The Houston company planning a $1.75 billion coal-to-gasoline plant near Medicine Bow might soon have to justify to a state board recent changes it's made to plans for the long-delayed project, or face not getting a key permit extension.
Carbon County Commissioner Leo Chapman said he and fellow commissioners will consider authoring a letter Tuesday asking the state's Industrial Siting Council to question DKRW Advanced Fuels about its request for an extension to the project's building permit, first issued in 2008.
The letter would trigger a permit condition requiring the company to prove the changes it's making won't have a significant environmental, social and economic impact in the area, said Luke Esch, administrator of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality's Industrial Siting Division. The company would likely come before the Industrial Siting Council at its next meeting on Oct. 1.
Under its latest submitted plan, DKRW would start construction on the project by July 1, 2014, with a four-year build schedule. Once operational, the plant would convert coal from a nearby mine into up to 11,700 barrels of gasoline a day.
Chapman said he's supportive of the project if it can provide jobs and tax revenue in the county in an environmentally safe manner. While DKRW has been "more than eager" to provide information, he said the council wants some questions answered in a more formal setting.
"They've given us information before and failed on [start] dates, and lost their momentum once or twice," he said. "We're a little skittish about that, and we want to know more about it.
"On the other hand, I hope they will start over with a new plan and a good plan."
According to the company's 184-page socioeconomic analysis of the project, construction on the plant would employ 1,900 workers at peak demand. About half would live in a company man camp while others would live in temporary housing off-site, such as campgrounds, RV parks and hotels. Once operational, the plant would employ 435 full-time workers for an annual payroll totaling $35 million.
DKRW spokeswoman Liz Brimmer said the company was expecting the requested review due to comments last year from the Industrial Siting Division administrator, and it will work within the process, as requested.
Large industrial projects take time, "and sometimes frustrating amounts of time," she said.
"We have enormous, enormous respect for Carbon County and the State of Wyoming, and understand, at the same time, creating thousands of jobs in a new area of advanced fuels will benefit the people of Carbon County and Wyoming in a way they will be very proud, even if it does take a little more time," she said.
The company recently applied for an extension to its project, one long awaited by many residents eager for the jobs and and business it would bring to the area, from construction to operations. But after years of delays, partly due to financing woes, the hope for the project is sometimes tinged with resignation.
A lot of people in Carbon County have lost faith in the project, said Charlie George, public works director for nearby Medicine Bow.
"Every year we've had a new timeline or whatever, so I think personally, myself, when the dust starts blowing and the smoke starts rolling, we'll know when they're here," he said.
Yet George counts himself among the cautiously optimistic. Some out-of-state builders have bought into Medicine Bow, awaiting the company's next move -- a go signal that would send a flood of construction workers into the area who need housing.
"I'm not going to be negative toward it; that's not going to do anybody any good. It gives us something to hope for," George said of the project.
"I think when it happens, it's going to be something good."