Funding source clouds Calif. aluminum project

NEW YORK — The source of funding for a proposed $1.5-billion secondary aluminum manufacturing facility in Barstow, Calif., is being disputed by the project’s developer.

Eric Shen, chief executive officer of Irvine, Calif.-based Scuderia Development LLC, has asked Barstow City Council members to retract statements made during a March 3 meeting that indicated Chinese aluminum extrusion giant China Zhongwang Holdings Ltd. was involved with the project, he told AMM.

The council members had "made assumptions" during a presentation about the project and potential partnership with Zhongwang, Shen said.

"The city is supposed to have retracted that," Shen said in reference to comments made by assistant city manager Oliver Chi that indicated Scuderia had been retained by the chairman of the board and founder of Zhongwang to develop the proposed facility as an independent and privately held entity.

Chi did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The meeting was overseen by Barstow mayor Julie Hackbarth-McIntyre and included city council members Merrill Gracey, Richard Harpole, Carmen Hernandez and Timothy Silva. Council members did not issue an objection or a correction to the presentation following Chi’s comments regarding Zhongwang’s involvement with the project.

However, Shen vehemently contests Chi’s statements. "It is not Zhongwang. You are behind the eight ball," Shen told AMM. "Who I partner with and how projects are funded is nobody’s business."

Calls to Hackbarth-McIntyre and Gracey were not immediately returned.

The limited amount of public information about Scuderia Development, its partners and past development projects have caused concern among Barstow residents.

One resident, speaking during a question-and-answer session following the March 3 presentation, said that the company’s lack of Internet presence—Scuderia does not have a website—had raised eyebrows.

"Having a lack of Internet presence has been a common question mark that has been raised, primarily because we have operated basically with our current principle and focused solely on developing turnkey projects specifically within the aluminum sector," Shen said March 3. "We’ve never had to actively go in the marketplace to seek any financing, nor have we incurred any debt or had to seek any new clients."

The city backpedaled following Shen’s recent request for a retraction. "We actually don’t know who his investors are," Barstow city manager Charles C. Mitchell told AMM June 10. "At the point when we are ready, we will investigate further. There are just so many things to handle and there are a lot of items to be considered with the project."

The complex, which would include about 2.95 million square feet of manufacturing space, would feature a casthouse, rolling mill and extrusion capabilities with a production capacity of about 1 million tonnes per year, according to city documents.

The project is still in the "preliminary stages of development," Shen said, adding that he is evaluating "the economic feasibility hurdle. ... There has been a lot of speculation and theories and guesswork by the media as to what is going on here. All I can say is that it’s tentatively a very large project."

Shen invited 10 city officials on an all-expenses-paid trip to visit facilities owned by his investors in China, according to a March 26 letter sent to Mitchell.

"The most similar types of operations (to those being proposed in Barstow) are located in China at facilities owned by our investors," Shen wrote. Scuderia offered to cover "all travel, accommodation and meal costs for 10 people to visit and review the aluminum production facilities located in Liaoning and Tianjin, China."

Shen said that a tour "is better than any website or any sort of brochure. I think it’s better than any sort of documentation. Just see for yourselves."

In a follow-up interview this past week, Mitchell said that the trip to China, which had been scheduled for late April, had been postponed because of scheduling conflicts. "No, we did not go to China. The logistics were difficult to coordinate, but we hope we will go sometime soon," he said.

It was unclear whether Shen had asked council members to retract statements made during the March 3 presentation outlining the scope of the project, Mitchell said. "We’re getting our agenda out, so I don’t know how quickly I will be able to respond to this."

Liaoning-based Zhongwang, China’s largest and the world’s second-biggest producer of aluminum extrusion (amm.com, June 14, 2012), has production facilities in Liaoning and Tianjin. The company has been hit hard by U.S. anti-dumping and countervailing duties (amm.com, May 20, 2011).

Zhongwang could not be reached for comment.


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