The Advocate

Thermaldyne, the environmental services firm that announced a $19 million industrial waste reclamation plant in Port Allen three years ago, says the facility will finally open later this year after spending $50 million on the project.

The company, which was formed in 2015 to build the plant, had previously announced the project in 2015 at the tail end of former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tenure, saying the facility would be complete by 2016. Thermaldyne CEO Randall Tolbert said the initial announcement came in the infancy of the project.

“It really hasn’t been delayed as much as the (announcement) was way too early,” Tolbert said, adding the facility is not a hazardous waste site.

The facility is now about 90 percent complete, he said, and could eventually serve all of the state’s refineries. He estimates it will save refiners $100 million annually by providing an option other than shipping waste to other states for disposal.

If the company gets approval from state environmental regulators, the facility will bring 75 new jobs to the Port Allen site, at 2325 North Line Road, with an average salary of $80,000 a year. Thermaldyne and the Baton Rouge Area Chamber announced Monday the development is moving forward.

Since the initial announcement, Tolbert said he’s met with in-state oil giants like Shell and ExxonMobil to fine-tune plans. In doing so, the firm increased the scope, spending $50 million on the project, largely on its infrastructure.

The reclamation plant will take things like tank bottoms from refineries — waste that would traditionally go to a landfill or salt dome storage — and treat it to extract reusable oil products.

Opponents of the project have sounded off in the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality’s public comment period, raising several concerns, including that the site is a hazardous waste incinerator, which Tolbert insists it is not.

“We did hear a lot of concern over this facility,” said Elliott Vega, assistant secretary for the Office of Environmental Services at DEQ, explaining why the agency set a public hearing to be held next month in Port Allen. “There are concerns the facility needs to address about what they’re actually going to be doing out there.”

Vega noted that DEQ issued a draft approval, meaning the agency proposed letting the project move forward. He said he doesn’t view the plant’s operation as an overly hazardous activity.

Wilma Subra, with the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, which has opposed the project in DEQ’s public comment phase, said the facility should be held to federal standards that regulate hazardous waste sites. She also said the facility should be of concern not only to those in Port Allen, but also to residents across the river in Baton Rouge who objected to a barge-cleaning service facility that was ultimately scrapped several years ago.

Tolbert, of Thermaldyne, said the facility will not handle hazardous waste, and blamed much of the outcry on lobbyists associated with competitors in neighboring states spreading misinformation. He said the facility has earned the backing of local and state leaders.

The Port Allen facility was initially to be built on a 10-acre site, Tolbert said, but now is on a 27-acre piece of land.

“The combination of well-paying, quality jobs, and environmentally-conscious processes makes this an ideal project for the Capital Region,” BRAC President and CEO Adam Knapp said in a statement.