Jackson County

VT Halter in Pascagoula hit with $17,500 DEQ fine

JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD /2015 
 The current blast and paint facility at VT Halter Marine in Pascagoula, shown on Monday Aug. 3, 2015, is a series of curtains drawn loosely around ship sections being worked on. VT Halter has yet to break ground on a permanent facility.
JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD /2015 The current blast and paint facility at VT Halter Marine in Pascagoula, shown on Monday Aug. 3, 2015, is a series of curtains drawn loosely around ship sections being worked on. VT Halter has yet to break ground on a permanent facility. SUN HERALD

PASCAGOULA -- The state Department of Environmental Quality has levied an environmental fine on VT Halter Marine and the company has agreed to pay the $17,500 for failing to protect the surrounding environment from paint overspray and sandblasting dust.

The company, on industrial Bayou Casotte in east Pascagoula, has a $1.9 million state grant to help build a huge building on the grounds to house painters and sandblasters. It was supposed to be complete in summer 2015, and people in neighboring subdivisions were counting on this for relief from industrial dust and paint overspray.

The DEQ wants the shipbuilder to reduce the paint and sand it puts into the air and water. The company opted to pay the civil penalty instead of going through a formal enforcement hearing.

So the DEQ is now giving the company until June 30 to finish the building. What’s planned is a cavernous, 140-by-240-foot building that is 65 feet tall. It would be able to house huge pieces of ship for sanding and painting.

But shipyard spokesman Walker Foster told the Sun Herald it isn’t likely to be finished by the DEQ’s deadline — the company be lucky to have it done by the end of the year, as construction has not yet begun.

It’s in the environmental stage of the process, he said. VT Halter hopes to go out for bids in three months, and construction would take seven to eight months.

The building is expected to cost $7.5 million. The company is supposed to be putting up $5.6 million of that.

The problem has been around for a while and began getting public attention in 2014, when the nearby Cherokee Forest neighborhood begin recording dust in the air and paint on their vehicles and property.

“We’re committed to fixing this issue,” VT Halter’s Foster said. “After it’s built, we will asphalt areas around the building to cut down on dust.”

But things become complicated, he said.

It took longer to get through design than they expected. There also was a delay working through the grant process, he said.

“It’s a more complex building than we thought,” he said. “We thought we were going to be able to do it really quick.”

The order between Mississippi Commission on Environmental Quality and VT Halter says if the shipyard fails to finish the building by the June deadline, it agrees to pay $500 a day until it’s finished. VT Halter may be able to avoid the penalty if it explains the delay in writing in advance, it said.

“During blasting and painting operations, said structure is to have negative air pressure and be vented through filters,” the agreed order said. “A daily log of the pressure differential inside and outside the building shall be maintained. A daily log of the pressure differential across the filter shall be maintained.”

The state grant for the building is a federal Community Development Block Grant, which goes through the Mississippi Development Authority and is administered by the county and Port Authority.

Foster said the company expected to be cited by the DEQ if it wasn’t moving along with the project.

“DEQ is doing what it’s supposed to do,” he said.

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