Two billion dollar plant could be coming to Moss Point

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Plans are moving forward to build a two billion dollar "gasification plant" at the old International Paper site in Moss Point.

The proposed development would mean 200 permanent jobs, plus more than a thousand construction jobs during the building phase.

Executives with Leucadia National, the company behind the development, met Thursday with WLOX managers to discuss the ambitious plans.

There's a 200 acre industrial site along the Escatawpa River that was home to International Paper for nearly 80 years. The now vacant property could be the future home to a $2.2 billion energy producer.

"Our basic business model is to produce a clean energy product that we call substitute natural gas. For all intents and purposes, it's natural gas," Project Manager Dexter Cook said.

The gasification plant would use petroleum coke, a by-product from oil refineries, as a raw material. Nearby Chevron has expressed an interest in supplying it.

"After the refinery has squeezed all of the distillate material out of the crude oil, and can't get any more out, that's what's left over is this petroleum coke. It's a solid, black material," said Cook, "It looks like coal. If you saw a pile of it, you'd think you were looking at coal."

The gasification plant would create 200 permanent high-paying jobs, around $70,000 a year.

Several Jackson County supervisors checked out a similar plant in Indiana to investigate whether dust or other pollutants from the process might be a problem. They were pleased with what they saw.

"Not only from a dust standpoint, but we watched the stacks, making sure there was nothing going up but steam," District 2 Supervisor Melton Harris said. "We used all our senses. Our smell. Being able to determine if there was any sulfur in the air."

A significant portion of the project will be funded with a $1.7 billion loan guarantee from the federal Department of Energy.

But before construction can begin, the project must undergo a federal environmental impact study. The first public meetings in that process could be held next month.

"Taking the public's feedback or input as it pertains to those variables: environmental, socio economic and otherwise, that need to be and should be factored in to this environmental impact statement," Jackson County Economic Development Director George Freeland said.

That study could take up to two years.

The company behind the project, Leucadia National, is a New York City based holding company. Its subsidiaries are involved in banking, real estate, health care services and telecommunications.

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