Is it worth the risk?
That’s what some Killeen residents are asking as details continue to emerge about a new chemical plant planned for the city’s business park.
The plant, owned by MGC Pure Chemicals America, will manufacture super-pure hydrogen peroxide, a cleaning chemical used in the semiconductor industry.
It’s also been disclosed that hydrogen peroxide, sulfuric acid and sodium hydroxide will be used and stored at the plant.
Given the potential volatility of the chemicals involved and the plant’s proximity to residential areas and schools, several residents are justifiably concerned — especially since local economic development officials have been less than forthcoming with information on the project.
That pattern can be traced back to the project’s groundbreaking last month, which was not open to the public. A Herald reporter was invited to come by after the ceremony to ask questions of MGC representatives, but when he arrived at the appointed time, the company reps and city officials had already left.
City council members were blindsided by the development, as the Killeen Economic Development Corporation apparently executed the contract with MGC without consulting or informing the council.
Considering the agreement calls for a $30 million plant that will manufacture toxic chemicals, it would seem some sort of heads-up would have been in order.
Not surprisingly, in the wake of the KEDC announcement, several residents contacted Killeen City Council members and voiced their concerns about the project — causing Council members Shirley Fleming and Steve Harris to organize a town hall meeting this week to provide some answers.
Certainly, KEDC officials deserve credit for their work on this deal, and it’s understandable that they wouldn’t want to tip their hand before most of the details were ironed out.
But this is one instance where the public should have had their say before the papers were signed.
For years, the KEDC has been criticized for not doing enough to bring industry and high-paying jobs to Killeen.
In the past decade, the city has attracted plenty of retail outlets, grocery stores and call centers, but nothing substantial.
That changed with last month’s announcement that a high-tech company would be locating in the Killeen Business Park, eventually creating 28 jobs paying more than $60,000 a year.
That’s good for the city’s economic base, and the employment picture.
The problem is, the new business is a chemical manufacturing plant — and that’s a fact that simply can’t be overlooked.
Granted, the plant will be tightly regulated and closely monitored — by the city, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and by federal agencies overseeing the handling, manufacture and transport of chemicals involved.
But no matter how many safeguards are put in place, there will always be the possibility of an accident that could impact public health and safety.
Chemicals needed for manufacturing will be shipped into the plant by rail, and super-pure hydrogen peroxide will be shipped out. Obviously, a serious derailment involving train cars carrying these chemicals could pose a threat to nearby residents.
A company spokesman told the Herald the plant will need 3 million gallons of water per month to operate, and the city of Killeen will provide that water. No doubt, residents want to know how will it be treated, and where the waste will be discharged. And what about regular emissions into the air over the plant?
An MGC official last week offered some information on these fronts, saying the plant’s discharge would be mostly water and would be put into the city’s sewer system after being treated for possible hydrogen. The official also noted there would be no intentional emissions from the plant.
Another MGC spokesman stressed that the company’s manufacturing facilities keep limited amounts of chemicals on hand and follow the strictest standards possible.
These assurances are welcome, but as with any plant operation, there can be no guarantees.
Just last month, a Houston-area chemical plant caught fire after floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey engulfed the plant’s two generators. A lack of refrigeration at the Arkema plant in Crosby caused the chemical compounds to catch fire. The surrounding area was evacuated, and fortunately, no one was injured in the blaze.
In 1996, three employees were injured when a contaminated tank filled with hydrogen peroxide exploded at Santee Print Works, a textile finishing mill in South Carolina.
A copy of the city’s contract with MGC reveals that the KEDC offered significant incentives to bring the chemical plant to Killeen.
KEDC is offering more than $500,000 in Killeen Business Park land for the 20,000-square-foot plant at no cost. The EDC is also funding a job creation grant of up to $224,000 — potentially giving MGC $8,000 for each full time position at the new plant.
The development corporation will also refund a portion of MGC’s tax payments using the EDC’s share of property tax money, which is about 2 cents for every 75 cents collected by the city.
Obviously, the KEDC has a lot invested in this deal, but so do the city’s residents.
The new plant will be located just a half-mile from two large apartment complexes on Twin Creek Drive, and about two miles from Killeen High School. Several residential subdivisions are nearby as well.
Given the potentially volatile nature of the chemicals being used and produced, Killeen residents need to get answers to all their pertinent questions — and to be satisfied with those answers.
Thursday’s town hall meeting will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Killeen Community Center.
The Herald will be there providing live coverage on Twitter, online video excerpts and a full writeup in Friday’s print edition.
Area residents are encouraged to attend and decide for themselves if the new plant is a great deal for Killeen — or if it’s just not worth the risk.