Port becomes ‘preferred’ mill site; Big River forms LLC for project

Nothing has been announced officially, but Big River Steel CEO David Stickler’s recent public comments increasingly make it sound like a steel mill at the Port of Brownsville may be a question of “when” rather than “if.”

In a mid-October interview with energy and commodities analyst S&P Global Platts, Stickler said the company is “just now aggressively ramping up efforts for a second flat-rolled mill in Brownsville.”

“We now have company formed called Brownsville Investment Group LLC, a.k.a BIG LLC. … That is a development company that is now taking over the development work to get that project off the ground,” quoted the S&P Global article.

The statement was the clearest indication yet that BRS plans to build a $1.6 billion, LEED-certified steel mill in Brownsville. Stickler said in an October interview with industry publication Fastmarkets AMM, however, that “Brownsville is not the only site we are considering,” though it is the “preferred site.”

The fact that the port lies within a Texas “opportunity zone” — a program created to encourage investment in poor parts of the state — weighs significantly in Brownsville’s favor, according to Fastmarkets.

In April 2018, BRS signed a lease option with the port for 800 acres on the Brownsville Ship Channel and State Hwy. 48. It would be the company’s second LEED-certified mill. The first began operations in Osceola, Arkansas, in early 2017. It is the world’s first LEED-certified steel mill. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, an internationally recognized “green” construction rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The Osceola mill employs a number of energy-saving features that earned it the certification. The Brownsville mill would use even newer technology, according to BRS.

U.S. Steel announced on Oct. 1 that it had acquired a 49.9 percent ownership state in BRS, with an option to acquire the remaining 50.1 percent. A BRS spokesperson said the acquisition would not affect the company’s plans for Brownsville.

“Big River Steel remains keenly interested in the Port of Brownsville, and our early design and feasibility efforts continue unchanged,” she said.

The steel mill would support about 500 full time jobs with an average annual salary of $75,000, according to BRS. As with the Arkansas facility, a Brownsville steel mill primarily would serve the appliance, automotive and energy industries.