TAMPA — Construction of one of the most important projects at the Port of Tampa is on hold because of financial problems with the $120 million oil recycling facility, port officials said Tuesday.
In 2012, NexLube Tampa LLC signed a 20-year lease with the port authority and started building the 54,400-square-foot processing plant and 9,200-square-foot office building on 12.3 acres at the port's Pendola Point.
Set to open in 2014, NexLube billed it as the most advanced oil recycling plant in the world.
But Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman, who sits on the port's governing board, said Tuesday that port officials have told her the company recently stopped construction for up to six months while it renegotiates contracts to shore up the project's finances.
"It's a very important project," Murman said. "I have complete confidence that they're going to finish the project."
This was not the project's first stumble. Last month, the company's former chief operating officer, Enzio D'Angelo, filed suit against NexLube in Hillsborough circuit court amid an ugly split between the two.
NexLube chose to build Florida's first oil re-refinery in Tampa to take advantage of the port's access to shipping lanes and rail lines. The plant — when, or if, it is finished — will use extreme heat and pressure to process 24 million gallons of used oil annually, transforming it into petroleum products to be resold, like cleaner-burning diesel.
NexLube's most important and most lucrative product would be the purest form of oil there is: technical-grade white oil, also known as TGWO or base oil. It's the only lubricant safe enough to make products for human consumption, like water bottles or hygiene products. TGWO is also used to lubricate machines that handle food products.
It also would be one of the most environmentally safe oil recycling facilities in the world, the company said. It would be powered by natural gas and its own petroleum byproducts, creating no waste products. It also would recycle used oil that otherwise would have been burned or dumped illegally, leaving less of the toxic substance to poison the air and water.
Officials from the Tampa Port Authority, NexLube and its corporate parent, Riata Corporate Group of Texas, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
When the NexLube deal was first announced in 2012, it was expected to create up to 75 high-paying jobs and 100 indirect jobs in the Tampa Bay area. State and county officials also offered the company several financial lures: $630,000 in state tax incentives and a 75 percent break on local property taxes.
Murman said port staffers are not concerned that the NexLube project will remain stalled.
"There didn't seem to be any high-level concern about them being able to finish at all," she said. "I know the people at NexLube. I trust them. I think that whatever situation they've gotten into, I'm sure they'll get it straightened out."
Jamal Thalji can be reached at (813) 226-3404, firstname.lastname@example.org or @jthalji on Twitter.