A retired Louisiana teacher is receiving a top award from the University of Notre Dame for her environmental activisim, work that has included legal action to try to stop a new Formosa Plastics operation.
Sharon Lavigne, founder and director of Rise St. James, will receive the Laetare Medal, which Notre Dame calls "the most prestigious award given to American Catholics."
The annual award was created in 1883.
Lavigne and Rise St. James sued to try to stop the $9.4 billion Formosa Group LA LLC resin plant called the Sunshine Project in early 2020. In November 2020, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it would review the project's impact. As of August 2021, the Corps said it would require a far more extensive study. Formosa has said it is assessing the project.
In announcing the award, Notre Dame said Lavigne has watched the community between Baton Rouge and New Orleans shift from farms to a hub of the petrochemical industry.
"Why would they put the plant over here? Because they knew that people weren't going to speak up," Lavigne said in the university's announcement. "And they were right. The people weren't going to speak up. That's when God touched me and told me to fight — and that's what I did."