Manatee County Port Authority clears way for new manufacturing plant

MANATEE -- Attempting to avoid a snag in the sale of about 30 acres where a new manufacturing plant is slated for construction, the Manatee County Port Authority Thursday OK'd documents designed to eliminate legal obstacles that could have derailed the deal.

Air Products and Chemicals Inc., a Pennsylvania company that wants to build a plant near the port that would employ 250, requested the partial release and an agreement from the authority in order to clear the way for the land purchase, county documents said.

The company hopes to buy the land at Piney Point from HRK Holdings, which is in the midst of a bankruptcy case.

The bankruptcy judge already has approved a plan that would exempt Air Products from environmental obligations required by the state. As part of that plan, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection will receive $2.5 million in proceeds from the Air Product sale for immediate clean-up at Piney Point.

The closing is set for sometime before Nov. 15, according to Caleb Grimes, an attorney representing the company.

The authority's action clarified that Air Products would receive the property without any encumbrances related to contracts that already exist between the authority and HRK, documents said.

County commissioners sit as the authority's board, overseeing operations of Port Manatee near the Hillsborough County line.

The documents referred to a pipeline on the land that returns water from HRK's property to the bay.

"To insure that Air Products allows for the continued

operation of the pipeline in its current location or a new location, the attached agreement ... is necessary," documents state.

In July, the company announced it would build the facility near Port Manatee.

Air Products makes liquid natural gas heat exchangers. The equipment is sold to facilities in rural areas that want to convert natural gas into liquid for trucking shipments when other transportation for the commodity is unavailable.

Recently filed site plans call for six buildings totaling 350,000 square feet, with parking and a storm water management system.

The site also is allocated for the eventual construction of a seventh building, records show.

Piney Point is a former phosphate facility purchased by HRK in 2006, with the sole purpose of housing disposal from Port Manatee's Berth 12 dredging project. The dredging was completed in October.

But while the work was in progress in May 2011, liners and pipes that housed the dredged material at Piney Point sprung leaks, gushing nearly 170 million gallons of polluted water into Bishop Harbor. HRK filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in late June over expenses tied to the environmental fallout.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.