Air quality permit challenge to delay Big River Steel construction


LITTLE ROCK — A challenge to Big River Steel’s air quality permit is expected to delay construction of the $1.1 billion superproject in northeastern Arkansas, a spokesman for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission said Monday.

AEDC spokesman Scott Hardin said Charlotte-based Nucor Corp., which has two plants in Mississippi County near where the Big River Steel plant is to be built, has challenged a permit approved for the proposed facility by the Arkansas Department of Environment Quality.

Nucor argued that the air quality in the region would be compromised by the project, and that the application process was marred with incorrect and inadequate data and a lack of regulatory review.

“Obviously (this) is going to cause a delay,” Hardin said. “Big River was hoping to break ground before the end of the year so now we’re most likely looking at the first quarter of 2014.”

Hardin added that AEDC is “confident that this is going to work itself out and Big River will go on as planned and start building early next year.”

“It ultimately boils down to being a competitive issue,” Hardin said.

A Pollution Control and Ecology administrative law judge is to review Nucor’s challenge of the permit to determine whether it should be overturned.

Nucor spokeswoman Katherine Miller said Monday that failure to preserve the National Ambient Air Quality Standards in the region would jeopardize future growth and expansion of existing industries in Mississippi County “and put its citizens’ under new and unnecessary health risks.”

“Proper review of emission estimates, correcting modeling deficiencies and assumptions and performing pre-construction air monitoring will give the public the tools needed to develop an informed decision on the impacts this project will have on Mississippi County,” Miller said.

Big River Steel officials were not immediately available for comment.

The project is expected to generate 2,000 jobs during construction, over 18 to 20 months, and employ more than 520 permanent workers with average salaries of $75,000 when production begins in late 2015.

Officials say the steel mill, announced in January, will produce steel for the automotive, oil and gas, and electrical energy industries.

Arkansas lawmakers approved a $125 million bond package to help finance the project under authority of Amendment 82, the state’s superproject amendment, to secure the location would be built in Mississippi County. State and local officials also devoted millions of dollars in additional incentives to land the project.

Big River Steel was formed by long-time steel executive John Correnti and a team of industrial and financial investors. Correnti once headed Nucor Steel and its two steel mills also located in Mississippi County. He has nearly 40 years of experience in the steel industry.

The bond legislation requires that Big River Steel investors spend $250 million before any state funds are released for the project.

Arkansas News Bureau business columnist Roby Brock contributed to this report.