FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky lawmakers signaled Wednesday that their patience is wearing thin with an aluminum company’s long-stalled promise to build a massive plant backed by a state investment.
A bill that would set in motion efforts to recover the state’s $15 million investment in the project won initial approval from the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee.
Committee members said they still hope the plant gets built. But the legislation puts more pressure on Unity Aluminum, formerly known as Braidy Industries, to follow through on its five-year-old promise to build the aluminum rolling mill near Ashland in northeastern Kentucky.
“What we want is an aluminum mill, not $15 million,” said Sen. Chris McDaniel, the committee chairman. “But our confidence has been greatly eroded.”
McDaniel, the bill’s sponsor, said frustration with the project’s long delays has “reached a boiling point.” He said it’s “time to begin to apply additional levels of pressure” on the company.
Company executives need to reach out to lawmakers and the public with updates on the project’s status, especially for people in the Ashland area, McDaniel said.
Amid great fanfare, the company had announced plans to build the Appalachian plant, projecting it would create more than 1,000 constructions jobs, 550 full-time mill jobs and thousands of indirect jobs in a region in need of the jobs. The construction delay has increased the project’s cost, with Unity’s website indicating it’s now expected to require $2.2 billion, the Courier Journal reported.
Then-Gov. Matt Bevin persuaded lawmakers to approve the state’s $15 million investment in 2017. The company proposed building a 1.8 million-square-foot facility on more than 240 acres in the EastPark Industrial Center. A ceremonial groundbreaking took place in June 2018. Back then, officials said it would open by the second quarter of 2020, but that date has been pushed back several times, with the latest being in 2025.
The company struggled to complete financing for the project and underwent a high-profile management shakeup.
The mill was expected to bring thousands of construction jobs and permanent jobs and have the capacity of producing 300,000 tons of aluminum alloy sheet and plate a year, mainly for the automotive industry.
The company indicated Wednesday that it remains committed to making the plant a reality.
“Unity Aluminum continues to work tirelessly to bring this transformational project to fruition,” it said in a statement. “We are encouraged by the progress we have made and are excited about our future in eastern Kentucky.”
The legislation would direct the state to recover its $15 million investment — along with any interest, penalties or fees included in the agreement — by the end of this year. If the money isn’t recouped by then, the bill would direct the state to begin legal action to seek full recovery.
Lawmakers said Wednesday that they hope such actions are unnecessary.
Sen. Robin Webb said she remains a “cautious optimist” that the project will be built, expressing faith in the project’s investors. Residents in her northeastern Kentucky district would directly benefit from the new plant.
Senate President Robert Stivers also voiced optimism about the project’s prospects.
“I think there is still a really good opportunity, but it is our duty to make sure everything is moving forward,” he said. “And this bill will continue to keep that type of focus on it. But in the long run, I think this will happen.”