Corpus Christi Caller Times
By Tim Acosta & John C. Moritz
Original article here
AUSTIN — Construction on a San Patricio County plastics manufacturing plant that would bring 600 permanent jobs and up to 6,000 more in construction could begin within weeks after state regulators approved the project Wednesday.
Paul Guilfoyle, the venture executive for the ExxonMobil offshoot Gulf Coast Growth Ventures, said plans are on track for the “ethane cracker” plant to begin operations in 2022. Guilfoyle made the comment after the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality unanimously approved the permit application after an hour-long hearing in Austin.
“We’ve spent a lot of time with the community — the schools, colleges, etc.,” Guilfoyle said.
The comment was in response to about a dozen protesters who attended the TCEQ hearing and staged a sign-waving demonstration before and after warning that the plant on 13 acres near Gregory would pose an air-quality threat to the Gulf Coast.
They warned of toxic emissions coming from the plant and had hoped the TCEQ would have required more air-quality monitoring at the facility’s fence line. Even though the commission declined to follow the recommendation, Chairman Jon Niermann urged the plant operators and the community to be “good neighbors to each other.”
Dewey Magee, whose home is about a half-mile from the site, called the suggestion laughable.
“How am I supposed to be good neighbors with all they pulled?” said Magee, who made the trip to Austin to witness the hearing.
He said he worries about the plant’s effects on his grandchildren and complained that work had begun on the site well before the permit was approved.
Guilfoyle called the protesters a “vocal minority” and said the project would comply with all environmental regulations. He said the permanent jobs would pay an average of $100,000 a year. And about 250 workers are already hired and undergoing training, he added.
The construction activity is only “site prep,” he added, which was allowed to commence prior to the permits being approved. Actual construction of the plant, though, could not begin until those permits were in place.
Both Gulf Coast Growth Ventures and attorneys for environmental groups the Sierra Club and the Texas Campaign for the Environment were able to address the commission prior to a vote being taken. The groups asked that the TCEQ require GCGV to incorporate fence line monitoring, as well as release information that was kept confidential during the permit application process.
TCEQ commissioners denied those requests, and also granted a request from GCGV to allow the permit to immediately take effect so they could begin construction as soon as possible. The decision on that accelerated timeline does not prohibit the environmental groups from filing a motion for rehearing, though.
The commission made the permit effective as soon as it is formally signed, but Niermann said the opponents still have the option to seek a “rehearing,” so any construction would come at Gulf Coast Growth Ventures’ own risk.
“We would still carefully and seriously consider any requests for rehearing,” Niermann said, referring to the commission’s decision on Wednesday. “I would also note that the applicant, if they elect to commence construction during this time period, would do that at their own peril.”
“Speaking just to the process, and not to the merits at this point, we very well may grant a request for rehearing,” he added.
Ilan Levin, a lawyer representing the Sierra Club and the Texas Campaign for the Environment, said he plans to seek a rehearing. Guilfoyle, meanwhile, said Gulf Coast Growth Ventures plans to proceed with the project that’s been more than two years in the making.
“We’re willing to accept the risk,” he said.
The multi-billion dollar plant to manufacture what Guilfoyle called “a family of plastic” consumer products from petroleum drilled in West Texas’ Permian Basin would be located near Gregory and is a joint venture between ExxonMobil and Saudi Basic Industries Corp.
Port of Corpus Christi CEO Sean Strawbridge celebrated the announcement He said the project would go a long way to restoring the hundreds of jobs lost several years ago when Sherwin Alumina went under and ceased operations.
The GCGV project is the latest multi-billion dollar investment to get the go-ahead in the Coastal Bend, with Cheniere Energy’s LNG facility, Corpus Christi Liquefaction, beginning operations in November and Voelstapine’s iron processing facility starting up in 2016.
Steel Dynamics is considering Sinton as the site for a $1.8 billion flat roll steel mill, but has not made a decision yet, as it is still looking at locations in Texas and Louisiana.
“We fully anticipated the approval of this permit application and we’re excited for the continued progress that the Gulf Coast Growth Ventures project is making,” Strawbridge said. “It’s very rare to lose 600 jobs like we lost with Sherwin Alumina, only to have them come back in just a few short years and more so — better paying jobs — in a safer, cleaner environment that we saw with Gulf Coast Growth Ventures.”
“This community should be proud of these investments here and we’re just excited for the future of the Coastal Bend,” he added.
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