PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

Local News

July 14, 2014

Residents say "no" to ZeoGas

PORT ARTHUR — About 75 people crowded into Port Arthur City Council chambers Monday to offer a resounding no to a proposed location where startup company ZeoGas had planned to build a $1.2 billion plant.

Most attending the public hearing were from El Vista area neighborhoods — a community located a little less than a mile from the property boundary of where the plant had hoped to build.

“We don’t want the plant. I have lived in that area for several years, surrounded by enough plants. Talk about jobs? What about our health and safety?” Dudley Champ said during the public hearing.

“You are telling me I am irrelevant by letting  them come. This does not have to be on top of my grandparents, church members, children,” Catherine Henry said. No, you are not welcome in my backyard and I humbly request you find some other place to place your plant.”

City Council has been grappling with the issue for about a  month — ever since ZeoGas president and CEO Timothy D. Belton asked the city for a 10-year, 100 percent tax abatement to help offset costs of building the greenfield plant.

The company plans to convert clean natural gas into sulfur-free, low benzene gasoline.

ZeoGas is expected to generate 3,000 jobs during construction, and about 300-600 when the plant is operational.

In exchange for the 100 percent abatement, Belton pledged that ZeoGas would extend its best effort to hire 25 percent Port Arthur residents.

Those numbers, and the company’s best faith efforts were not enough to convince the El Vista residents that the benefit of another plant in their neighborhood was worth the cost.

“I like jobs, but Port Arthur residents are not going to get these jobs,” Rose Chaisson said.

Port Arthur residents have found that big plants hire contractors to perform much of the work. Those contractors don’t hire Port Arthur residents, Chaisson said.

Tex Carter, senior vice president at Foster Wheeler, the company hired by ZeoGas to help with the plant’s design, told the crowd that the plant would be built about 4,000 feet from the nearest home, or about 3/4 of a mile.

The proposed site is owned by the Doornbos family from Nederland, and is located on two tracts — one 450 acres, the other 250. Part of the acreage fronts Texas 73 and U.S. 69, and is adjacent to the city’s water reservoir.

The actual plant would be built in a triangular area with the Drainage District 7 canal separating it from the neighborhood as well as a green belt buffering zone, Carter said.

After the 2 1/2 hour public hearing concluded, District 5 Councilman Willie “Bae” Lewis seconded a motion by Morris Albright III to remove an agenda item to accept a concept for potential tax abatement agreement posed by ZeoGas.

Lewis said though he was in favor of ZeoGas coming to Port Arthur, he was willing to withdraw the item because it was clear the people did not want it in their neighborhood.

Lewis had requested the public hearing, he said, to find out what the people thought of the company’s plans.

“If ZeoGas can find another location we can bring the proposal back,” Lewis said.

Lewis had earlier argued that the added jobs combined with water sales would be a boon to the city, and one that should not be ignored.

ZeoGas has stated a water contract could earn the city $5 million annually, with potential expansion reaching $15 million.

ZeoGas officials have indicated they are talking with the city of Beaumont to locate there if they cannot build in Port Arthur.

E-mail: skoonce@panews

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