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.

dmiller@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7543

(1) comment

Alvin

This is the personal opinion of this writer.

Well this article has been in this newspaper since September 24, 2017 and not a word, in print either for or against the project. Why are people so inhibited as to 'not want to say anything'????

Copy: 'It’s also been disclosed that hydrogen peroxide, sulfuric acid and sodium hydroxide will be used and stored at the plant.'

Continuation of copy: '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.'

Continuation of copy: '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.'

Continuation of copy: 'But this is one instance where the public should have had their say before the papers were signed.' End of copy.

I agree, people should have more interest in the running of their city and not just 'leave it up to the councilmen/women. There should be more interest in 'what is going on in their city', and I say again. 'There City', for it is not just the council, the mayor, the city manager, or the city administrative group's city, it is 'your city'. So I encourage all of you to take an interest in what's going on, call for votes on items that 'cost money, call for votes on items of special interest such as the involvement of a chemical company wanting to operate inside of the city limits, especially chemical company's that will deal with what can be 'a dangerous, volatile explosive compound of this nature' and should require the city council to call for a vote of the citizens, not just head long into something that 'could be harmful'. It is my personal opinion that this group has not done their homework on this matter, but instead feels that providing a chemical company that provides 28, $60,000 dollar jobs will create a boon for the city of Killeen. But that does not cover the economic impact for the citizens of Killeen, in fact it is now announced that 7 of the positions 'can come outside of the United States, and the remaining 21 jobs can be split into part time positions', so what's in it for this city???? What is the true motivators that is such a boon for this city????

Copy: '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.' End of copy.

So what is the proximity, the fact that residences are in the area, what is the consideration of having a total power failure as mentioned in the Houston area which can result in an explosion, fire, and compounds in the immediate, could be a mile or more from the point of the explosion and fire. For that reason, I expect certain preventative nature guidelines to be included in the proposal to design and build this chemical complex, but not a word has been said as to 'what this KEDC plans to do to alleviate the concerns that were expressed in the meeting and as presented by this newspaper. This should not be. In the first place, the KEDC should be disbanded and formulated by a new set of bylaws that give pause to such underhanded dealings that we have or are experiencing by this KEDC.

Copy: '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.' End of copy.
To this I would add: 'And be given a vote as to what or what not is to a civic function or directive such as this one that is presented here. Do not let this minority group such as this one, 'call all of the shots', instead call for the council, in open session, and not cloistered in secrecy, call for action in what this city is going to be asked to submit to. Have everything 'out in the open', with greatly improved transparency, maybe I should say any transparency will be greatly improved.

This is an item that should be questioned and answered as to in open session of the council and so I call for an open vote on this.

The continued secrecy of this council and administrative group should not be tolerated as in the past. I call for 'transparency in all matters that concerns this city'.

This has been the personal opinion of this writer and nothing shall be used, in context or without or changed in any way without first notifying, and receiving explicit approval from this writer.
One of the 4.58 % who voted.

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