Sulfur site up in the air

Published 12:33 am Friday, January 13, 2012

PCS Phosphate looks at Portsmouth, Va., for sulfur-melting plant

A port in Virginia is just one of the possible locations for a sulfur-melting plant planned for PCS Phosphate, a unit of PotashCorp of Saskatchewan.

The list of possible sites for the plant still includes the company’s site in Aurora, a company spokesman said Thursday.

PCS Phosphate is “going through a prescreening process” at a site on the Elizabeth River near Portsmouth, Va., said Tom Pasztor, a company spokesman, in an interview with the Washington Daily News.

Those discussions do not preclude the company from continuing to consider the PotashCorp-Aurora site for the plant, Pasztor said, adding that reports of a possible location of the plant at the Virginia port have gathered “more of a head of steam” than warranted.

The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., recently reported the Virginia Port Authority is negotiating with PCS Phosphate to build the plant on the Elizabeth River.

On Tuesday, the newspaper quoted Pasztor as saying the company has been in talks with the authority about a possible plant at the Portsmouth Marine Terminal.

If the company does choose the Virginia site for the sulfur-melting and pellet-storage operations, it would most likely transport the melted sulfur to the Aurora site by barge, Pasztor told the Daily News.

PCS Phosphate originally proposed to build the plant and a sulfur pellet storage facility — a project that would have had 18 full-time employees — at the state port in Morehead City.

Public outcry over the overall project’s effects on the environment and the effects of two 125-foot-tall smokestacks on the esthetics of the Morehead City waterfront led to the eventual opposition of that proposal by Gov. Beverly Perdue and prompted the company to halt that plan.

Opponents of the plan said they feared that foul odors and pollution associated with the project would hurt tourism.

Company officials later met with the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners, identifying the company’s site in Aurora as the preferred location of the sulfur-melting plant. Under that plan, sulfur pellets would be shipped by barges from the port in Morehead City via the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway to Aurora, where the sulfur would be melted and transferred to storage tanks.

After studying that plan, company officials discovered the proposed operation’s costs had risen to $170 million, leading them to consider other options, a company spokesman told the Daily News in late 2010.

On Thursday, Pasztor told the Daily News that although the company does look at costs in considering the location of a project, there are “numerous considerations” in its decision-making.

PCS Phosphate is also quoted in a statement to the Virginian-Pilot as saying that “the Portsmouth plant would comply with all ‘environmental obligations’ and include a scrubber system that would minimize emissions and make it one of the most technologically advanced sulfur-handling operations in North America.”

It quotes Pasztor as saying the plant would cost more than $100 million to build.

The Virginian-Pilot reports Pasztor as saying Portsmouth is one of a number of East Coast locations that PCS Phosphate is considering.

Other alternatives considered by the company in an environmental assessment filed with the state in late 2009 included a plan to expand the company’s ability to transport and store molten surfer at its Aurora plant, build facilities in Aurora to receive and remelt sulfur pellets, build facilities to receive and remelt sulfur pellets at a port outside the state or build facilities to receive, store and remelt sulfur pellets at Radio Island, which is between Morehead City and Beaufort.

The Virginian-Pilot also reports that officials from the company and J.J. “Jeff” Keever, senior deputy executive director/external affairs at the Virginia Port Authority, met with Portsmouth City Council members about the plan last week.

The newspaper reports the authority’s board is to be briefed on the proposal at its Jan. 24 meeting.

According to the Virginian-Pilot, the Portsmouth Marine Terminal “has been dormant since container-handling operations were shifted to APM Terminals Virginia after the Port Authority signed a 20-year lease of that facility in July 2010.”

Coverage of The Virginian-Pilot article is available at the links below.