By Grace Schneider and Mandy McLaren
Louisville Courier Journal
BRANDENBURG, Ky. — In March 2019, when Gov. Matt Bevin and his economic development team unveiled plans for a $1.35 billion steel mill, rural Meade County appeared to hit the jackpot.
Steelmaker Nucor Inc.’s investment promised a transformation like no other — more than 400 high-paying jobs, new money for local schools and the community, and, most of all, a brighter future for so many people now driving dozens of miles to Louisville, Fort Knox and Elizabethtown to earn paychecks.
But controversy has shrouded what was then one of Kentucky’s — and Bevin’s — biggest economic development coups.
Nucor will soon break ground on 950 acres bordering the Ohio River, beside Consolidated Grain and Barge Inc.’s grain terminal.
A condition of the steel company’s deal to build there is the grain terminal must shut down by the end of this month, sparking outrage among farmers in Meade and surrounding counties.
They say the county sold them out, and the loss of a convenient river port will cost them millions of dollars — and maybe even put some out of business.
"They stepped on us to build this steel plant," said Larry Fackler, moments after he climbed out of a grain truck to grab lunch at a gas and food mart in rural Flaherty. “Nucor, to me, led the county around by the nose.”
The dispute has boiled over into a lawsuit pitting farmers against Meade's leaders and the two companies — Nucor and Consolidated Grain and Barge.
Earlier this month, Lincoln Trail Grain Growers Association, five farmers and another farm corporation sued Meade County Fiscal Court, the county Riverport Authority, Consolidated Grain, Nucor and other parties, accusing Meade leaders of abusing governmental power and violating the state’s Open Meetings Act, “cloaking their actions in secrecy,” according to an amended complaint filed in Meade County Circuit Court.
The farmers asked a judge for a restraining order to halt the grain terminal's planned Friday closure and to void all agreements with the grain company and Nucor.
It’s unclear now how the litigation might impact Nucor’s timeline or whether it could derail plans for the 1.5 million-square-foot mill.
Neither officials from Nucor nor Consolidated Grain and Barge would comment, citing pending litigation. Meade County Judge Executive Gerry Lynn also declined to discuss specific allegations.