Sailing - Bridge Harbor Marina file

Sailboats are docked at the Bridge Harbor marina in Freeport in May 2021.

FREEPORT — A proposed rezoning for a 13.791-acre site along the Intracoastal Waterway near the Bridge Harbor neighborhood brought out dozens of unhappy residents seeking to halt the project.

A public hearing on the request by Kisuma Americas Inc., a Japanese multinational company with a presence in Houston, came Monday night before Freeport City Council. Kisuma wants the rezoning to build an industrial plant that would separate magnesium salts from seawater, which are then used in dietary supplements and for industrial uses.

Residents and non-residents alike came out to speak against the proposal, with most of them saying they only found out about the project Sunday, nearly a week after the three attending members of the Freeport Planning and Zoning Commission had voted to support the rezoning at their last meeting.

Surfside Beach officials came to express displeasure over the idea, led by Mayor Gregg Bisso, who asked the council to “think about your neighbors.”

“I ask that on (the rezoning ordinance), ya’ll reconsider that and not approve that rezoning,” Bisso said. “We have a lot of businesses that are just now getting going that are thriving up and down the Intracoastal, and putting a factory across the street or a plant across the street or across the ICW from them is going to be detrimental to their business.”

Industrial activity in the area could threaten the plans they have in place, as well, said Donna Rickard, business manager for Surfside Marina.

“In the last couple of months, the state of Texas has approved a rather large-sized funding grant for Surfside Marina in the amount of $1.5 million to bring in and add more transient dockage, which is going to bring more people to our marinas and to our area,” Rickard said.

Neighborhood residents cited worries over losing recently inflated property values and the scenery around their homes, along with the inconvenience of the construction. Another concern — what could happen should Kisuma decide to leave the site and sell to another company which may not have the same stated values.

For their part, Kisuma Chief Operations Officer Marlus Ferretti tried to calm concerns, stating the plant would simply be taking in sea water and releasing “cleaner” sea water, minus the magnesium they collect, using a process involving limestone they say leaves the same salinity to the water when it is returned.

“We don’t produce petrochemicals. We don’t use hazardous chemicals of any sort, Ferretti said. “Even from a perspective of any plant that we look at from across the Brazos, this plant would not even need a ‘shelter in place room,’ because we don’t deal with any hazardous chemicals or chemical materials that would pollute the environment. The same process that we have in Japan — in one of the areas that is the most regulated for environmental impact in the world — is the process that we would implement here.”

He also indicated the plant in Japan that would be emulated has a typical sound level of 60 decibels, the typical sound output of a spoken conversation.

Another attempt to address concerns was for traffic, stating Kisuma’s plans would cap traffic at five trucks per day in and out. Ferretti also said the plant is not asking for any tax considerations.

The $40 million plant would be on Sailfish Avenue, near the bridge to Surfside Beach. Some attendees, including Freeport City Councilman Jeff Peña, recommended Kisuma build on a different site with land they do not currently own. Peña asked if there was something the city could do to help facilitate a change in venue.

The site was chosen specifically due to its location in an Economic Impact Area and because the company had two years of tests that showed the chemical composition and movement of the water would suit its needs, Ferretti said.

He indicated the places that had been recommended as alternatives were either unsuitable due to the previous introduction of hazardous substances to the environment, were not in the impact area, would not provide the levels of magnesium salts needed to make the process work efficiently and/or would require another two years’ worth of studies.

It was brought up to the city that the proposed plant would use up to 500,000 gallons of fresh water from Freeport per day, which would result in about $1.5 million in revenue to the city.

City Manager Tim Kelty indicated the water used by the plant is already being paid for by the city. Freeport pays for 2.4 million gallons of water per day from the Brazosport Water Authority but typically only uses about 700,000 to 800,000 gallons, meaning the revenue generated from Kasuma’s usage would cushion the city’s water costs.

Mayor Brooks Bass decided to table the rezoning ordinance, citing a desire for more information. When some of the gallery offered applause at the action, which is set to be revisited Aug. 15, he stressed the tabling was “not a no.”

Kent Holle is a reporter for The Facts. Contact him at 979-237-0154.

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