Residents wanted to know why they were kept in the dark about plans to bring a chemical plant to Killeen.
More than 100 people attended a community forum Thursday night at the Killeen Community Center to ask questions about the plant’s impact on the surrounding neighborhoods.
Council members Shirley Fleming and Steve Harris organized the meeting after residents plied them with concerns they couldn’t address, because they, too, had been kept in the dark.
The reason for the secrecy, according to John Crutchfield, executive director of the Killeen Economic Development Corp., was because MGC Pure Chemicals America required confidentiality for the deal to go through. That’s to ensure that the cost stays low and other companies do not become privy to any business dealings, Crutchfield said.
Residents asked questions of a panel that included Crutchfield and Stephen Minick, a former lobbyist and employee of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
The crowd was polite but seemed frustrated at times.
Despite Harris allotting three minutes for each question to be answered, Crutchfield began the night by taking far longer to answer a question. Later, Crutchfield appeared frustrated after residents took the microphone and repeatedly asked the same questions.
“I will also tell you that there’s a time value to money. And when these fellas want to go into production, they want to go into production. They want don’t want to deal with public elections,” Crutchfield said. “This is no different from the way it works in any other community in America. You may not like that, but that’s the way it works.”
Safety was the concern of many in attendance, especially those who live or work within close proximity of the Killeen Business Park.
Kathryn Bradley goes to Killeen Seventh-day Adventist Church on Rancier Avenue, near the plant’s future location. She stood up and asked for a guarantee that the senior citizens who lived in the area would be safe.
“I want to know the safety of these people,” she said. “I worship in that area. I want to be safe, not get a plant that can blow up or cause chemicals in our lungs.”
Minick insisted that there is no chemical runoff that will appear in the water, nor will there be any emissions from the chemicals being used.
“Personally, I wouldn’t be concerned living close to this myself,” he said.
Killeen Mayor Jose Segarra said he was there to explain the council’s role with the Killeen EDC. City Manager Ron Olson was not at the meeting.
Killeen Fire Department Chief Brian Brank described the precautions his department will take to prepare for a potential chemical spill.
The fire department will consider the plant a target hazard, meaning that it will preplan for any type of incident. KFD will take into consideration any fire suppression, fire hydrants, fire lanes and water supply needed to operate in case of an emergency.
“A whole lot of communities are vying for these types of industries,” Brank said. “Of course, there’s never a guarantee that no incident would happen.”
Though an agreement between MGC and the Killeen EDC has been signed, there is nothing that obligates MGC to build the plant in Killeen.
“They could walk out tomorrow,” Crutchfield said.
One member of the media asked Crutchfield if there was anything the residents could do to prevent the plant from being built. His answer? He didn’t know.
Both Segarra, who is a representative on the Killeen EDC, and Crutchfield reiterated that the reason they recruited MGC was because residents are constantly asking for better-paying jobs in the manufacturing industry.
Though residents in attendance complained that only 28 jobs would be created, the potential to bring more companies of the semiconductor industry could provide a great number of jobs in the future.
“I’m under the impression that you guys want a manufacturing company here, ” Segarra said to the audience. Several audience members spoke up, saying they didn’t want a potentially dangerous plant.
MGC has said the plant will create super-pure hydrogen peroxide and have hydrogen peroxide, sulfuric acid and sodium hydroxide on site.