PORT ARTHUR —
Too much traffic, too much pollution, and an arrogant attitude are among the reasons a group of El Vista citizens are opposing a $1.2 billion plant that would convert clean natural gas into sulfur-free, low benzene gasoline.
About 35 or 40 people gathered for a town hall meeting last Thursday to air their thoughts on the facility that has promised to bring jobs to Port Arthur.
More people would have been there if not for a storm that blew through knocking out power and flooding streets, Stephen Mosely, District 4 Port Arthur city councilman, said Monday during a telephone interview.
Mosely said he had decided to call the meeting off, but at the behest of community members who had braved the storm, opted to meet sans electrical power.
“They came in and they sat in the dark,” Mosely said.
Before the meeting was over, power was restored, but not before those in attendance made it known they did not want the plant built in their neighborhood.
ZeoGas LLC hopes to build its plant on property owned by the Doornbos family along Savannah Avenue within the city limits of Port Arthur, and near the city’s water plant.
“We took a vote; we don’t want the plant at all. The people out here have had our share of plants in the area,” El Vista resident Warren Field said Monday during a phone interview.
Field, who lives on 60th Street about a mile from the proposed plant site, was one of the meeting speakers.
Zeo officials have said the plant would bring 3,000 jobs during construction and another 300-600 permanent jobs once completed. The permanent jobs would pay about $75,000 annually.
“We don’t need this traffic congestion, not when we are already having traffic problems,” Field said.
As far as jobs, Field said the company would not do anything more than promise a good faith effort to hire 25 percent of its workforce from Port Arthur.
Tim Belton, Zeo founder and CEO, at a previous Port Arthur City Council meeting said the city’s workforce was not adequately trained for the jobs, and would have to be trained.
To achieve that goal, Zeo would have a job fair during its groundbreaking ceremony, would work with the school districts and award college scholarships to train Port Arthur citizens.
Field said if history is any indicator, very few, if any, of the jobs would go to Port Arthur residents.
“We did not get any jobs out of Motiva. What jobs did we get? None,” Field said.
Mosely said the El Vista residents made it clear Thursday they are not happy with ZeoGas coming into Port Arthur, or any other refinery.
“They have indicated they are not happy with another refinery. The traffic congestion, air contaminants, the possibility of contaminating the water supply, just those kind of things they oppose — things that have nothing to do with the requested tax abatement,” Mosely said.
The city is currently in the process of adopting a tax abatement agreement — one that would treat all companies asking for an economic incentive the same.
“Everybody would be on the same playing field,” Mosely said. “Any company that does business with the city of Port Arthur should understand what our policies are.”
Those policies, he said, are not to grant 100 percent tax abatements for a period of 10 years.
Field said he found Belton to be inflexible when dealing with the City Council.
“He is a black and white guy, it is his way or no way. I had a problem with his arrogance, with no respect for City Council,” Field said.
El Vista citizens will have another opportunity to air their thoughts on the plant during a public hearing tentatively scheduled for 6 p.m. July 16.
At the hearing, Field said he expects many will speak in favor of the plant, but the El Vista group is adamant they not only don’t want the plant in their backyard, they don’t want it at all.
Jefferson County has already offered a 10-year, 100 percent tax abatement.
Port Arthur officials have offered Zeo a 10-year agreement with a 75 percent tax abatement during construction years. Once operational, the plant would be eligible for a 90 percent abatement that would decrease to 50 percent over the course of the 10 years.
Zeo would also be eligible to receive additional incentives tied to employing local residents and using local contractors.
Since the last meeting, Port Arthur’s Chamber of Commerce has passed a resolution in support of the plant, and urged City Council to do the same.
Belton said the company is also looking at alternate sites in Louisiana and Corpus Christi.
Port Arthur City Council is expected to consider the matter in closed session Tuesday at their regular meeting set to begin at 8:30 a.m.