Effort to kill trash-to-ethanol contract fails

2012-11-15T22:00:00Z 2012-11-16T11:31:03Z Effort to kill trash-to-ethanol contract failsMarc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com
November 15, 2012 10:00 pm  • 

A contingent of Lake County Republicans failed in an attempt to kill the controversial trash-to-ethanol contract Thursday, just shy of the deal's four-year anniversary.

Thursday marked the latest public discussion of the trash-to-ethanol contract, brokered between the Lake County Solid Waste Management District and private would-be developer Powers Energy of America on Nov. 20, 2008.

The Republican move to kill the deal through a board vote came just five days shy of the contract's four-year anniversary Tuesday — which also happens to be the day that two key board Republicans plan to step down because they recently were elected to other public offices. The attempt failed 8-15 in a vote that went almost straight down the board's party line.

The board voted at the beginning of the year to find Powers Energy in breach of contract for failing to deliver on its promise to secure land and financing to construct a plant in Schneider that would consolidate the county's trash processing at a cost-savings to residents. The plant would convert the county's carbon-based trash into ethanol and sort out and sell any recyclable goods for a profit.

Earlier this year, after being found in breach of contract by the board, Powers Energy owner Earl Powers began to broker a deal to sell his interests in the project to a consortium of region construction contractors. However, that plan also is stalled as the contractors and their potential investors await testing on ethanol that is to be produced from a similar plant being built in Florida by chemical company INEOS Bio.

Powers Energy remains in breach of contract, but the Thursday vote keeps open the option that Powers can sell his interests and transfer the contract to the consortium, known as SMC.

SMC representative Ted Cuson, president of Gary-based Superior Construction, reiterated to the board Thursday that the company and its potential investors remain at a stand-still until it is proven that the Florida plant can produce fuel-grade ethanol. He said he hopes testing can occur sometime in early 2013.

But that wasn't good enough for solid waste board Vice Chairman George Jerome, the Griffith Republican who moved to cancel the contract Thursday. Jerome's failed motion also called for bids for a countywide trash disposal contract to be reopened, allowing SMC to be among the bidders.

Board Chairman Rick Niemeyer, a Lake County Council member, agreed with Jerome.

"There comes a time you have to cut your losses," Niemeyer said. "You have to move forward."

The Lake County plant's biggest political proponent, Lake County Commissioner Gerry Scheub, led the charge Thursday against canceling the contract.

Emboldened by his re-election to his Lake County commissioner seat earlier this month, Scheub vowed continued support for the trash-to-ethanol plan and the hundreds of construction jobs it reportedly would bring.

"We're coming so close now," Scheub said. "We have the opportunity to put our people to work, and we're going to put it back four years (if the contract is canceled)."

Niemeyer, who will step down as chairman next week because he recently was elected to the Indiana House of Representatives, responded: "We're not producing jobs with this. The jobs have not come."

Another Republican who voted to kill the contract, Schererville Councilman Hal Slager, also will be stepping down as he, too, was elected earlier this month to the Statehouse.

The board also voted 14-9 Thursday to send a letter to The Times Publisher Bill Masterson, complaining about what some members referred to as attacks in the newspaper on district members and employees.

Waste district attorney Clifford Duggan said the letter, which would be provided to The Times on Friday, specifically takes issue with an Oct. 2 column by Times Executive Editor William Nangle that appeared on the newspaper's opinion page. The column criticized the board for continuing to pursue the trash-to-ethanol plan despite failures of the developer to secure financing and land or to begin construction four years after the contract was signed.

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