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12/12/2012 6:00:00 AM
Winston skeptical of oil refinery

Winston County officials said there were "too many unanswered questions" surrounding a proposed oil refinery on 300 acres near the Neshoba County line.

Philadelphia Mayor James A. Young is president of an emerging independent energy company that he said intends to build an oil refinery in Winston County employing more than 5,000.

Young and Community Development Partnership President David Vowell were in Winston County on Dec. 6 for a meeting about the proposed refinery.

Louisville Mayor William A. "Will" Hill said he was not invited to the Dec. 6 meeting.

"I've had a brief conversation with the mayor of Philadelphia and really don't have enough information other that what was provided by our economic developer," Hill said. "I'm aware of the site location. Everything is premature for such an announcement to be made. We don't want a sense of false hope for residents."

Hill said he is always excited to work with neighboring communities on economic development not only in the Winston area but the entire region because it benefits all.

"There was no communication in this process," he said. "No information was given to us directly. We've had to dig to find what we can."

Milton Hughes, a Winston County native who lives in Rowland Heights, Calif., is among the financial backers of the company, SNC Energy, which is currently negotiating the land purchase, Young said.

Hughes was among those presenting an overview of the refinery at the meeting.

SNC Energy is an emerging, independent energy company engaged in crude oil refining and wholesale marketing of refined petroleum products, according to its website,

Young said the proposed refinery hinges on the land purchase.

"We should know something about the land purchase later this week," Young said Tuesday morning.

Winston County Economic Development Director Gerald Mills, who attended the Dec. 6 meeting, said there were too many unanswered questions about the project.

"The Department of Environmental Quality said they did not have a permit application," he said. "It's been 35 years since a refinery has been permitted in the United States."

Mills said there were about 10 refineries sitting idle in the U. S. right now.

"Part of our responsibility to the community is due diligence, whether they are pursuing us or us them," he said. "You have to be careful with the people you invite into your community.

"I've been doing this for 30 years and one of the things I've learned over the years is never say never. You have to approach everything with guarded optimism. Do we want 5,000 jobs? Yes we do but the largest refinery in the world doesn't employ 5,000 people. We approached this project just like we would any other project by doing research on the project and the people involved in it. We want to be optimistic but we don't feel like what we know at this point is feasible."

Mills said the property owner has asked the project officials for a "fairly substantial" amount of earnest money on the land.

"If they send that earnest money, we will treat it like a real project but there are a lot of real projects that never make," Mills said.

No new oil refineries have been built in the U.S. since 1976 and government permitting can take years if not decades.

David Vowell, president of the Community Development Partnership, said officials here were also researching the proposed project in regards to permitting, infrastructure needs and funding sources.

"Gerald and I didn't involve the Mississippi Development Authority [in the Dec. 6 meeting] because we really didn't know what we were going to that night," Vowell said. "They had a group that made a presentation and said there was going to be a refinery. They didn't answer many questions. We are doing research on the project itself and the viability of it."

According to its website, SNC Energy is embarking upon constructing the nation's newest, most modern and "green" oil refinery.

The refinery will have a production capacity of 100,000 to 120,000 barrels of crude per day, the web site said.

Young said the project is the brainchild of three Winston County natives who have been successful in other states.

The Dec. 6 meeting was hosted by Hughes, who owns CM Processing Inc. of Los Angeles, Calif., a credit card processing company, according to the company's website.

Young said Hughes and two other partners approached him about the refinery about two years ago.

"They wanted to do something at home," Young said. "They had made some contacts with some investors and they were looking to come home."

Young said the three came to him to give the project a Mississippi face since they all lived out of state.

"It came to a point where they were getting ready to move the project somewhere else and they came to me to give it grounding here," Young said, noting that he and Philadelphia resident Shaun Seales are the Mississippi connection to the project.

"The potential is really something that will help change the dynamics of our economic development here," Young said. "We had to attach ourselves to it to keep it from going to other parts of the state or somewhere else.

"Milton has been gone for 30 years and he passionately wants to do something for his city and county and that is the driver behind this project."

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