Gov. Phil Bryant — running for re-election in 2015 — chose to stump at a groundbreaking for two projects at VT Halter Marine that included a $7.5 million sandblasting and paint over-spray building to add 40 new jobs and keep dust out of nearby neighborhoods.
Bryant announced a $2 million state grant to help.
That building has not been built.
In early 2016, the state Department of Environmental Quality fined VT Halter $17,500 for missing the deadline to complete it.
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The new deadline is July of this year for the cavernous structure the company agreed to build in 2014 for environmental reasons, to keep over-spray and sandblasting materials out of the air and water around the shipyard.
VT Halter — which builds supply and cargo boats — is located on heavily industrial Bayou Casotte, and a nearby neighborhood regularly registers complaints with the state over emissions.
Paul Albert, CEO for VT Halter, told the Sun Herald on Wednesday that the company has made progress. He also pointed out that his isn’t the only industry with emissions in the area.
Albert said, “We have all the drawings done” for the building and have placed a purchase order for dehumidification, blasting and paint equipment that will go into it when it’s complete.
It did, however, lose the $2 million state assistance grant that was tied to employment.
When asked if he was still planning to build a $7.5 million building, he said the company has “committed the money and it’s in progress.”
“We have buildings we blast in now,” Albert said. “This would be environmentally controlled to paint in year-round.”
He said, “We’re waiting on approval to send out the bid packages,” and they are securing environmental permits to begin construction.
VT Halter employment has dropped in recent years from almost 2,200 to 971. Albert said the oil and gas industry downturn has caused the drop. Two of its yards upriver are idle, one on the Pascagoula River and one on the Escatawpa River.
Albert hasn’t set another groundbreaking date.
What the state has to say
Chris Sanders, director of the DEQ office of Pollution Control, said, “I’m not sure what the status is of that construction at the moment.
“We’re trying to get some of those questions answered,” Sanders said. “They have not built the building yet, we do know that.”
He is also looking into allegations by neighbors that sandblasting and paint over-spray is leaving the VT Halter property. The office was presented a video at a recent public hearing and is investigating.
Sanders explained the history with VT Halter:
The state fined the company $145,00 in 2014 for a host of violations discovered by the staff, not just for sandblasting.
The company is required to control emissions, and there are a variety of ways to do that, he said, including the planned building.
VT Halter agreed to build the building, and now it has to complete the structure, he said.
“We incorporated that in an order, and they haven’t built it yet.”
The company was fined $17,500 in February 2016 because it missed a deadline. It would have been subject to a $500-a-day fine for missing that deadline, but the DEQ extended the deadline.
Sanders said, “We don’t know about an extension for 2017. That’s not been requested.”