Support for, concerns over Nucor plant voiced

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 31, 2010



CONVENT – Residents, business leaders and public officials from across the River Parishes packed into a St. James Parish Courthouse meeting room Tuesday evening to offer support or express concerns regarding Nucor Corp.’s plans to build an iron manufacturing facility in Convent.

The state Department of Environmental Quality conducted the meeting to compile public comments regarding modification of Nucor’s existing air operating permit for the plant. The North Carolina-based steel maker has already secured a permit for a proposed $2 billion pig iron facility, but the company altered the scope of the project earlier this year. Nucor now has a five-phase plan that begins with a $750 million direct reduced iron facility on a 4,000-acre plot of land near Louisiana Highways 3125 and 70. The company needs to modify the existing permit before construction can start, said Nucor Environmental Manager Jeff Braun.

Prior to the public hearing, Braun explained that Nucor plans to construct one blast furnace instead of two, along with two direct-reduced iron plants. He said the total emissions from the single blast furnace and two direct reduced iron plants would be less than the original two blast furnace planned as part of the pig iron facility and still meet U.S. EPA regulations.

The company estimates the direct reduced iron facility will add 150 permanent jobs in addition to 500 construction jobs. By the end of the five-phase plan, Nucor will have added 1,250 direct jobs and another 4,800 indirect jobs to the local economy – figures that make local economic development officials smile.

“This is a real no-brainer for the region from an economic standpoint,” said St. James Economic Development Board Chairman Paul Aucoin. “It’s jobs, jobs and more jobs, and that’s what we need.”

Before the hearing began, St. James Parish President Dale Hymel reiterated his steadfast support of the Nucor venture, saying the company’s management has gone “above and beyond” to ensure environmental safety.

There were some in the audience who did not agree, however, raising concerns about the permitting process and public health.

Darryl Malek-Wiley, a field organizer for the Sierra Club environmental group, raised serious questions about the scheduling of the hearing and the advertisement of public notices. He said scheduling the meeting between Christmas and New Year’s Day was “a travesty.”

Wiley requested that DEQ extend the comment period until Feb. 15 to give more time for residents to voice legitimate concerns about the facility. According to fliers from DEQ, the public comment period is scheduled to end Jan. 3.

Also asking for an extension was Albertha Hasten, president of the Louisiana Environmental Justice Community Organization Coalition. Hasten said her group wants to sit down with Nucor to discuss the air permit changes before it is approved.

“We don’t want to stop progress for the region, for the parish,” Hasten said, “but our community should be relocated so that we don’t suffer the negative effects of the existing and future air pollution in the parish.”