At public hearing, public roundly supports St. James steel mill

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 24, 2008


Staff Reporter

CONVENT — An overflow crowd of St. James Parish residents joined state and local leaders Thursday night to throw their support around a proposed steel-making facility in Convent.

Nucor Corp., a North Carolina based steel making firm, held a public hearing with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality to determine whether the community supports issuance of permits to build a 4,000-acre pig iron plant on a site south of LA 3125 and east of LA 70 in St. James Parish. Officials will use comments heard at the meeting, along with written submissions, to make their decision.

“I’ve seen and heard firsthand what Nucor has done for communities in which they reside,” said St. James Parish President Dale Hymel. “This is the type of corporation that St. James would be proud to have.”

Prior to public comment, Nucor Environmental Affairs Manager Jeff Braun gave a short presentation about the company and explained some of the offerings the new facility will provide to the parish community and economy, including the creation of hundreds of jobs and limits on waste water and other plant emissions.

“Louisiana already has especially low emissions standards, but we are voluntarily stricter on our standards, because it is the right thing to do,” said Braun. “The project will in fact go a long way toward reducing our global climate footprint.”

Braun explained that the facility would utilize a considerable amount of recycled materials and also produce its own electricity, which it can sell back to the Louisiana grid.

“Our plant will be totally self sufficient and as green as possible,” said Braun.

Louisiana State Secretary of Economic Development Stephen Moret spoke about the potential for job production, the increase in sales and use taxes and the possibility that a facility of this kind could do wonders for keeping the younger generation from fleeing the state.

“The state needs jobs, not just any jobs, but good jobs,” said Moret. “Nucor will provide the opportunity for our sons and daughters to stay in Louisiana and lead prosperous lives.”

Moret referenced previous opportunities for the parish that fell through, including a plan by ThyssenKrupp Corp. to build a $2.9 billion steel mill in the area, and a plan by Shintech Inc. to construct a plastics facility. He said that in the case of Nucor “we have saved the best for last.”

“Nucor is a good community partner and a good fit for the parish,” said Moret. “It is very exciting to see this project so close to fruition.”

Aside from the positive feedback from Thursday’s hearing, the plant has not enjoyed complete support. Residents in the area received a mailing this past week from a group out of Vicksburg, Miss., which expressed extreme opposition to the plant. Parish officials wrote the flier off as an unfounded attempt to blackball the project for the state.

“Let’s decide for ourselves,” Hymel said. “Nucor has been open and positive since this started and has proven to be a first class neighbor.”

After surveying several domestic and international sites, Nucor narrowed potential locations down to the Convent site and another location in Brazil. Officials with the company say their final decision could come as soon as next month, but the news sounds positive.

“I’m looking forward to moving my wife and family down to the ‘Sportsman’s Paradise,’” said Braun referring to Louisiana’s often used nickname. If St. James gets the plant, Braun said he would be named manager.

The applications discussed Thursday covers the first two of three phases, with the first phase scheduled for completion by 2010 at a cost of $2.1 billion, according to Nucor officials.

The second phase would open by 2012 with a price tag of $1.12 billion. It would double the pig iron production capacity from 3 million to 6 million tons per year. The plant would be the first of its kind in the United States.