Work toward locating an oil refinery in Winston County will not move forward until the group pushing the effort purchases the property selected for the site.
Starting late last year, officials in Winston County have held a few meetings and exchanged a few phone calls with project principals. Other than that, not much has happened.
And that will remain the case if negotiations to purchase the property continue to stall.
Philadelphia Mayor James A. Young is listed on the website for SNC Energy as president of the company. SNC is one of the companies behind the proposal. Young said he hoped there would be some progress by the end of last week toward striking a deal to purchase the needed land.
“If there’s no property, there’s no project,” he said. “We’re just trying to see if there’s anything to it. If it turns, it turns. If not, something else will come by. We’re not jeopardizing any taxpayer money. I can’t argue with how a private individual wants to spend their money. News of this magnitude can take on a life of its own.”
One of the project’s investors is Milton Hughes, a Winston County native who lives in California and owns a credit card processing company.
An oil refinery has not been built in the U.S. since the 1970s. The permitting process can stretch for decades, making the construction of one among the more difficult and expensive projects in economic development.
California-based Safeguard Consulting is assisting with the project. Safeguard CEO Jane Meadows told the Mississippi Business Journal in early December that a deal to purchase the land was close, and that once that was done, the project could move forward with the permitting process. She added that she hoped to establish a partnership with Winston County’s school district. Meadows has not returned cell phone and email messages since late December.
Dr. William Wade, superintendent of the Louisville Municipal School District, said in a phone interview last week that Meadows and other project leaders asked for $25,000 to form a partnership, in exchange for the promise of refinery proceeds constructing at least one new school.
“We decided not to go down that road,” Wade said. “We met with them, but that’s as far as it went. When you’re talking about using public dollars, you have to be really careful. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
Gerald Mills, executive director of the Winston County Economic Development Partnership, said his agency would begin to treat the refinery like a legitimate project if the property purchase cleared.
For that to happen, Mills said, the property owner has asked for a “substantial” amount of earnest money.
“I have not gotten the call that there has been earnest money put down on the property,” Mills said. “We’ve given them information, and we’ve had a meeting with them, but that’s the extent of our involvement.”
Mills said he was “guardedly optimistic” the project would move at least a few steps forward. “I wish I could tell you that we were getting 5,000 jobs,” Mills said, referring to the employment figures floated around the project.
That would set a high-water mark for refineries. Most employ about 1,000 workers. Pascagoula’s Chevron refinery employs just short of 1,500. One in India employs 3,500, the most in the world.