Despite First Steps, ESP's Jefferson County Fuel Factory Not Set in Stone

Despite First Steps, ESP's Jefferson County Fuel Factory Not Set in Stone
Roger Williams

Jefferson County taxpayers have picked up the tab for nearly $3 million worth of land, and Energy Security Partners has signed a lease to use it for building a fuel-making plant near Pine Bluff, but the plant site is still not quite a done deal, according to Roger Williams, ESP’s co-founder and chief executive.

The Economic Development Corp. of Jefferson County, known in Pine Bluff as the tax board, cleared the way for the project, touted as the largest economic development project in state history with a first-phase price tag of up to $3.7 billion, by purchasing nearly 1,100 acres. The purchase was funded with $2.8 million from a $3.9 million tax incentive package the tax board approved in February.

But Williams, while noting that Jefferson County is well ahead of other contenders, said in an interview on Wednesday that other possible sites for the facility, which would convert natural gas to diesel and other liquid fuels, have not been entirely ruled out.

Williams signed an agreement on March 30 for ESP to lease the land from the tax board for $10 a year for 10 years, and tax board Chairman George A. Makris and Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth, as well as Economic Development Alliance President Lou Ann Nisbett, said they considered the lease to be ESP’s firm commitment to the area.

“The Gas to Liquid processing plant is official,” Hollingsworth said in an email on April 4. Makris, who is also chairman and CEO of Simmons First National Corp. of Pine Bluff, said this in an April 1 email: “I do believe the signing of the lease agreement confirms ESP’s commitment to establish their plant in Jefferson County.”

But on Wednesday, Williams took a half-step back. “We need to make a final decision as to whether this is to be our project site,” he said. “The best way I can describe it is that the economic development incentive package that Jefferson County has provided to us has allowed us to move forward very seriously in making Jefferson County the home for this project.”