WEST DEPTFORD TWP. -- Lawmakers and union leaders are promising to do all they can to save a Paulsboro asphalt refinery from closing.
Officials joined workers and their families Wednesday night to talk about the impact of the possible closure of Axeon Specialty Products.
The Connecticut-based company is planning to close the local plant, according to published reports, though company officials have declined to comment officially on the situation.
Axeon is selling its marketing business to Virginia-based Associated Asphalt, but the fate of the refinery itself remains unclear. The company is reportedly in discussions to lease the terminal portion of the facility.
The plant employs more than 100 people and many of them turned out Wednesday night, along with spouses and several children, at the Thorofare fire hall in West Deptford to hear from union representatives and state leaders about what this loss could mean for employees, their families and the local business community.
Speakers noted that this is one of only two asphalt refineries in the state and that this is the largest such facility in the country in terms of production output.
"The company is telling us that they are talking about closing part of our facility down and leasing the other part," said John Flem, president of United Steelworkers Local 4-991, which represents the plant's unionized employees.
He noted the plant's strong connection to the local area.
"We do a lot of business in the community," he said. "We try to support our community."
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Senate President Steve Sweeney, joined by his Third District colleagues, Assemblymen John Burzichelli and Adam Taliaferro, pledged the trio's continued support in fighting to save these jobs.
"These guys have been all over us to be active on this," Sweeney said, pointing to the union leaders.
"We're not going to lose this without a fight," he told the crowd. "I think we have a shot at holding on to this."
While the plant is currently owned by a private equity firm, Lindsay Goldberg LLC, Sweeney is hopeful they can find a buyer who understands the importance of the facility.
He pointed to the recent replenishing of the state Transportation Trust Fund, meaning the state will finance billions of dollars in road projects over the next eight years.
"Where are you gonna get the asphalt?" Sweeney asked. "Why the hell do we need to go to Ohio or anywhere else?"
He noted that the plant is a successful business, so it's not as if the owner is giving up on a losing operation.
Sweeney also noted that the state pension fund invests nearly $300 million in Lindsay Goldberg and said he hopes that will count for something when officials negotiate with the plant owners.
Sweeney told the audience that he has a personal connection to the plant.
"I'm a union ironworker by trade," he reminded the audience. "I've worked at your site. I helped build your plant."
The union invited a company representative to attend Wednesday night, but they declined, Flem said.
The union is scheduled to meet with plant owners next week.
Union officials vowed to seek other buyers while also working to convince the current owners to keep the plant running, explained United Steelworkers District Director John Shinn.
"Next week, we are going to demand to know why they need to shut this facility down," Shinn told the workers.
The Paulsboro facility consists of two petroleum refining units, a liquid storage terminal for petroleum and chemical products that can store 4.1 million barrels, three marine docks, rail offloading capacity and other facilities, according to the Axeon website.
The facility was originally built in 1972 and was acquired by NuStar Energy in 2008. NuStar and Lindsay Goldberg, LLC launched a joint venture in 2012 called NuStar Asphalt LLC. Lindsay Goldberg acquired the entire operation in 2014 and the company changed its name to Axeon Specialty Products.
Attendees at Wednesday's session dined on pizza as they talked about their uncertain futures and listened to speakers discuss efforts to save the plant.
"You're not just losing a job, you're losing a family," said one employee and union member. "A lot of us are very close. A lot of people have been here a very long time."
For many, this is what they have done their entire careers, he said, and there aren't many similar jobs available.
He also wonders where the asphalt will come from to make up for what this plant won't produce if it closes.
"We still have not been told where this asphalt is coming from," he said.
Another employee, a 30-year veteran at the plant, noted that the asphalt produced by this facility has made its way all around the East Coast, including Washington, D.C.
"This plant paved the road in front of the White House," he said.
Matt Gray may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MattGraySJT. Find the South Jersey Times on Facebook.