Company looking to build mill embroiled in internal dispute

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — An aluminum company planning to build a $1.7 billion plant in Appalachia announced a management shakeup as it tries to complete financing for a long-promised Kentucky project staked to millions in taxpayer money, but the company’s top executive later disputed that he had stepped down.

The boardroom drama began when Braidy Industries said Thursday that its chairman and CEO, Craig Bouchard, would step down from that role but remain a member of the company’s board of directors. The company offered no reason for the change, which comes at a crucial time for efforts to build the mill near Ashland.

Bouchard disputed the company announcement Friday, saying on social media that he did not authorize the company release and had not relinquished his job.

The company said in the release that its current president, Tom Modrowski, had been named interim CEO and current board member Charles Price would serve as board chairman. The company didn’t immediately respond to Bouchard’s comments disputing the shakeup.

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Braidy said in the Thursday release that the shakeup comes as the company enters “its final fundraising stage.”

“Tom and the board will continue to focus our efforts on completing fundraising and planning for construction of the Ashland mill,” Price said in the Thursday release.

Despite those assurances, the Kentucky Senate’s top leader expressed uncertainty Friday when asked if he remains confident the project will come to fruition.

“Until it gets built, you always have to have concerns,” Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican, told reporters.

Bouchard had been the public point man for the project — long touted to bring a badly needed infusion of jobs to a struggling region. The company has said it will create 1,500 construction jobs and more than 650 full-time jobs once the plant starts production. The mill is to be built not far from where Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia meet on the Ohio River.

The Bluegrass State also has a financial stake in the project.

In a rare move, former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin persuaded the state legislature to approve a $15 million investment in the project, making taxpayers partial owners of the planned mill.

The state investment sparked a legal fight, led by the Courier-Journal, for records detailing the company’s finances. Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration recently released those records.

Word of the company’s shakeup brought responses from the top levels of state government.

“We were previously advised of these changes and it is our understanding they do not impact the current status of the project.” Beshear spokesman Sebastian Kitchen said in a statement before Bouchard’s social media post disputing the company announcement.

The governor’s office later said it didn’t have any additional information to share.

Beshear ousted Bevin in last year’s election.

Republican House Speaker David Osborne noted that local officials near the planned mill remain confident that the project is moving forward and will be completed.

“I know this governor’s office is committed to seeing it through,” the speaker said. “It’s a project that’s going to mean generational change for that area.”

Osborne also spoke before Bouchard’s social media comments.

Braidy’s Kentucky project drew widespread attention when the company forged a partnership with Russian aluminum giant Rusal, which previously faced U.S. sanctions for connections to a Russian oligarch.

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