Big River Steel gets OK to begin preliminary construction

Friday, January 24, 2014

Big River Steel is one step closer to becoming a reality.

The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) lifted the construction stay on Big River during a meeting in Little Rock early this morning (Friday).

Osceola Mayor Dickie Kennemore explained this does not mean the air permit has been approved, but it does mean John Correnti, CEO of Big River, can begin the preliminary construction phase such as soil tests etc.

"This is good news for the project," Kennemore said.

The stay was imposed when rival steel-maker Nucor Corp. objected to the issuance of an air permit last year by the state Department of Environmental Quality. An administrative law judge has tentatively scheduled a Feb. 18 hearing on the appeal for the air permit.

Big River Steel, a $1.1 billion project, has promised to create at least 525 permanent jobs with an average wage of $75,000 in exchange for $125 million in state financing and other tax breaks. BRS will be built on the banks of the Mississippi River just south of Osceola.

Big River attorney John Perkins said delays in construction, which was to have started in December, has caused concern among investors and posed a threat to the company's ability to meet deadlines under the provisions of Amendment 82 to the state Constitution, by which the Legislature approved the issuance of $125 million in bonds.

Perkins said that lifting the stay would enable Big River to proceed with construction and that the investors understand the risk, given that the commission could reject the permit or alter it. David Stickler, a member of the Big River Steel LLC board, said that construction contracts worth $700 million have already been awarded.

During the 2013 legislative session, Nucor lobbied heavily against the state's financial backing of the Big River Steel project, saying that a third steel plant in the county might mean that Nucor would have to eliminate jobs.

State Sen. David Burnett of Osceola said he sponsored the legislation for Amendment 82 and that Nucor was in his district. He called Nucor "a wonderful employer" but that rejection of the permit for Big River would "send a message to other big investors."

Mississippi County Judge Randy Carney said the county has invested $14.5 million in the project, with expectations of a $40 million annual payroll.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.