Westwin Elements still plans to break ground on its cobalt-nickel refining pilot plant in October, members of the Lawton Economic Development Authority said.
LEDA Chairman Fred Fitch updated members about the $10.6 million pilot plant project, a smaller version of the refinery that will provide the data Westwin Elements needs for its bankable feasibility study that will help secure funding from banks and investors. Westwin Elements has announced plans to build the pilot plant — and later a full-scale refinery valued at $732.5 million — on acreage located on the south side of West Lee Boulevard, immediately south of the Goodyear plant in the west industrial park.
LEDA is one of four local entities involved in the project, with LEDA tasked by the City Council with oversight and management of local incentives being provided for the project. Earlier this year, the City of Lawton and Comanche County Industrial Development Authority (CCIDA) committed to a $24 million local incentive plan that is providing $12 million in funding and transferring ownership of 480 acres that CCIDA owns south of the west industrial. Earlier this summer, the city and CCIDA agreed to provide $3 million of its incentive package and 40 acres for the pilot plant project, which broke ground in August.
Fitch said construction of that pilot plant will start “in the month of October.” Nothing had been done on the site by mid-week last week, “but they will be, quickly,” Fitch said.
Fitch said plans also are proceeding with an Oct. 11 town hall meeting at McMahon Auditorium, coordinated by Westwin officials and LEDA, CCIDA and the Lawton Economic Development Corporation. The meeting will include a question and answer session to give residents a chance to get answers to their specific questions, Fitch said, adding representatives of all three local economic development and the City Council are expected to attend, so they, too, can gain information to answer questions from residents.
Fitch said questions and some information already is circulating in the community, but the noted that much of the local criticism is based on the mining — rather than the refining — of cobalt.
“They won’t have any mining here,” he said, adding some mining is anticipated to take place in other parts of the U.S., which could provide raw material at a cheaper price than product mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (which holds the bulk of the world’s cobalt reserves).
Fitch said Westwin officials are expected to provide information about their processes, as well as discuss safety measures, potential waste and environmental studies that will be part of the construction process. He said there are other details expected to be discussed publicly in coming months, including an announcement of a new partner investing in the project.
“There’s not much I can say at this point,” Fitch said.