Lawmakers grill Unity Aluminum exec for lack of progress

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Officials with a company that received $15 million from the state to help build a $1.7 billion aluminum mill in northeast Kentucky, which would have employed hundreds of people, were grilled by state lawmakers on Friday over a lack of progress in constructing the facility.

The company was originally known as Braidy Industries when it received the $15 million investment at the behest of then-Gov. Matt Bevin, during the last day of the 2017 session of the Kentucky General Assembly.

The 1.8 million-square-foot facility, which was to be built on more than 240 acres in the EastPark Industrial Center near Ashland, was originally expected to open in the second quarter of 2020, with a capacity of 300,000 tons of aluminum alloy sheet and plate a year, mainly for the automotive industry.  That goal has been pushed back several times, the latest start date being in 2025, due to issues with getting the rest of the financing needed to bring the project to fruition.

After Braidy founder Craig Bouchard was ousted by the company’s board of directors, who paid him $6 million to settle a lawsuit he filed against the firm, the company changed its name in October 2020 to Unity Aluminum.

Braidy and Unity have had several CEOs since Bouchard, including acting CEO Terry Gill, who as Economic Development Secretary under Bevin, helped work on the loan package.

Interim Joint Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chair Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, asked company officials, “Why don’t you repay your $15 million to the state, and not have us continue to ask these questions?”

Unity Senior Vice-President Nate Haney, who also served for a year in the Bevin Administration, but before the Braidy project came to light, replied, “During this financing period, that is something we have to keep confidential.”

McDaniel responded to that by saying, “I believe one of the worst financial votes I’ve ever taken is this one.  I feel like two administrations now and multiple General Assemblies have been played for fools and ridden down the road. I think that patience is largely worn thin.”

Haney was also questioned by Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, who asked if any Russian oligarchs were still involved in funding the project, referring to Rusal, a Russian aluminum firm that had committed $200 million, but reportedly backed out, according to Bloomberg News.

“Because we signed a mutual confidentiality agreement with Rusal, we don’t want to get into a lot of details about the Russian oligarch stuff,” Haney stated.  “However, Rusal did publicly comment that they would not be a part of our financing moving forward.  All of the players in this particular final tranche of financing are domestic, and we will not have any further Russian ownership at all in Unity Aluminum.”


Cross-posted from Kentucky Today

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