaved people and archaeological artifacts from three plantations."

The news outlet reported that the twin sisters have been leading the charge for the protection of Wallace, a town of 775 people that the family has lived in since the 1800s. 

It is found in what is known as "Cancer Alley," a stretch between New Orleans and Baton Rouge that has been given the nickname because of the number of cancer diagnoses and deaths among local residents. 

As The 19th News noted, a 2022 Tulane University study about the area linked toxic air pollution from factories in Cancer Alley to poor health among local communities.

A number of dangerous chemical plants are found there, and according to ProPublica, seven more petrochemical facilities or expansions have been approved in Cancer Alley since 2015, with five more projects pending. 

The construction of the grain facility in Wallace would have increased levels of pollution in an area that already experiences significant issues related to emissions. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration noted dust from the grain facility could have caused respiratory problems for locals, increasing the risk of health conditions such as asthma and lung cancer. 

The Banner sisters have been in a fight like this before. The 19th News reported they were just 10 years old when the proposed development of a facility for Formosa Plastics nearly led to them losing their home. 

That project was abandoned in 1992, but the zoning ordinance to help bring the factory to Wallace, approved by then-parish president Lester Millet Jr., was never revisited, leading to the possibility of the grain facility in the area. The Banner sisters' court win effectively rips up that ordinance β€” Millet was later charged and convicted for coercing residents to sell their land.

"This is a big moment for [our] parish, named after St. John the Baptist, who fought corruption. And here we are, finally resolving a corrupt act that happened," Jo Banner told The 19th News.

For now, the Banner sisters have won a significant victory for the future of a historic area and for the health of residents. But the battle against the harmful pollution produced by industrial production β€” which contributes to public health issues and global heating β€” continues.

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