Lawmakers are threatening to claw back $15 million of taxpayer money given to a northeastern Kentucky aluminum mill project that still hasn’t broken ground after five years.
Senate Bill 48 directs the state’s Cabinet for Economic Development to recoup the funds from Braidy Industries—now known as Unity Aluminum—by the end of the year unless the company gives back the money on its own.
The measure passed out of the Senate Appropriations and Revenu e Committee on Wednesday, but lawmakers still sounded hopeful that the project would be successful and that the bill wouldn’t be necessary.
Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, said the project is “moving forward” and that he had signed a non-disclosure agreement preventing him from talking about why he was optimistic about it.
“I feel good about the track that this is going,” Stivers said.
The seed funds were awarded to Braidy Industries in the waning hours of the 2017 legislative session. Then-Gov. Matt Bevin convinced lawmakers to award the money with little detail, eventually revealing the money would go to build a $1.7 billion aluminum rolling mill in the Ashland area that would create 500 jobs.
Fronted by its charismatic then-leader, Craig Bouchard, the project had a dramatic few years despite never breaking ground.
Braidy Industries was awarded $4 million from the Abandoned Mine Lands fund, spearheaded by eastern Kentucky Congressman Hal Rogers and Sen. Mitch McConnell, both Republicans.
A Russian aluminum company that had previously been under federal sanctions because of its connections to oligarch Oleg Deripaska promised to invest $200 million in Braidy, along with a 10-year supply contract.
Congressional Democrats sought an inquiry into the deal and what role the Trump administration played in lifting sanctions that had been imposed on the company.
Bouchard, the company’s CDO, was eventually ousted due to his controversial fundraising strategies.
“There had to be a boil lanced from this process and it has been done,” Stivers said.
Unity is still trying to get more private investors for the project and has asked the state for more time to line up financing.
Under the measure that advanced on Wednesday, the company has until March 31 to line up its investments.
Sen. Chris McDaniel, the Republican chair of the Senate’s budget committee, said he hopes the project is successful, but the legislature is going to apply “additional levels of pressure.”
“I don’t want the commonwealth to get $15 million, I want Ashland to get an aluminum mill,” McDaniel said. “I think that’s what we all wanted. But unfortunately, I think the feelings of frustration and promises that have proven not to be true have reached a boiling point.”