Community debate grows over Exxon-Saudi chemical plant

The fate of a $10 billion chemicals and plastics plant proposed by Exxon Mobil and Saudi Arabia’s largest chemical company could be determined by a community school board north of Corpus Christi.

The Gregory-Portland Independent School District took up consideration of the project Tuesday evening — no decisions were made for now — about granting a tax abatement to the project that would save the plant owners more than $460 million over 20 years.

Exxon and the Saudi Basic Industries Corp., known as SABIC, recently selected their preferred site for the joint venture — 1,400 acres just beyond the boundaries of two cities, Portland and Gregory — despite opposition from residents who fear the plant is too close to homes and schools. The site is one mile from the local high school and junior high.

At least 40 protestors showed up to the school board meeting with air pollution masks, signs and red “Portland Citizens United” shirts. A smaller group of supporters wore green “United for Growth” shirts made by the local chamber of commerce and economic development group.

“They want more money,” said project opponent, Adair Apple, of Portland. “That’s all they care about. Do they care about kids? No.”

Exxon project executive Rob Tully countered that the project will be safe and bring jobs — up to 600 permanent positions and about 11,000 temporary construction positions.

“We operate these plants safely every single day,” Tully said.

The school board could make a decision as soon as February, although the debate could drag out longer.