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Mississippi close to landing big industry

JACKSON, Miss.— Mississippi could be days away from landing a major industrial project, as pieces of the recruitment effort including special utility rates and incentive legislation are moving forward.

The state Public Service Commission voted 3-0 Tuesday to allow Energy Mississippi to offer a special electrical rate to an unnamed industry. Cecil Brown, Democratic Central District public service commissioner, said the company seeks to locate at a 915-acre site in western Hinds County that the county has been developing.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, said Tuesday that lawmakers could consider legislation for the state to borrow money to subsidize the project within days, saying the utility regulator’s action was one of the last steps needed.

“We’re very close,” Smith said. “It’s been two years in the making.”

Smith said he couldn’t say what company the state is recruiting, but officials have previously said it makes something related to the automotive industry.

“I know it’s huge,” Smith said.

The Mississippi Development Authority, the state’s lead industrial recruiting agency, declined comment Tuesday.

Lawmakers must vote on industrial incentives when Mississippi borrows to pay for land, infrastructure or subsidies. State law typically requires a company to invest at least $300 million, or $150 million if the company creates 1,000 or more new jobs. In 2013, Mississippi granted Yokohama Rubber Co. Ltd. a projected $330 million of incentives, including up to $130 million in borrowing.

Hinds County has assembled a site and supervisors rezoned 915 acres just north of Interstate 20 to heavy industrial use at a special Jan. 18 meeting. Of that land, 635 acres is land held in trust for public schools. Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said he couldn’t comment Tuesday when asked whether the state is working on swapping that land for other land elsewhere, as is allowed under rules governing 16th section land. Hosemann’s office hasn’t yet responded to a public records request submitted by The Associated Press.

The site near Bolton first rose to notice when the state sought a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fill wetlands in July 2014. The documents showed a plan for construction of a 5.2 million square foot industrial building and operations center, a 23-acre parking lot, detention ponds and nearly 2 miles of railroad spur.

James Peden, a lawyer representing nearby residents, said the Hinds County Economic Development Authority has an option to buy an additional 280 acres north of the school land. Peden said talks have been going on concerning the site for at least 18 months. He said that as part of the January rezoning, county supervisors agreed to require a 150-foot buffer zone on the north and east sides of the property to protect nearby homes from intrusion.

Records show the Hinds County Economic Development Authority has spent something more than $30,000 in the last year recruiting what’s called Project Potter. Smith said that’s the code name for effort.

The Public Service Commission took action after waiving a normal 20-day waiting period. Commissioners wouldn’t say how much Entergy is charging, but said the unit of New Orleans-based Entergy Corp. would charge enough to recover whatever it spends to provide service to the site and provide additional revenue that benefits the utility’s other 446,000 customers in Mississippi.

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In related news, Entergy to close Massachusetts Pilgrim nuclear plant

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