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Voestalpine asks state for an amendment to air permit

Most residents commenting to TCEQ are against plan
Kevin Burkett
Posted at 2:34 PM, Jul 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-29 20:38:19-04

PORTLAND, Texas — Several Coastal Bend residents have asked the state not to approve an amendment to Voestalpine's air permit.

Tuesday, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality held a virtual meeting to discuss the request.

Several residents spoke at the meeting or submitted written comments regarding the issue.

Most were against any decision that would allow more contaminants into the air, saying the plant should resolve its current issues.

Voestalpine's iron ore reduction tower tops out at 450 feet.

Residents of the Portland neighborhoods Bay Ridge and North Shore County Club Estates can see it from their homes.

"And they told us we weren't going to hear it," said Kevin Burkett, a Portland resident. They were going to cover it up so it wouldn't look like raw steel. They weren't going to put any lights on it; and they weren't going to emit any dust."

Voestalpine is a global steel and technology company. The plant uses natural gas to reduce iron ore into briquettes.

At its grand opening, Voestalpine called its reduction tower a symbol of jobs, of revenue, of a good neighbor. It has since brought 275 jobs to the area, with an average salary of $60,000.

"I understand that we need industry in the area. It provides jobs," Burkett said. "It provides wages. It provides economic output. I'm for that, but if I'm your neighbor, and I'm doing things on my property that damage your private property, I'm responsible. That's my neighbor damaging my property."

Voestalpine is located in San Patricio County outside the Portland city limits. And the Port of Corpus Christi owns the land. So, Portland has no authority. Only the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality can force change.

But Portland mayor Cathy Skurow says the Port should be involved and haven't been.

"When we attempt to have real dialogue, we are dismissed," Skurow said.

KRIS 6 News requested an interview with the port but the Port didn't respond.

Shari Burkett says the Port made promises, too.

"And they showed us a plan for this big park, greenway, walking trails, berm that was supposed to be between us and them," Burkett said. "And it's never happened. Never even no mention of it happening. No plans for it to happen anytime soon."

Last fall, then Voestalpine Texas CEO Stefan Einfelt made a lengthy presentation to the Portland City Council.

In it, he outlined more than $70 million of fixes the company had already done, was in the process of doing, and had plans to do regarding fugitive dust— all while insisting that his company was only responsible for a tiny fraction of Portland's overall dust—going back some five years—when the dust complaints began.

The TCEQ has fined Voestalpine $600,000 in two separate enforcement actions over iron oxide dust and the failure to control. One action is awaiting TCEQ commissioner approval and another is being negotiated.

Even so, the company is now asking the TCEQ for amendments and modifications of their existing permits. The City of Portland points out in a letter of opposition these changes would increase levels of at least nine different air contaminants from an operation that has already, quote, "substantially interfered with living conditions (of Portland residents)."

Voestalpine officials refused our interview request; but in a statement, the company said, "Adjusting the emission limit values has no negative impact on the environment or air quality."

The Mayor and the Burkett's say they're hoping the TCEQ will force the company to finish dealing with the existing pollution before allowing it to create more.