GONZALES — Sites in St. James and Ascension parishes are being eyed for a “large” but mysterious industrial project that some officials have described as being bigger than the $3.4 billion Nucor Corp. steel mill being built in Romeville, St. James Parish officials said.
A county in Texas also is being looked at for the project that appears to be tied to the energy sector and is trying to take advantage of Mississippi River access and low natural gas prices due to advances in shale exploration, parish officials said. Multiple sites on the east and west banks of St. James were being considered.
Dubbed Project Frontier, the prospective facility was mentioned as part of a broader discussion on local tax incentives during a closed gathering of representatives of major St. James Parish taxing jurisdictions about a month ago at the Parish Courthouse in Convent, St. James Parish officials said.
The meeting was an attempt to have all the taxing jurisdictions at the table on possible future incentives for major projects to avoid the issues that arose over local tax incentives for Nucor.
St. James Parish President Timmy Roussel said the officials had gathered to discuss “what we can live with and what we can’t live with, and we needed all of the stakeholders’ opinions.”
He said no precise conclusions were reached on incentives, and any offers would first be brought into public view and have to get required approvals by the parish council and the school board.
Roussel said he could offer few details on Project Frontier, such as what company is behind it, because he has signed a non-disclosure agreement.
Roussel said the project is bigger than Nucor, and when asked if that description applied to jobs or capital investment, he said: “I’m talking about all of it.”
The full, five-phase Nucor Corp. steel facility on 4,000 acres of the east bank of St. James Parish is expected to cost $3.4 billion and produce 1,250 permanent jobs.
The first $750 million, 150-job phase is under construction, though a later, larger stage is the subject of litigation.
Secretary Stephen Moret of the Louisiana Department of Economic Development declined comment on Project Frontier on Wednesday.
“For competitive reasons and to protect confidential company information, we can’t comment on current or potential prospects,” Moret said in an email statement.
But the secretary has spoken publicly this year about the impact low natural gas prices are having on industrial development prospects for Louisiana, promising as much as $50 billion in new projects within three to four years.
Since last fall, Sasol Ltd. and Royal Dutch Shell PLC have announced that they were each considering spending $10 billion apiece on new plants in Louisiana that would convert natural gas into diesel fuel.
St. James Parish School Superintendent Alonzo “Lonnie” Luce said that the multiple projects are being discussed in his parish and that backers of the projects are trying to take advantage of low natural gas prices.
In addition, St. James Parish Assessor Glenn Waguespack said Project Frontier is related to liquid fuels, though he said he could offer no other details about its proposed operations.
Waguespack, Luce and St. James Parish Sheriff Willy Martin confirmed their attendance at the meeting and the general parameters of the discussions. Waguespack and Luce also confirmed the existence of Project Frontier and the apparent interest of its backers in St. James and Ascension parishes.
Those also present for the meeting were St. James Parish Council Chairman James Brazan and Clerk of Court Edmond Kinler Jr., officials said.
Roussel said he has been speaking with a representative of the project every few days but could not say whether Ascension or St. James was a leading contender.
“I’m told they’re looking at both,” he said.
But he also cautioned the project had an aggressive schedule that has not been met in recent weeks. He said he did not know whether that was because of Hurricane Isaac, which made landfall Aug. 3 and pushed slowly inland over southeast Louisiana.
Ascension Parish officials had less to say. Parish President Tommy Martinez referred calls Wednesday to Mike Eades, president and chief executive officer of the parish’s chief economic development arm.
Eades declined comment Wednesday.
But Ascension Parish Councilman Kent Schexnaydre, who is an ex-officio member of the board that oversees the Ascension Economic Development Corp., said he has heard about Project Frontier, which he said is in negotiations looking for a site.
“You’re talking about a big project,” Schexnaydre said.
He said he could not provide more details because he said he, too, has signed a confidentiality agreement.