LG battery plant moving forward, officials say

The LG lithium battery plant will comprise 11 buildings totaling approximately 1.5 million square feet of manufacturing, office, and facility support space on land the company bought as sole bidder at a state Land Department auction. (Tribune file photo)

With no more public input required, the LG plant construction will continue as planned, local and county officials said last week.

On June 21, a joint meeting between the Town of Queen Creek and the Pinal County Board of Supervisors brought experts together to help answer any questions citizens had about the project.

Citizens brought their questions to the Combs High School Performing Arts Center and through some heated moments, some were answered but some grievances remained.

“What they did up there is just show us that they’ve already made up their mind they don’t care what we’re going to say,” George Rascon said.

Rascon, 22, of San Tan Valley, said the meeting was informative but redundant. He said it didn’t address the possibility of residents dealing with the noise, pollution and traffic from this.

The meeting outlined what residents can expect moving forward, including the evolution of the process, why it is a good for Queen Creek and the East Valley and safety operations that will be in place after construction is completed.

The plant will primarily manufacture cylindrical batteries approximately 3”x1” that primarily are for electrical vehicles.

While electric vehicles once used 7,000 batteries to power up, the newest generation of these batteries only requires 3,000 for one EV.

Stan Barnes, president of Copper State Consulting Group representing LG Energy Solutions, said “the company plans to invest right out of the gate about $1.4 billion.”

“If the plant fulfills its measure, it’s going to be perhaps somewhere double that by the time it’s all done,” Barnes said.

He said the location attracted a company like LG because of its good governance, educated workforce, available real estate and resources, and a modest incentive package from the state and town.

Barnes said he grew up in the area with an “idyllic Huckleberry Finn childhood” and understands why some locals oppose the development but reiterated what growth, change and opportunity will bring to a community.

“All you have to do is think and look at all of that central Phoenix and what it meant to go east and west,” he said. “It is a song that has been sung in Arizona since statehood.”

He said Salt River Project will provide LG with a “100% renewable tariff” as part of the company’s push for 100% renewable energy.

Barnes said the company still faces some bureaucratic hurdles to ensure the company stays true to its green energy promise. but expects construction to begin soon.

“If things go well, they might be able to break ground and get running this year,” Barnes said. “And if that takes place, then it’s a couple of years of workup to get it done.”

Some citizens present questioned what the future will hold for the area and what LG plans to do further down the road, and Barnes said it’s only the beginning for this partnership.

“We’re in the very beginning of a long-term relationship and it could blossom much larger than then even proposed at the moment,” Barnes said.

The Town of Queen Creek had several personnel from various departments present.

Karen Dada, planning & engineering manager for the state Land Department, said State Trust Land is not public land but more akin to private land and was granted by the federal government at the time of Arizona’s statehood.

LG’s American subsidiary was the sole bidder on the State Land that the company will build on.

State Trust Land makes up approximately 9.2 million acres, or 12.7% of the total land in the state.

Many citizens voiced their concerns about what exactly State Land Trusts are and why the sale wasn’t advertised more.

“Application to auction takes about a year,” she said. “Every auction has a 10-week public advertising period where it’s advertised in the newspaper.”

The Arizona Constitution dictates that state land auction proceeds go to one of 14 areas benefitting the general public. Most of the money goes to K-12 public education.

Paul Gardner, town utility services/water/wastewater director, addressed the issue of groundwater and the drought along the Colorado River.

“If it stopped raining tomorrow, and we had no other surface water allocations, every subdivision would still have well within 100 years assured supply,” he said.

According to the town’s website, water wells are drilled more than 1,000 feet deep, and the Town is presently pumping water from approximately 540 feet to 640 feet. The water table ranges from 245 feet to approximately 2,000 feet below the surface.

Gardner said his hypothetical scenario would not even get close to the 1,000-foot-limit.

Citizens brought up questions about pollution of the groundwater and Gardner said new regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Arizona Department of Environmental Quality exist because of past contamination spills.

“If a facility was to contaminate anything, it’s their responsibility to clean it up first,” he said.

He also said there are protections and monitoring from the very start of a project to avoid such an incident as well as federal and state funds set aside to clean up.

“We’re not going to sit there and have someone put a point of contamination that goes right into the groundwater,” he said. “That’s just not how it works today, might have worked that way in the 20s, 30s and 40s. It doesn’t work that way today.”

Brett Burningham, town Development Services director, outlined the timeline of the project up to this point and explained some of the site plans approved by the Town Council on May 11.

The site will have 11 buildings totaling approximately 1.5 million square feet of manufacturing, office, and facility support space.

Many of the buildings will stand at 70 feet tall with one on the western edge of the building at 90 feet tall, and unoccupied structures like cooling towers up to 185 feet tall.

Some residents raised concerns about the proximity of the facility to residential areas and Burningham said it will sit 3,100 feet north of Germann Road.

Along with that, a 300-foot-wide “Residential Compatibility Area” will run along the north side of Germann Road that provides a buffer to keep development from encroaching on residential areas.

“The state has plans to expand it along the entire area,” he said. “They have submitted a plan within the last couple of months to include the entire area of Germann Road.”

Burningham said no site plans have been submitted for future development.

Queen Creek Fire Department Chief Vance Gray shared plans of if and when any hazardous material emergency happened.

Citizens expressed their concerns that evacuation plans had not already been established but Gray said those plans are in place and that every firefighter is trained at a first responder operational level for hazardous materials.

“If an incident escalates to a point where evacuations are needed, that is determined at that time,” Gray said. “If the incident comes to that point, we will use reverse 911.”

Citizens brought forth many questions and not all were answered. Officials said more information would be available at queencreekaz.gov/advancedmanufacturing.

The next step is the air quality permitting process that is currently underway handled through the Pinal County Air Quality Department.

The next public hearing will be for the Air Quality Permit on July 12 at 6 p.m. in the Combs High School Performing Arts Center.